In the first article, Nathan Phillips was getting ready to leave and trying to remove himself from what seemed like an escalating situation, but the teens swarmed around him and wouldn’t allow him to retreat.
Phillips, 64, said he felt threatened by the teens and that they swarmed around him as he and other activists were wrapping up the march and preparing to leave.
Phillips, who was singing the American Indian Movement song that serves as a ceremony to send the spirits home, said he noticed tensions beginning to escalate when the teens and other apparent participants from the nearby March for Life rally began taunting the dispersing indigenous crowd.
A few people in the March for Life crowd began to chant, “Build that wall, build that wall,” he said.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ ” Phillips recalled. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
In the second article, Phillips was concerned about escalating tensions between the teens and the black Hebrew Israelites, so he decided to walk into the mass of teens while playing his drum and singing a song. The teenage boy he stood face-to-face with (now identified as Nick Sandmann) was not refusing to let him pass, but Phillips didn’t see why he should walk around Sandmann because he was thinking of what white people have done in this country over the last several centuries.
Phillips played a prayer song on a drum as he walked toward the students.
Some of the students began doing a “Tomahawk chop” and dancing, the video shows. Phillips said he found it offensive, but kept walking and drumming.
Most of the students moved out of his way, the video shows. But Sandmann stayed still.
Asked why he felt the need to walk into the group of students, Phillips said he was trying to reach the top of the memorial, where friends were standing. But Phillips also said he saw more than a teenage boy in front of him. He saw a long history of white oppression of Native Americans.
“Why should I go around him?” he asked. “I’m just thinking of 500 years of genocide in this country, what your people have done. You don’t even see me as a human being.”
The lengthyvideos show Phillips walked into the crowd and up to Sandmann, who never approached or moved to block Phillips, said anything to Phillips, or stopped him from going anywhere. And despite Phillips describing the teens as “beasts” going after their “prey” (the black Hebrew Israelites), the 1h46m video shows the BHIs making many racist, homophobic, and aggressive comments toward the teens and others, yet the video doesn’t appear to capture any instance of the teens chanting “build a wall” or other racist phrases. Note the second Washington Post article describes the BHIs’ terrible behavior “according to the video” and the teens terrible behavior “according to [BHI] Banyamyan and another Hebrew Israelite.”
But by far the best (most ironic) part of WaPo’s coverage is this paragraph:
The incident, and the finger-pointing that followed, seemed to capture the worst of America at a moment of extreme political polarization, as discourse once again gave way to division, and people drew conclusions on social media before all the facts were known.
You mean people drew conclusions based on media accounts published before all the facts were known? Could WaPo be less self-aware?
My university is home to a controversial Confederate War memorial.
It is a bronze sculpture of a college student carrying a rifle, commemorating the students at my university who left their studies and went to fight in the American Civil War for the Confederacy. On the base are three inscriptions, the middle of which shows the student in class, hearing the call of a woman representing duty urging him to fight. The side inscription speaks of honor and duty.
The statue has always been controversial, but recent events have brought the controversy back.
The university is holding an open panel, inviting the general public to share their thoughts. You just had to register, and the first 25 get to go.
Well, I have some thoughts on the monument, and I wanted to share them. So I signed up, and I wrote a speech (exactly 3 minutes in length), and I’ve been practicing it. On Wednesday, I anticipate getting to deliver the speech.
I would be pretty foolish to not be worried. Actually, on an issue this incendiary, I am pretty foolish to want to speak out at all.
For starters, there’s a chance my talk could anger white supremacist groups.
I am a white man with pale skin and reddish/blondish hair. I am married to a beautiful woman from Costa Rica, with caramel skin and these gorgeous black eyes you can just get lost in. We don’t have children yet, but we are both excited to meet them. I know they will be beautiful, like their mother. I hope my daughters look like her, with her dark skin and dark eyes and her raven black hair.
If you listen to what white supremacist groups actually say these days, then you’d know this is their raison d’être. They refer to it by the moronic title “white genocide” — the “diluting” of the “white race” through marriage of white people with people of other races.
Me and my family are the main thing that white supremacists march against.
In the speech I have planned, I think I make it clear that I consider the cause of the Confederacy in the American Civil War to be an unworthy cause — it was certainly not worth the lives of the men who died for it.
That might anger white supremacists, who would already have reason to despise my family.
But, I’m not afraid of angering white supremacists; they’re evil, but they don’t frighten me. Because I know they are a powerless group of isolated and outcast individuals with little to no social standing in their own communities, who are resorted to anonymous online forums for human contact. They are pathetic, and I’m not enough of a coward to shrink away from shadows in a basement.
White supremacy is, of course, evil. It cost me nothing to say that, and means nothing when I do say it, as everyone either agrees with it already, or is a white supremacist and doesn’t care what society thinks about them.
White supremacy is also stupid. It is lazy thinking. It is the kind of mental shortcut that the feeble-minded rely on. It is the sort of excuse that the weak-willed cower to, lacking the testicular fortitude to face their own inadequacies. It’s the kind of pseudo-intellectualism the internet is famous for, citing poorly analyzed statistics, when all it would take is meeting one normal, middle-class African American to see the fatuity of it all — that blacks and whites are the same race, because there is only the one race of Adam.
My comments might make them mad, but what are they going to do? Make memes about me?
There is also a chance my speech could anger Progressives on the ctrl-left. Actually, probably a much bigger chance. And that does scare me.
It scares me so much that I’m actually considering if I even want to speak at all. I have a speech written, and I’ve been practicing it, and I’ve shopped it with a number of friends, and I’ve made edits and timed it perfectly. But I’m thinking of not doing it at all.
I’m afraid of what the ctrl-left could do to me.
What is the ctrl-left? The label is a take on the alt-right designation, though the ctrl-left have been around for a lot longer. Maybe since the Bush administration. They are a political activist class — that is, they are a class of people with nothing else to do but be politically active. They are employed in universities, shutting down conservative voices. They are employed in news stations, selectively editing narratives and choosing which stories to give press time. They are employed at online opinion magazines, and spend all day opining on politics and culture. They are employed in Starbucks, and then spend 14 hours a day on twitter and tumblr investigating the lives of people they disagree with, trying to have them removed from their jobs, or shut down their youtube, facebook, or twitter to prevent them from sharing in electronic public forums. They are employed in tech companies enforcing “community standards” with bans and post removals, which on platform after platform seems to conveniently mean removing opinions on the right of American politics.
The ctrl-left, in essence, want to control what you are allowed to say, and punish you when you say what you are not.
The most recent explosion of this movement has been in antifa, the group of emotional children using acts of literal street violence to suppress and silence dissident voices in the public sphere — which is to say, they are a group of fascists. These jackbooted thugs have been taking to the streets, punching people in the face, smashing up their campuses in temper tantrums, setting fires, and generally acting exactly like the goosestepping authoritarians they are in order to stop people from saying anything that they don’t think people should be able to say anymore.
This latest expression of the ctrl-left doesn’t particularly worry me. I can take physical violence. I can take being punched in the face, or maced, or beaten with a club. I would consider it an honor, actually. Make my day.
What does worry me are the online Social Justice Warriors in the ctrl-left who have nothing better to do with their lives, apparently, than to seek new ways to punish people for wrongthink.
I work in academia. Tenured professors cannot get fired for refusing to attend their own classes for two years, but tenured professors have been fired for daring to injure the precious emotions of the ctrl-left. I’m a mere, lowly teaching assistant. I could lose my job, or be dismissed from school. I could be made unhirable in colleges and tech companies.
If my speech offends the wrong person, they could look to dig up all kinds of stuff on me.
It wouldn’t even be very hard to dig up stuff on me. For most of my life, I was a pretty terrible jerk. Just ask anyone who knew me in high school. Since high school, I have been slightly tolerable. If you had nothing to do but look for reasons to say crap about me, you could find crap to say about me. And the ctrl-left has absolutely nothing else to do.
But even if they can’t find dirt on me, the very act of disagreeing with their orthodoxy is a firable offense. They have power in universities and companies to crush whoever displeases them; and not only do they have it, but they use it.
I know this, so I generally go about my day and just grit my teeth and keep my mouth shut. My fellow students don’t have to keep their mouths shut, because they affirm the accepted dogmata of our thought guardians.
I let them talk and express opinions I disagree with and laugh at people who think the exact things I think and endorse ideologies I completely reject and say nothing, because I just want to get out of here alive, get my PhD, and maybe once I have a job I can rely on, maybe then I’ll be able to breathe again.
And the crux of the story is that I’m just sick of it. I am sick and tired of shutting up. I am done with being expected to receive with full docility the ramblings of this tumblr magisterium. I’m tired of feeling like I can’t speak my mind without retaliation and blowback, while others can express their politics unafraid.
I’m done. I’m done being shut up.
Realistically, I can probably expect nothing. I’m probably over-worrying myself. It’s unlikely anyone will really take notice. It’s an indoor event with a few dozen speakers, and who really wants to attend a meeting like that unless you’re speaking? Local news might pick it up, and they might run two seconds of my three minute speech (probably selectively edited to make it sound like I’m saying something completely opposite of what I’m saying), and then that’s probably it. Maybe some person I know might notice and say something, maybe a student would say they heard I spoke or something, but that’s about it.
In a rational universe, maybe that’s all there needs to be about it. I can just say what I think, people can hear it and agree or disagree with it, we can have back-and-forth, and then we go on our merry ways.
But this is not a rational universe, so who knows what I can expect.
(Authors’s Note and General Disclaimer: These are not the only two groups of people with opinions in this country. There are people opposed to the monument who are not part of the ctrl-left and who want civil dialogue and peaceful protest to lead the change. There are people in favor of the monument who are neither white supremacists nor part of the alt-right, and who want all people to be treated with the dignity due all human individuals. There are people on the left who also champion free speech, such as the ACLU, because free speech is not a partisan concern but the birthright of humanity. I know these people exist, because I know them; they are my family and friends and neighbors. With all of these people, I hope to see the American spirit of passionate but nonviolent engagement in the marketplace of ideas continue to drive political discourse. To the ctrl-left and alt-right, I pray that God has mercy on you and grants you repentance from your hatred, violence, and folly.)
My skepticism of media narratives has reached (possibly) an all-time high, so lately I’ve been trying all the more to read about a given topic from multiple sources, including those I disagree with, just to have an idea of what all sides are saying. There have been plenty of cases where I’ve found information that paints a different picture than current conventional wisdom does. But I have to say, so far, the topic of the alt-right isn’t one of those cases.
I realized pretty much the extent of my knowledge on the alt-right were the angry statuses from Facebook friends and headlines from (mostly left-wing) media that I skimmed. Even right-wing sourceshave spokenagainst them, so I’ve really only heard one narrative about this group: they’re racists, white nationalists, and probably Nazis.
But I know there are people out there who don’t agree. Steve Bannon, former chief editor of Breitbart and Trump’s incoming chief strategist, has specifically rejected the idea that he’s a white nationalist, but simultaneously explains Breitbart is the platform for the alt-right. These two ideas aren’t technically incompatible–for example, he could be against white nationalism but pro-free speech. Still it seems incongruous that someone who says he rejects white nationalism would be proud of hosting a platform for white nationalists, so to my mind these two statements implied that Bannon does not think the alt-right are white nationalists.
The Intellectuals – people who pride themselves on thinking only rationally, which in this case means stripping away “self-censorship, concern for one’s social standing, concern for other people’s feelings, and any other inhibitors to rational thought.”
Natural Conservatives – people primarily concerned with preserving their homogeneity, stability, and hierarchy, specifically with preserving their own tribe and culture (western European culture).
The Meme Team – trolls. People who take great joy in being as offensive as possible, getting media to write articles about their offensiveness, and laughing about it.
The 1488RS – Nazis. “14” for the 14 words “We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children” and 88 because the 8th letter of the alphabet is “H” so it’s “HH” which is “Heil Hitler.” Yes, I’m serious.
I expect these four categories crossover, but that’s how the authors compartmentalized the movement.
While this article gave me a much more detailed picture of what “alt-right” is supposed to mean, I can’t say it did much to undermine the narrative that the alt-right is comprised of racists and Nazis. I’m sure not literally everyone who associates with the alt-right is a racist, but that’s a pretty low standard. Anyway, brief thoughts on three of the four groups:
The Intellectuals: I’ve spoken with plenty of people who make no distinction between honest/blunt/direct and rude/cruel/offensive. That’s what the description of The Intellectuals sounded like to me. I understand the argument that we shouldn’t be so concerned with offending people that we become unclear or even dishonest. We shouldn’t sacrifice truth in the name of deference. I agree with that. But I firmly believe it is possible and preferable to express our views both honestly and kindly. It’s hard to be patient with people who try to excuse cruelty in the name of truth telling.
The Meme Team: Society should ignore The Meme Team entirely. Don’t feed the trolls. …But I know we won’t ignore them. It seems like trolls always get fed.
The 1488RS: They sound awful. So awful, in fact, that the rest of the alt-right (according to this article) also wishes they would go away, and feels they give the alt-right a bad name (not wrong there). In a sense I feel about the 1488RS the same way I feel about The Meme Team. The former aren’t trolls in that they are apparently sincere, but either way I worry that giving them attention gives them strength. As of right now there are very few Nazis in the country, and I’d like it to stay that way.
To some extent I feel that way about the whole alt-right movement: I’m worried that we (the rest of society) are growing and sustaining them by giving them such disproportionate attention. When Hillary Clinton decided to do a speech condemning how Trump has been embraced by the alt-right, they were thrilled. The WSJ quotes Richard Spencer, alt-right founder, saying,
“When your movement is going to be mentioned by name by the presidential candidate leading in the polls, you can safely say that we’ve made it. Our fundamental obstacle was people having no idea who we are.”
The Natural Conservatives: I saved this group for last because it’s the only one I found interesting. A lot of the description sounded exactly like white nationalism to me, but I was struck by this passage:
The alt-right’s intellectuals would also argue that culture is inseparable from race. The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved. A Mosque next to an English street full of houses bearing the flag of St. George, according to alt-righters, is neither an English street nor a Muslim street — separation is necessary for distinctiveness.
Some alt-righters make a more subtle argument. They say that when different groups are brought together, the common culture starts to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Instead of mosques or English houses, you get atheism and stucco.
Ironically, it’s a position that has much in common with leftist opposition to so-called “cultural appropriation,” a similarity openly acknowledged by the alt-right.
This passage caught my eye because I wondered if there really is a parallel here between the left’s condemnation of cultural appropriation and the alt-right’s desire to keep western European culture separate from other cultures.
First of all, to be fair, I have a lot of left-wing friends who have turned a skeptical eye toward the concept of cultural appropriation, wondering if it goes too far. For example, they generally do frown upon white people dressing as nonwhite caricatures for Halloween, but they aren’t convinced it’s wrong to do yoga as a form of exercise. They reject mocking and taking credit for aspects of other people’s cultures, but they embrace enjoying and appreciating those same aspects. I don’t think that’s inconsistent.
At the same time, there are voices on the left that take a much broader approach to cultural appropriation, such that the concept includes actions such as eating Mexican food without being interested in Mexican people as a whole, wearing cornrows or dreadlocks, or buying into Disney’s version of Pocahontas. This understanding of cultural appropriation doesn’t require purposefully mocking or taking credit for aspects of other peoples’ cultures; it includes any time the dominant culture (usually white people) can enjoy aspects of other cultures without having to understand, acknowledge, or navigate the more complicated realities those peoples have lived with or currently live with.
It seems to me that even this broadly applied definition of cultural appropriation is distinct from the cultural preservation the alt-right’s Natural Conservatives are talking about. The left is concerned about embracing aspects of other peoples’ cultures without realizing how that embrace can affect those people. This isn’t about trying to ban yoga–it’s about yoga becoming so ubiquitous people don’t even realize where it originally came from. In contrast, the Natural Conservatives are concerned with their culture being condemned and erased. As the article puts it:
[The regressive left] is currently intent on tearing down statues of Cecil Rhodes and Queen Victoria in the UK, and erasing the name of Woodrow Wilson from Princeton in the U.S. These attempts to scrub western history of its great figures are particularly galling to the alt-right, who in addition to the preservation of western culture, care deeply about heroes and heroic virtues.
Here the examples are about specific icons, but there are other factors that play into this fear of cultural erasure. For example, both the alt-right and the right generally are concerned about the rise of secularism and the anti-religion (especially anti-Christian) sentiments that accompany it. Steve Bannon talks about that a lot in this extensive 2014 interview, Glenn Beck does too in this 2012 piece, and here is The Federalist talking about the issue this year, 2016. Related but perhaps more specific examples include the now taboo views that marriage is between a man and a woman, that there are only two genders, and that those genders are different in meaningful and predictable ways.
To be clear: I’m a pro-gay marriage secularist, so, even though I am a conservative, I personally don’t share the feeling that my culture is under attack in these specific ways, because I don’t share those particular views. But I can empathize with how those who have held those views their entire lives would feel that way, especially with how relatively rapidly some of these changes have happened and how aggressively (conservative) dissenters are berated. Charles Camosey, a #NeverTrump conservative, expressed the sentiment well:
However, much as I empathize with the desire by many to preserve cultural conservatism, and much as I reject the equivocation of any such desire as inherently racist, I do think the description of Natural Conservatives sounds bigoted, and I find it alarming. For example:
While eschewing bigotry on a personal level, the movement is frightened by the prospect of demographic displacement represented by immigration.
If I’m understanding right, this argument against immigration is not about national security or economics–it’s about culture, and not wanting immigrant culture to mix with western European (or American conservative white) culture. Is that not the definition of white nationalism?
The really interesting members of the alt-right though, and the most numerous, are the natural conservatives. They are perhaps psychologically inclined to be unsettled by threats to western culture from mass immigration and maybe by non-straight relationships. Yet, unlike the 1488ers, the presence of such doesn’t send them into fits of rage. They want to build their homogeneous communities, sure — but they don’t want to commit any pogroms along the way. Indeed, they would prefer non-violent solutions.
I would hope nonviolence would be more than a mere preference. I did not find that passage at all comforting, especially since the authors later suggest that if the Natural Conservatives can’t find a compromise with the left, they will turn to the 1488RS for “solutions.”
Moreover, this Breitbart article is easily the gentlest description I’ve seen of the alt-right. The piece came under fire for underplaying the nastiness of the movement, drawing criticism from not only anti-racists but also neo-Nazis who likewise felt they were being whitewashed. It says a lot that a piece that favorable is still unnerving.
In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.
My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.
But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.
So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?
What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.
While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.
But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.
Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.
How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.
It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!
But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.
Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.
But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.
CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:
Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.
On average, for the last 5 presidential elections, 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.
Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.
If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.
Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.
There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.
2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.
So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.
2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.
Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.
Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.
Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made upstories ofhate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).
I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actualbigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:
[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.
After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.
I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.
Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage, and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.
2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.
Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.
Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.
Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people. Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?
If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.
Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump. LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.
I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.
Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.
Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.
A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.
So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.
The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.
3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.
Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S. Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.
It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)
While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.
Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.
A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.
3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.
But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.
And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.
If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.
3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:
Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.
But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”
Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?
And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:
Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!
In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.
I’m a conservative. Over the last 9 months or so the Trump campaign has sent me from incredulous to enraged to dejectedly resigned, and I admit I’m still trying to figure out what just happened.
To hear some of my leftist friends talk, the Trump phenomenon is the inevitable climax of an increasingly out-of-touch, racist, backwards party, a predictable extension of the “extremism” of Bush.
Those theories makes no sense to me. The conservatives I know who supported Bush hate Trump. In fact, Pew Research recently published a study showing the most religious and “very conservative” Republicans have been most resistant to Trump. This study echoes a Gallup poll last year that found the highly religious ranked Trump 12th out of 17 GOP candidates. But if the most religious and conservative Republicans dislike him, who has been supporting Trump from the outset?
The interview is a fascinating read. Vance discusses a variety of sometimes opposing ideas in an empathetic but honest way. For example, he talks about how the anti-elitist streak in hillbilly culture helps those who achieve financial success stay grounded, but it also pressures people not to become successful in the first place. Vance talks about the problems with how, when it comes to the poor, there are opposing narratives suggesting either (a) the poor are helpless, with no power to affect their own lives or (b) the poor must simply bootstrap their way out of poverty. Both of these views fail to address important factors.
Vance uses his understanding of hillbilly culture to explain Trump’s popularity:
The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades. From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below). Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.
From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth. Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis. More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.
Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears. He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas. His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground. He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.
This part especially resonated with me:
The other big problem I have with Trump is that he has dragged down our entire political conversation. It’s not just that he inflames the tribalism of the Right; it’s that he encourages the worst impulses of the Left. In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from so many of my elite friends some version of, “Trump is the racist leader all of these racist white people deserve.” These comments almost always come from white progressives who know literally zero culturally working class Americans. And I’m always left thinking: if this is the quality of thought of a Harvard Law graduate, then our society is truly doomed.
You should be able to describe your opposition’s stance in a way they would agree with. If you can’t do that, do you really understand what they’re saying?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has seen this argument ad nauseum.
“Black lives matter.”
“All lives matter.”
“Why do you refuse to acknowledge discrimination againt black people?”
“Why don’t you care when others are hurt? Why don’t you care about police officers’ lives?”
As best I can tell, this infinite argument stems from two factors:
Allowing the extremists to represent our opposition.
Telling other people what they think and what they mean.
These are both mistakes. We make them often in all kinds of debates, probably more often the more heated the debate is. But guys, I wish we’d stop.
I don’t doubt that there are people who are indifferent to or even celebrate an LEO’s death or a black person’s death. But I don’t think either of those stances represents the majority of either side. And it would be helpful if, when someone says something you think has an ambiguous meaning, instead of assuming they’re using the most extreme, awful meaning, you maybe just asked them to clarify.
So when someone says “Black lives matter,” instead of assuming they mean “Only Black lives matter,” either give them the benefit of the doubt (they mean “Hey, black lives matter too”), or at least ask them what they mean.
And when someone says “All lives matter,” instead of assuming they’re just trying really hard to ignore the problems people of color face, either give them the benefit of the doubt (they mean “I care about all the lives involved in this issue” and/or “I’ve misunderstood what you mean by ‘black lives matter’”), or at least ask them what they mean.
Please stop telling people what they mean when they use a phrase you don’t like. Stop telling them what they think and why they think it. On this topic and most others, assigning meaning usually means you’re getting it wrong and almost always means you’re probably not going to have a useful conversation.
Remember that the people we’re talking to—especially if we’re talking online with strangers or very casual FB friends—likely run in different social circles than us and are exposed to different ideas, news, blogs, talking points, etc. In particular they’re probably exposed more to the extreme voices from our side and less to the rational voices. I think that’s a pretty common phenomenon.
Sometimes it is really hard for me to stop and realize that the premises I find blindingly obvious are ideas the person I’m talking to may not have even heard before. It’s very easy to assume she’s starting from the same baseline assumptions I am and is just being difficult or mean. And hey, sometimes that is what’s happening.
But often–probably most of the time–it’s not. And man I’d love it if we could have more useful conversations about some very serious problems and less yelling at each other about what the other side thinks, feels, and wants. That would be a good start.
Asking for evidence of police brutality doesn’t make you blindly pro-cop. Being skeptical of the officer’s POV doesn’t make you blindly anti-cop.
I’ve seen people defend Officer Sean Groubert shooting Levar Jones even after Groubert was fired and charged with a felony count of assault and battery (he has since plead guilty). I’ve had arguments with people who claim the video of Officer Michael Slager repeatedly shooting Walter Scott in the back was deceptively edited, even though Slager has since been fired and charged with murder and obstruction of justice. There are people for whom no amount of evidence is enough.
So when someone says “We weren’t there. We don’t know what happened. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels weary and angry. I get frustrated because so many times those statements are insincere; so many times, when it comes down to it, the person patiently calling for objectivity and evidence doesn’t actually care about evidence at all. He says “Give the investigation time,” but he means “no matter what surfaces, I’ll assume the officer was in the right. No matter the injustice, I’ll believe the dead deserved it.”
But I need to be careful about my assumptions. On the surface there’s no way to tell the difference between the person who is really just going to side with the LEO no matter what and the person who genuinely cares about clear thinking and due process. It’s unfair to assume anyone calling for more information falls into the former category.
It’s also unhelpful. I want more people to consider the possibility that serious systemic problems are at play here; accusing people of bigotry just for asking for evidence isn’t likely to start a thoughtful conversation.
The principles of (1) innocent until proven guilty and (2) proof beyond a reasonable doubt inevitably mean truly guilty people will go free. Our justice system is (supposed to be) designed to err on the side of freeing the guilty rather than imprisoning the innocent. In fact, jurors are given explicit instructions to this end: if they’re presented with multiple theories about how a crime happened, they are supposed to pick whichever is most reasonable. But if there is more than one reasonable theory, they are supposed to pick the reasonable theory that finds the defendant innocent.
In the case of an officer-involved shooting, that means if there’s a reasonable chance the officer acted in self-defense and there’s a reasonable chance he did not, the jury is supposed to assume it was self-defense. Given how often LEOs do have to fear for their lives–and given that the dead can’t talk–this means an officer can claim self-defense and, absent extremely explicit evidence to the contrary, the jury will assume that’s the truth.
I would think that’s what we’d all want for ourselves if we were accused of a crime. We’d want the evidence to have to show beyond a reasonable doubt that we did the deed before we could be found guilty. Of course we would.
I would also expect we’d all want the right to defend ourselves in dangerous situations. That’s why I think it really undermines the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies when people fail to distinguish between LEO self-defense vs LEO abuse of power. For example, I’ve seen a few posts along these lines:
This article references a database put together by The Washington Post to track officer-involved shooting deaths. But the stat is for everyone shot and killed by police, whether those citizens were a danger to the officers’ lives or not. While I think it’s important to track that kind of information, I also think it’s misleading to use it in the context of police brutality.
Police brutality is unwarranted LEO aggression and violence, but not all LEO aggression is unwarranted. Good cops acting in self-defense shouldn’t be lumped in with corrupt cops abusing their power or even with incompetent cops dangerously overreacting. And victims of police brutality shouldn’t be lumped in with people killed attempting to commit violence against others. Equivocations like these are part of the reason so many hesitate to condemn a given shooting, instead asking for more information. It’s “the Social Justice Warrior who cried ‘police brutality,'” and many people aren’t interested in more accusations until all the facts are in.
The problem with that, though, is that there are a lot of cases in which the facts are never all in.
The Walter Scott case is a great example of what so many people now fear and expect: Officer Slager is being charged not just with murder but also with obstruction of justice because, after repeatedly shooting Scott in the back, Slager told investigators that Scott had been advancing toward Slager with a taser. It was only when a citizen turned over a cell phone video that it became clear Scott had actually been running away from Slager. If the citizen hadn’t come forward with the video, what are the odds Slager would’ve been charged with anything?
Similarly, when multiple deputies beat Derrick Price, two of them later submitted falsified reports claiming Price had resisted arrest. According to court documents, security footage later revealed that “Price was compliant and immobilized during the entire time of the beating.” The two deputies subsequently plead guilty to deprivation of rights, but if there had been no security footage it’s unlikely their false reports would’ve been discovered.
These are examples of officers being willfully deceptive, but I expect there are plenty of situations where an officer recounts events sincerely and still gets them wrong. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable; I see no reason this would apply less to officers than anyone else.
For example, Officer Groubert suggested he shot Levar Jones because he perceived Jones to be a threat, claiming Jones “dove” into his van. Groubert may very well have believed that, but his own dash cam footage shows Jones simply reach into the van directly after Groubert asked for Jones’ license and registration. That footage contributed to Groubert being fired and charged, but if there had been no dash cam footage, would citizen safety still depend on Officer Groubert’s judgement?
Officer Timothy Runnels tased teen Bryce Masters until Masters went into cardiac arrest. Police later claimed Masters had been uncooperative during the stop, but dash cam footage shows Masters only asking whether he was under arrest before Runnels tased him and dropped him face down on the pavement. Runnels has since been fired and plead guilty to civil rights violations, but if there had been no dash cam footage?
Some people say these cases show our system does work because–given sufficient evidence–officers are charged with crimes. But I hope you can see how problematic this is. These cases are rare in that there was clear-cut video footage. How often do officers overreact, like Goubert did, or willfully try to deceive, like Slager did, with no video evidence to catch them? Perhaps it almost never occurs, and the exceedlingly rare times when it does occur happen to be disproportionately caught on video.
But I doubt it. A lot of people doubt it. Each time an LEO is caught not only unlawfully hurting citizens but also trying tocover it up, it greatly erodes public trust. And each time seemingly damning evidence proves insufficient to even indict an officer, it greatly erodes public trust. Each time there’s no major repercussion for anyone from the LEO himself to his superiors for, at best, grave errors in judgement, it greatly erodes public trust.
And once the public no longer trusts the system, cautioning people to reserve judgement until all the facts are in starts to sound a little too much like telling people to never judge an officer-involved death at all. In most cases all we can do is wait for one side of the story, and we already know what that side will say. It’s “the LEO who cried ‘self-defense.'”
So, while I understand people calling for calm and for evidence–a good approach not just here but in general–I also understand a lot of people feeling completely disillusioned and distrusting of the evidence-gathering process. I understand why having a jury decide an officer shouldn’t be indicted or isn’t guilty doesn’t necessarily convince the public the officer actually isn’t guilty.
People seem to believe this level of suspicion can only stem from a general anti-cop sentiment, but I don’t agree. Given the known cases of officers abusing power and then lying about it, it’s reasonable for people who respect the profession in general to still have major concerns about this issue specifically. I don’t agree with Jon Stewart on everything but I thought he was spot on here:
I don’t pretend to have a simple solution to all of this. I want to live in a society where people of color and LEOs are safe. I want us to respect the principles of “innocent until proven guilty” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” I want law enforcement agencies to responsibly police their own ranks. It doesn’t seem like any of that is happening right now.
I’m not sure what to do, but I am sure that assigning the worst motivations to the other side doesn’t help anything. We may not be able to fix everything quickly, but we can at least try to understand where people are coming from.
John McWhorter continues to really impress me with his political commentary. His most recent piece is Antiracism, Our Flawed New Religion. In it, McWhorter continues his attack on White Privilege theory, primarily for being (1) practically useless and (2) largely designed to appeal to comfortable white folk.
Antiracism as a religion, despite its good intentions, distracts us from activism in favor of a kind of charismatic passivism… Real people are having real problems, and educated white America has been taught that what we need from them is willfully incurious, self-flagellating piety, of a kind that has helped no group in human history.
Of course, it’s a little interesting–as a religious person–to see religion used as basically a pejorative, but I’m kind of desensitized to the stereotype of religion as pathological irrationality. One thing at a time. And, in this piece, McWhorter does a good job of explaining why antiracism fails to benefit poor black people, and who it really does benefit.
It was deeply fascinating to watch how strikingly contemporary American audiences from coast to coast found Shakespeare’s Othello — painfully immediate in its unfolding of evil, innocence, passion, dignity and nobility, and contemporary in its overtones of a clash of cultures, of the partial acceptance of and consequent effect upon one of a minority group. Against this background, the jealousy of the protagonist becomes more credible, the blows to his pride more understandable, the final collapse of his personal, individual world more inevitable. But beyond the personal tragedy, the terrible agony of Othello, the irretrievability of his world, the complete destruction of all his trusted and sacred values — all these suggest the shattering of a universe.
I was reminded of these words after reading Dana Dusbiber’s post on why Shakespeare should not be taught. In a nutshell, he is difficult, white, and long dead. How could someone like that be relevant in today’s diverse classroom? The words at the top of the page were written not by any white academic in an ivory tower, but by Paul Robeson, the singer, athlete, actor, and black activist. Growing up, Paul Robeson was a hero to me. I always felt a little out of place, and though Robeson died before I was born, his story was inspiring. He had talent, courage, and conviction, speaking always with a profound dignity. Electrifying. The man was like a king. His lifelong struggle was to create a society in which all people were treated equally because he knew how awful the alternative was. Robeson was the first black actor in the twentieth century to play Othello, using the role to break down barriers against integration both on stage and off it. In the play, Othello is at the top of his profession. He is a key man in Venice, is wealthy, and has married into Venetian society. Despite all that, Othello feels insecure because he is an outsider, and his rivals use that insecurity to destroy him. Why wouldn’t such a play be relevant to “very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students?” Even if you share the majority’s skin pigmentation, why would Othello not have anything to say to the kid that never feels that he fits in, no matter his accomplishments? I was that kid. Let’s not hurry to dismiss Shakespeare just because he happens to be white and dead.
In the spring of 1940, a young Jewish scholar disembarked in New York, and was deeply affected by what he saw- a black shoeshine. What was so shocking? Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel came to the United States as a refugee fleeing Hitler. His mother and his sister were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto , eventually perishing in the Holocaust. The worlds he knew were completely destroyed by racism. It is no cliché that for Heschel, America represented a new hope. One of the first things that he saw in his new home was a black man relegated to the demeaning job of kneeling to polish shoes. It was a painful reminder than one could not flee racism. It had to be eradicated. This one incident, though, is unlikely to have created Heschel’s lifelong commitment to the civil rights movement. While teaching at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Heschel befriended Larry D. Harris, the head-waiter, a proud deacon in a black church. This is how he learned of the realities of segregation, and his commitment to eradicating that evil would eventually lead to Selma. In light of the Charleston shooting, it is worth reading Heschel’s powerful 1963 denunciation of racism and the treatment of African Americans. What happened in Charleston is not about whiteness, blackness, or even privilege. These are manifestations of the root issue, a refusal to see each other as members of the same family, a refusal that can open a Pandora’s box of hatred, oppression, and murder. Sadly, Heschel’s words have not lost their relevance.
Religion and race. How can the two be uttered together? To act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart, to remember that humanity as a whole is God’s beloved child. To act in the spirit of race is to sunder, to slash, to dismember the flesh of living humanity. Is this the way to honor a father: to torture his child? How can we hear the word “race” and feel no self reproach? Race as a normative legal or political concept is capable of expanding to formidable dimensions. A mere thought, it extends to become a way of thinking, a highway of insolence, as well as a standard of values, overriding truth, justice, beauty. As a standard of values and behavior, race operates as a comprehensive doctrine, as racism. And racism is worse than idolatry. Racism is satanism, unmitigated evil. Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.