September 30, 2014

Strategic racism

Yesterday I gave a shoutout to a new book titled Dog Whistle Politics by Ian Haney Lopez. The book's subtitle is How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.

Here's the opening paragraph:

Two themes dominate American politics today: at the forefront is declining economic opportunity; coursing underneath is race. This book connects the two. It explains popular enthusiasm for policies injuring the middle class in terms of "dog whistle politics": coded racial appeals that carefully manipulate hostility towards nonwhites. Examples of dog whistling include repeated blasts about criminals and welfare cheats, illegal aliens, and sharia law in the heartland. Superficially, these provocations have nothing to do with race, yet they nevertheless powerfully communicate messages about threatening nonwhites. In the last 50 years, dog whistle politics has driven broad swaths of white voters to adopt a self-defeating hostility toward government, and in the process has remade the very nature of race and racism. American politics today--and the crisis of the middle class--simply cannot be understood without recognizing racism's evolution and the power of pernicious demagoguery.

Holy Obama's war on coal, Batman! In this case, the decline of an industry largely driven by market forces gets conveniently dumped onto a convenient scapegoat who just so happens to be...from Chicago, sort of.

The book also usefully talks about strategic racism, which "refers to purposeful efforts to use racial animus as leverage to gain material wealth, political power, or heightened social standing." Precisely because it is strategic, the author argues that "it is not fundamentally about race. The driving force behind strategic racism is not racial animus for its own sake or brutalizing nonwhites out of hate; it is the pursuit of power, money, and/or status." People of color are certainly damaged by it. Ironically, so are many white members of the working and squeezed middle class who fall for it.

This kind of dog whistling has long been a part of American politics, but it has been played masterfully by politicians from George Wallace, Nixon and Reagan up to the present day, sadly with considerable success.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Gaucher said...

Good stuff, el Cabrero. Good stuff.