“Liberals and white supremacists are the only people left in America who are neurotically obsessed with race.”
“It has become a depressing ritual of American politics that when one is confronted with evidence of one’s racism, the proper response is to insist that while old-fashioned bull Connor-style racism has disappeared, liberals and journalists—and rarely is any distinction made here—remain obsessed with this now-imaginary phenomenon as a means of persecuting conservatives for telling it like it is.”
–Eric Alterman, The Nation
Our first reaction to Anne Coulter’s statement might be to nod our heads and with our chests puffed out with pride note how racial bigotry has all but disappeared in America and the harmony between people is so immense that we have a black President, and black people dominate sports and entertainment today in ways they never did before. We could even look at the larger number of black professionals in all the major professions and the fact that people of color generally have their right to vote respected in America in ways that were not the case a half century and more ago. But we’d be dead wrong.
We might ask ourselves: if the millions of undocumented immigrants were white Northern Europeans with advanced educations and professional skills would there be such an outcry at their presence? The anger and hatred of illegal immigration in the United States on the part of white Americans goes beyond the strict respect for legality and rule of law as important as they both are. The resentment so many white Americans feel at the perceived slowness of Latinos to adopt English as their main language and the use of skin color to define what an undocumented immigrant is are firmly rooted over discomfort over race and culture. American citizens of Latino background are often confused with undocumented immigrants and the only thing that marks them out is their racial background.
We might ask ourselves: if white criminal defendants received on average twice the sentences and were incarcerated at much higher rates in proportion to their part of the general population what characteristic but the color of their skin is responsible? A black man has more chance today of being held in a state or federal prison than in graduating from high school. In Wisconsin six percent of the State’s population is black but 51% of those in jail are black. 73% of black school children are taught by teachers working outside their area of professional preparation where a mere fraction of white kids face that. It would seem incarcerated while black must now join driving while black as social phenomena that defy our wish to easily dismiss racism as a force in American life today.
We might ask ourselves: why do white Americans retain racial stereotypes so strongly so far after the day of racial bigotry has passed? Across America sports teams at all levels portray Native-Americans as Indians in buckskins and with tomahawks, war paint and doing war whoops. Presidential candidates use racial shorthand like “Food Stamp President” and where was the Birther Movement for all of our previous white Presidents? And what was a Federal Judge trying to say when he told friends he was deeply touched by an Obama joke that had his mother mating with dogs to produce the President? Who sent the judge that e-mail? Where did the six e-mails go? Why are Muslims are still portrayed as always being terrorists? Towelheads? Where is this fear of Sharia Law emanating from in the American heart?
In an America so free of racial bigotry, why does the color of your skin yet determine so much about your level for opportunity and advancement in the future? Would any white American willingly and enthusiastically become black, or Latino, or an indigenous person (yes they still exist)? While we laud the people of color who have made it in America we don’t stop to consider all those who have not and why. And no, it is not the nature of the character of people who are of color to be more criminal, less natively intelligent or beautiful and human than white people. If we’re not careful we may find evidence that the reverse is true.
So Anne Coulter, if Eric Alterman and liberals like myself, along with the NAACP of which I am proud to be a member in the cause for true racial equality and brotherhood and sisterhood, obsess about racism it is because it still exists and is very real. Why are 79% of Latinos polling as supporting Obama in the coming election in 2012? Why are 92% and perhaps more of blacks in America not jumping on the bandwagon with Herman Cain and Allen West and the few black apologists for racial bigotry Fox News can dig up? Why is Mitt Romney trailing President Obama among women by eighteen points? No, Anne, it’s not because these people are just looking for a shiftless and lazy racially or even sexually stereotyped handout from big government. It’s because they know that the white conservatives are likely to display hostility to them or an indifference to their interests that is remarkable in its breadth and depth. They merely seek to align themselves with those who respect them for who they are and not just look at the pigmentation of skin the Creator has so wonderfully provided them. What has happened since the great gains for Civil Rights of the 1960’s is that those with racial prejudices have learned how to disguise it and encode their bigotry in a host of terms and ideas that allow them to retain these feelings.
It’s not illegal to think the most racist thoughts. And in some circumstances it is not illegal to express them nor should it be under the First Amendment. But any civilized and compassionate human being would reject what has been on display in the United States in our polarized politics. Those of us on the left and who still think of ourselves as liberal simply don’t want an America full of racial bigotry; where we do not pay as close attention to the needs of a host of people with a darker set of skin colors than we do to those who are white. Nor would we stand a moment if the situation were reversed.
Racism has gone into the cracks and crevices and the dark corners of American life where it thrives and strikes out at people of color just like it always did but with a subtlety and craft that is extraordinarily adaptable to its continued survival.
Take the slew of Voter ID bills passed in the United States over the past couple of years. The reason for the legislation is to protect the electoral process from voter fraud. Yet, when we look at the statistics on the prevalence of fraudulent voting we find it is almost non-existent: Fourteen fraudulent votes for every 554 million. This is hardly the stuff to justify restricting the right to vote or suppressing the vote in order to make sure everybody is qualified.
In Wisconsin Scott Walker wrote in an editorial piece today that the issue of Voter ID is settled and it’s time to move on and that we ought not be “rehashing and litigating Voter ID at the taxpayer’s expense.” He also has said his recall election is a waste of time and money. He notes that the injunction to delay implementation of Voter ID in this spring’s election will be overturned.
What he does not tell us is that such a bi-partisan and distinctly moderate organization as the League of Women Voters is one of the major party’s to the lawsuit challenging the new law in Wisconsin.
What is missed is that Wisconsin State Officials have been told to charge $30.00 for the Voter ID. This is plainly a modest but real Poll Tax that has been illegal in Federal law since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
He does not remind people that the progressive and proud Wisconsin tradition of being able to present documentation of your identity and residence on Election Day allowed you to register at the polling place and vote the same day. The new law removes that.
The purpose of the new laws around the nation is not to combat fraud. In Wisconsin in 2010, there was one case. It was an older couple who had voted absentee, canceled their vacation plans, and forgot they had already voted and cast duplicate ballots. That’s it. That is the dimension of the problem Walker is trying to solve. The purpose of the Voter ID laws around the nation are to suppress the votes of people of color who are more often likely not to own a car and not have either a driver’s license or U.S. passport. Even Veterans Department photo ID’s and faculty staff, and student ID’s with photos and accompanying documentation are not seen as valid.
So the Voter ID law inhibits by about six percent, political scientists tell us, the ability of blacks, Latinos, the elderly, and college students from being able to easily vote. Is it a coincidence that these are all liberal, Democrat constituencies? No. It’s not a coincidence. It is by design. And embedded within it is a real as well as visceral expression of the subtle and adaptable racism of Twenty-first century America. Not to mention being the opposite of what we ought to be promoting: higher voter turnout by all citizens no matter what party affiliation or color or sex or loyalty.
Then there is the latest report from the Southern Poverty Law Center that a record number of hate groups are active in the United States. In 2000 there were 602 identified in the Center’s report. In 2011 there were 1,018. Notably, the largest numbers of groups were hate groups premised on race. The Southern Poverty Law Center only counts groups who are by direct evidence active in meeting, lobbying, expressing their views in public or via flyers or newsletters or websites.
While the Ku Klux Klan fell from 221 chapters, or cells, to 152, Neo-Nazi’s clocked in at a healthy 170 groups. White Nationalists accounted for 146. There were 133 Racist Skinhead groups, and 55 Christian Identity hate groups. (none of these are Evangelical Christians or main line denominations but based on bigotry identified with race.) 32 Neo-Confederate groups that were identified as hate groups too. It must be noted that black Separatist hate groups numbered 140. General hate groups numbered 190, many of these white and bigoted.
A record number of Patriot and Militia groups are being documented and followed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as well. They became much more active and numerous with the Presidency of Barack Obama and a perceived tyrannical government they wish to oppose. Strangely, for most Americans they are yet to be put away in concentration camps or have their guns taken away. In point of fact, a record number of States have enacted less stringent gun laws the past two years and the Supreme Court of the United States has overturned a Chicago anti-gun ordinance. President Obama and his Administration have done nothing to reverse any of it. The last time the Militia Movement was this active was in the 1990’s during the Clinton years. It culminated in the 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma. Here it seems to be a liberal or Democrat or black is a threat to patriotic liberty in the United States.
Even our memory of the American Civil War and 32 active Neo-Confederate groups tells us that the memory of the war Americans have differs widely and there is a big racial divide. CNN did a poll in April of 2011 that discovered that 42 percent of all Americans believe the war was over State’s rights and not Slavery. The poll further delineated that the more white, conservative, and Southern you were, the more likely you were to have this view. Darker, more diverse, more liberal and Northern people were more certainly to see slavery and white supremacy as root causes of the conflict.
There is ample evidence the Civil Rights years in the 1960’s did not erase racial bigotry. For people of color the evidence is real and direct. It smacks them in the face daily; sometimes literally.
Where have all the racists gone? Oh, they’re out there alright. They are anywhere people respond to their fears and anger and prejudices rather than their hopes, dreams and the “better Angels of our nature” spoken of so long ago. The growing diversity of the United States racially and ethnically and the destruction of the Middle Class since the depression of 2008 hit, has strengthened racial prejudice in this country. So Anne Coulter, we remain obsessed with race and racism. And we will fight to end it and have all citizens have real equal opportunity and smash the racial stereotypes that continue to shackle us.
Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
Struggles for Justice