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Republican rituals

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on Jan. 15, 1929. Tomorrow is the national holiday that celebrates his birthday and his life. There are a number of ways to observe the day: attending speeches, volunteer work, a trip to local civil rights museum. But conservatives like to mark the occasion by aggravating African-Americans and people who support the the struggle for civil rights by being dumbshits.

Take Jeff Jacoby, conservative opinion writer for the Boston Globe. Please. On Jan. 18 of this year the Globe published “As MLK foresaw, racism in America has been largely overcome:”

“It is a commonplace that racism is America’s original sin. Hardly a day goes by without attention being focused on instances of the racial injustice, friction, and double standards that can still be found in this nation. Open the morning paper or watch cable news, and there will be something to remind you of the country’s racial tensions — from controversy over flying the Confederate flag to NFL players protesting police brutality, from accusations of voter suppression in Georgia to an Iowa congressman defending “white nationalism.” It isn’t surprising that when Americans are asked in opinion polls whether race relations are getting better, many of them — sometimes most of them — gloomily reply that racism is still a major problem.

But it isn’t. It is only a minor problem now, one that has grown steadily less toxic and less entrenched. King predicted confidently that America would surmount its benighted racial past, and his confidence was not misplaced. Though his own life was cut short by a racist assassin, he foresaw that racism would lose its grip on American life.”

Racism is practically over! is a favorite refrain of whites who want people to be quiet about racism. They will make this claim no matter what is actually happening in the world outside of their narrow little minds. Again, this article was published two days ago, even though we’re into a full month of a government shutdown because the racist republican kumquat wants $6 billion for an immigrant-excluding wall. Jacoby refers to the “coarse racial crudeness of the incumbent president” but very carefully doesn’t examine how someone who is coarse and crude in a racial way got into the White House.

As is usually the case, Jacoby supports his claim that racism is practically over for a given value of racism and over! by citing The Bad Old Days. In the Bad Old Days white people were much more likely to express racist attitudes. But now they’re not.

In 1958, 48 percent of white Americans polled by Gallup said that “if colored people came to live next door,” they would be likely to move. By 1978, only 13 percent still said that; by 1997, the proportion had fallen to 1 percent.

Problem solved? Only if you’re the sort of person who thinks whites being less likely to express racist attitudes to a pollster means racism is on the wane.

Thirty-eight percent of white respondents said they would leave one of the integrated neighborhoods, with Detroiters and those endorsing negative racial stereotypes especially likely to do so. When asked why they might leave, whites focused on the negative features of integrated neighborhoods. Expressions of racial prejudice were also common, but neutral ethnocentrism rare.

The author of that study — Maria Kyrsan — was quoted extensively in an Vox article about white self-segregation in the U.S.

Jacoby also cites white attitudes about interracial marriage and friendship as proof. And to make sure exactly how serious everyone knows to take him, he pulls a double Goldberg: Citing and writing like Jonah Goldberg.

In 1964, a mere 18 percent of white Americans claimed to have a friend who was black. Four decades later, Gallup found that the proportion of interracial friendships had more than quadrupled: 82 percent of whites said they had close nonwhite friends (and 88 percent of blacks reported having close friends who were not black). Perhaps some white respondents were fibbing to appear more enlightened. But as commentator Jonah Goldberg observes, “the mere fact that they wanted others to believe they had a black friend is a kind of progress.”

Because nothing says respect like using imaginary African-Americans and other people of color to prove you’re a good person.

I’m sure there are a lot more Jacobyish articles out there. I assume they’re not unlike the articles that conservative pundits crank out every year at this time of year. But it isn’t just pundits. Politicians like to get in on the act as well. Here’s Vice President Pence.

Pence said administration officials have been speaking with rank and file Democrats in order to get a deal done, though he wouldn’t name those Democrats. He did, however, drop King’s name as someone whose message could inspire the two sides to come together.

“The hearts and minds of the American people today are thinking a lot about it being the weekend we are remembering the life and the work of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Pence told host Margaret Brennan. “One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.’ You think of how he changed America, he inspired us to change through the legislative process.”

That’s one reason Republicans have been busily disenfranchising African-Americans.

Pence’s use of a few words from King’s speech to push his party’s xenophobic policies is a pitch-perfect trolling. Everyone knows that the GOP is the party of racism, a group that it wants to undo all of his work except for a few of his words stripped of meaning and context. And people like Jacoby can point to the fact that someone like Pence still quotes King and say, racism is practically over!

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