In the Feb. 11 Wauwatosa Patch, Noelle Loraine posted a blog titled: The Republican Party – Myths and Misunderstandings. Ms Loraine’s blog piece became the ignition source for a wide response by representatives of the political right and the political left.
Although her blog was a rather weak attempt at disproving the Republicans and conservatives as disserving of the racist label, the comments it evoked became most telling concerning the current state of race in politics.
However, the intent of my piece is not to directly confront Ms. Loraine’s piece, but some of the claims put forth by the right wing comments. In particular, I want to address the issue of racism in contemporary politics.
This nation has had a long and ugly history concerning the treatment of its non-white populations, including Native Americans, hispanics of color, and obviously African Americans. As white Europeans grabbed land, the Native Americans were systematically reduced to near extinction through the processes of war, disease and relocation, only to become permanent wards of the U.S. Federal Government. Hispanics were in place in North America long before other white Europeans, yet lost their lands in the 19th century through land purchase and war with Mexico.
The black populations of our nation are a completely different story, they were neither indigenous nor proceeded the white Europeans onto the continent. The black populations were purposely brought to this continent to be a source of cheap manual enslaved labor, primarily to work in the plantation fields in the agricultural Southern Colonies.
During the period of sanctioned slavery, most slaves were treated as chattel and had value to the owners. When slavery ended, the problems for America’s black population became even bleaker. No longer were they of value for their labor potential, but they became the pawns in the struggle of the Reconstruction Era and beyond.
With Lincoln’s untimely death, due to an assassin’s bullet, it created the conditions that directly led to the unjust conditions that quickly developed in the defeated South. At the end of the Civil War the Union was divided into two camps. The moderate Lincoln wanted to rebuild the South and reestablish honorable order and universal suffrage. The other camp was the “Radical Republicans” that controlled Congress, they wanted to punish the South and seek retribution for the failed rebellion. The loss of Lincoln, left the “Radical Republicans” in charge and unchecked. The period known as the “Reconstruction Era” became the nursery for the dysfunctional Southern social structure. What developed was the political enfranchisement of the “solid Democratic” South and penury for the freedmen population.
The Southern States found themselves in control of a devastated economy, which was dependent on agriculture, but without the labor to make the land productive.
Thus, the greatest ruse of the 19th and 20th centuries was created; the share cropping system and the resulting penury. The system was designed to keep the freed slaves on the land and indebted. Further reinforcing the system, laws were legislated to keep the black agricultural population subject to Jim Crow, loss of voting rights and in fear for their very lives and lives of their families. Under this system they were in as bad or worse position as when they were enslaved. Not only had institutional racism been established, but flourished under this system well into the 1970s.
In 1915 the Great Migration began with the black share croppers of the Southern US escaping penury and seeking economic opportunities in the factories of the North and West. Officially the Great Migration did not end until 1972. The migrants arrived to closed racially divided communities, but with the advantage of working and escaping the penury of their past.
As with all new migrant groups of low skill and little formal education, they began in the lowest ranks of employment. Although their culture continued to reflect the Southern Experience, many began the rise from poverty into the working middle classes. However, whenever pressures were applied to the economy, it was the members of the lowest working classes, primarily African Americans, who suffered the worst, necessitating a certain level of dependence on the social safety net. It was not out of choice but out of necessity.
LBJ was the first President and advocate to finally end structural and institutional racism. He accurately understood that long term poverty and dependency was a result of a system that was stacked against the poorest and most vulnerable of the citizens. What FDR began, which was not directed at African Americans, Harry Truman continued, LBJ was determined to finish the New Deal with the Great Society. His commitment was to social justice and to finally complete the task of reconstruction that was cut short by 19th century politics. “The War on Poverty” begun in the mid 1960s and would only last less than ten years but would have significant impact on American Society, raising awareness and creating a significant backlash from the Right with charges of “Reverse Discrimination”.
What many didn’t understand was that Affirmative Action and other O.E.O. programs were a form of long overdue reparations to make right what had been so wrong for so long. The reaction of institutional racism to the civil rights legislation and programs was for the “Dixiecrats” to switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party making the South a Republican stronghold from that moment on. Not only did the Republican Party gain new numerical support, but the Dixiecrats’ infected the Party of Lincoln with not only the disease of extreme social conservancy, but endemic structural and institutional racism as well.
The positive impact of “Racial Awareness Raising” was the decline of overt displays of racism. Over time overt racism was no longer socially acceptable and exited the common language, only to be replaced with a coded language; racism now was covert and more difficult to identify. The absence of overt racism gave rise by the political right’s opinion that racism was no longer a problem in American society and everyone shared in equal opportunity. Of course, this was and is a complete mythological fantasy.
The conditions for the members of the communities of color haven’t changed and if anything have become decidedly worse. Everything about their communities is under attack; “too many on government assistance, substandard educational performance, too many addicted to drugs and alcohol, too many unemployed with no desire to work, too much crime, and too many unwed mothers and teen pregnancies”; it goes on and on reminding one of the detrimental language of the racial South and the dehumanization of African Americans and other people of color. To cap it off is the political right’s cynical claims that the political left is manipulating race and government dependency for political gains.
As outlandish as these claims are, it has found traction with many of those on the right. These claims are based on the following logic:
Since widespread racism no longer exists and those who are on assistance or entitlements remain so because of a desire to avoid work and personay responsibility, then they will support the liberal left who not only supports the continuation of assistance and entitlements, but the growth therein. Furthermore, it is in the best interest of the liberal left to maintain dependency so as to avoid erosion of the left’s political power.
Of course the political left continues to support the existence of the social safety net, but also supports the effort to permanently help people rise out of the conditions and culture of poverty. The political right’s tactics of false claims are nothing more than to undercut the effectiveness and support of social action. They are using disguised messages and language to communicate messages of covert racism and to maintain the social strata of social injustice.
Inherent racism, in the political right, is again being used for their political gain branding those seeking justice as nothing more than sociopathic power manipulators and those receiving such, as nothing more than powerless pawns of the left.