Interesting Links: Apr 28, 2015
Here are links to some interesting news articles which I came across today. These too are about the unpleasant and often ignored realities fueling the current round of mass protests in Baltimore.
It’s the police who are investigating the Gray’s death—even though he was in a police van, visible to only officers of the law, when he sustained the spinal injuries that killed him. The police may also have mishandled protests on Monday, allowing them to escalate and turn into looting and rioting. Nor did other traditional sources of power and influence acquit themselves especially well: The mayor seemed unprepared and beleaguered, the media often missed or obscured what was happening, and traditional community leaders seemed to have little sway. In a situation like this, when there’s no authority with credibility and influence, who can the population turn to?
On the other hand, within the African-American community, this sort of language is deeply informed by a politics of respectability, which has long served as a cultural means of self-defense, meant to deflect racist stereotypes of black criminality and depravity that serve to justify violence and exclusion. It’s about trying not to be a target. You can hear this anxiety in the mother’s voice: “Do you want to be Tased?” Given the sheer quantity of arms that the police have brought onto the streets of Baltimore in the last few days, this is no idle concern.
In a candid and originally anonymous interview, Reagan’s 1984 campaign director Lee Atwater described the Southern strategy in shockingly racist terms: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N***er, n***er, n***er,’” said Atwater. “[But] by 1968 you can’t say ‘n***er’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
Van Doorn is interested in the relationships between the adjectives “poor,” “black,” and “lazy,” arguing in his paper that they must have something to do with why some Americans are opposed to generous welfare programs. A 1999 book that he leans on heavily, Why Americans Hate Welfare by Martin Gilens, made the case that supporting impoverished adults with cash payouts is unpopular because white voters see such efforts as primarily benefitting black people—whom they believe to be lazy and thus undeserving. If the media’s portrayal of poverty were to reflect its actual diversity, perhaps voters would view social welfare programs more favorably. But that wouldn’t change the underlying phenomenon: that many still believe skin color says something about work ethic.
What do you think? Comments?