The National Rifle Association, the nation’s most morally abhorrent organization and producer of vile children’s propaganda, does not actually support unlimited gun rights. It supports unlimited gun rights for white people. It’s worth remembering that the NRA was originally just a hunting rights organization and that in the 70s it was on the verge of closing its Washington offices and moving its headquarters to Colorado to focus on its core mission. But then new leadership took over that connected gun rights to white backlash to the civil rights movement. Ever since then it has been a front line organization in the culture wars, which of course have always been more than tinged with racism. So it’s hardly surprising that it has nothing to say when the police kill black gunowners.
What’s the context of the Baton Rouge police murder and protests? LSU professor Christopher Tyson, an African-American and city native, as well as the 2015 Democratic nominee for Louisiana Secretary of State, explains the deep divides in the city:
It’s only by crossing that line that one can reconcile the more affluent neighborhoods of south Baton Rouge with the city’s grim statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 Baton Rouge ranked first in the nation for estimated H.I.V. and AIDS case rates per 100,000 people. For many years we’ve been one of the nation’s top murder capitals. Black men in East Baton Rouge Parish had a 46 percent high school graduation rate in 2011-2012. One-third of black residents live below the poverty line. And a vast majority of them are concentrated in north Baton Rouge
Recently, there was an organized effort to form something called the City of St. George. The goal was for south Baton Rouge to break off and form a new city, a move that would have exacerbated our community’s growing stratification. The effort ultimately failed, but we now all live in a city in which we know that a significant percentage of our neighbors want out.
Too many view the lives of people in north Baton Rouge as the cumulative result of poor choices, weak values and dependency. This is more than just lazy thinking. It’s an intolerable lie predicated on the erasure of all of our city’s and nation’s history. Like many urban communities, north Baton Rouge is the result of specific policy choices, social patterns and the toll that all of it eventually takes on neighborhoods, families and individuals. It’s a very American story of how black people have systematically been denied the opportunity to live in safe and stable neighborhoods. No amount of “individual responsibility” or “bootstrapping” will ever change that.
In the past few years, many of us have worked to bring attention to the challenges facing north Baton Rouge. A lack of access to reliable public transportation, quality health care, youth mentors and nutritious food are among the many crises that define day-to-day life in this half of this city. One example of what activists are working on: the lack of an emergency room in north Baton Rouge after the area’s public hospital closed its doors.
This past weekend teenagers from the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition, a college-prep mentoring organization I co-founded, planned and led a peaceful march attended by more than 1,000 people. There is a dedicated, multiracial coalition of civic and justice-minded folks working hard toward a more equitable and humane future. But the suffering grows every day, and there simply aren’t enough of us doing this work.
This is the context within which a man is led to sell CDs at midnight to feed his family. This is the context for the anger, frustration and exhaustion erupting not just from the corner of North Foster and Fairfields, but from all over the city. When I first visited Mr. Sterling’s memorial two days after his death, I spoke with other people there about our responsibility to his family and this city. We affirmed our linked fate with each familiar greeting and new introduction. We dapped up and exchanged hugs. We contemplated our next steps. We questioned the adequacy of our efforts. We all felt a need to be there, for Mr. Sterling, for each other and for our city.
In other words, structural and intentional white supremacy combine to keep African-Americans poor, the police ready to crack heads, and racial tensions high. It’s surprising there aren’t more violent upheavals given these conditions.
It’s incredibly expensive to be poor in the United States. Many have made this observation, noting not only the relatively high price to live in many places but also the prices charged to the poor for “services” like payday loans. Another is charging defendants fees to access their basic rights. Of course this is also another manifestation of racism given who the poor are and who the police target for arrest.
A brush with the police for pot possession might quickly spiral into a stiff penalty for a missed court date, deepening legal debt, missed work, re-arrest, a longer rap sheet. In daily life, the accompanying stigma layered over indebtedness “perpetuates inequality among African American and Latino men and among high school dropouts in the employment market.” The long-term opportunity cost could include mental-health crisis, forgone voting rights, and chronic recidivism, because people with nothing left to give also have nothing left to lose.
The question of poor individuals’ “debt to society” in the criminal justice infrastructure has exploded amid high-profile police-violence scandals, particularly in Ferguson, Missouri, where the bullet that killed Michael Brown sparked riots and exposed patterns of criminalization that afflict mutually reinforcing social and economic damage. A recent Department of Justice investigation uncovered a system in which officials see black citizens “less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”
What do the numbers look like?
Even due process carries a price tag in states like Washington, where fees for jury trials have risen lately. A 2005 bill set a cost of “$150 and $250 for a six-or twelve-person jury, respectively.” Yes, the right to a jury of your peers costs $25 a head—add another $100 or so for a defense attorney.
Punishing the supposed deviance of the poor with still more poverty reflects “rhetoric in contemporary American society about personal responsibility and accountability,” Harris explains via e-mail:
What is interesting about monetary sanctions and the criminal justice system, similar to that of education and even health care, is that we have shifted what should be a guaranteed right or governmental responsibility to the people who are processed through the system.
Harris’s subjects started with an average debt of about $9,200 each, generally as the combined cost of several convictions. After five years, even with regular monthly payments of about $31, the debtor “would owe $10,667 as a result of the accumulated interest and surcharges—an increase of $1,463 over the initial debt.”
Of course all of this adds up to an inability to pay the rent, clothe the children, eat properly, mental health, etc.
Legal debtors struggle to live with dignity. Nick, a 38-year-old black man who was attending community college through the help of a reentry program, was trailed by a chain of debt leftover from three convictions in the mid-1990s—violations related to “drug addiction and mental health problems” in adolescence that poverty only exacerbated later on. When Harris interviewed him, he had been sentenced to 56 months in state prison, been jailed several times, and “accumulated a total of $3,178.06 in legal debt,” an impossible sum for him pay down.
This is a complete injustice. But it’s just par for the course for hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Like many of you, I watched the video of the Baton Rouge police killing Alton Sterling. There’s no two ways around this–it was a flat out execution. I would say I am shocked, but of course I am not shocked. The police have been executing black people in the United States and the British colonies before that for almost 400 years. Literally, the only major change that has taken place is that today we all have little cameras that allow us to record the executions. That vision allows us to have the evidence we need to be properly outraged. But the chances that the Baton Rouge officers who committed this horrible crime will be brought to justice are almost zero. Maybe, just maybe, they will be brought to some sort of trial, but I would put the chance of conviction at just about 0%. I just don’t even know what to say anymore except that taking to the streets is probably the best thing anyone can do.
I also love the cops saying that their body cameras “fell off” during the confrontation with Sterling. Yeah, cool story.
Would you be surprised to know it’s racist white people? No, I don’t think so. From April:
Racial prejudice could play a significant role in white Americans’ opposition to gun control, according to new research from political scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In their paper, published in the journal Political Behavior in November, Alexandra Filindra and Noah J. Kaplan found that whites were significantly less likely to support gun control measures when they had recently looked at pictures of black people, than when they had looked at pictures of white people. The study, which surveyed 1,000 white respondents, also found that the higher they scored on a common measure of racial prejudice, the stronger negative effect the photos of black people had on the respondents’ support for gun control.
Taken together, those two findings “demonstrate that racial prejudice influences white opinion regarding gun regulation in the contemporary United States,” Filindra and Kaplan conclude. But why would that be the case?
Particularly with respect to the modern gun-rights movement that really took off in the ’80s and ’90s, the language “creates this distinction between ‘law-abiding citizens’ and ‘criminals,'” Filindra says. She points to the type of language that’s frequently used by gun rights groups who warn of ever-present threats by “predatory criminals” and a murkily-defined “they” who want to “take your guns away.”
“Juxtapositions of ‘law abiding citizens’ and ‘criminals’ [are] evocative of racialized themes as crime has long been associated with blacks in the white mind,” Filindra and Kaplan write.
Filindra and Kaplan say their research does not imply that all white gun owners are racist, nor that all support for gun control carries racial baggage.
But for a certain subset of white gun-rights supporters, particularly those who are inclined to hold certain prejudicial beliefs, messages about individualism and liberty and rights are understood in a very specific way.
In the mind of this type of gun owner, “I am showing my white nationalist pride in a sort of generic way through gun ownership,” Filindra posits. “This is my way of expressing my ‘more-equal-than-others’ status in a society where egalitarianism is the norm. I can’t say that some people are better and some are worse in terms of racial groups. But I can show it symbolically. I can show I’m a better citizen.”
I’m sure glad I was near my fainting couch when I read this.
Racists. Racists support Trump.
Moving from the least to the most resentful view of African Americans increases support for Trump by 44 points, those who think Obama is a Muslim (54 percent of all Republicans) are 24 points more favorable to Trump, and those who think the word “violent” describes Muslims extremely well are about 13 points more pro-Trump than those who think it doesn’t describe them well at all.
Like Klinkner, my colleagues Max Ehrenfreund and Scott Clement found that Trump received a plurality of support — 43 percent — from respondents who expressed racial resentment. But they also found that economic anxiety played a significant role: 40 percent of respondents who said they were struggling gave their support to Trump, far more than any other candidate.
“Those who voiced concerns about white status appeared to be even more likely to support Trump than those who said they were struggling economically,” Clement and Ehrenfreund wrote, “but the results did not clearly show which concern was more important among Trump’s coalition.
The biggest predictor of Trump support among Republican and Republican-leaning voters was a belief that “the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens U.S. values.” Republicans holding this belief felt 18 points more positively toward Trump, on a 100-point scale, than Republicans who didn’t feel this way.
Belief that Islam encourages violence, and that it’s “bad” for the country that blacks, Latinos and Asians will someday make up the majority of the population, accounted for eight-point jumps in positive feelings toward Trump.
Your daily reminder that the problem Republican elites have with Donald Trump is not that he’s racist, but that he doesn’t use dogwhistles to hide it. They are fine with racist policies so long as they can claim they personally are not racist.
Or take voting today. Perhaps GOP leaders are sincere when they say their ongoing attack on (nonexistent) voter fraud with new voter-ID laws are not designed to suppress the votes of people of color. But they will not acknowledge evidence that the law’s impact is nonetheless voter suppression. Or take the question of equal opportunity for children. A bill adopted by the House Education and Workforce Committee this year, which Ryan has endorsed, forces 11,000 high-poverty schools out of eligibility for free-lunch programs, lowers nutritional standards, and makes it much tougher for schools to enroll kids who need help. The children who are adversely affected will be far disproportionately of color. But they aren’t named as targets, so we cannot pin down racist intention; Ryan and many others denouncing Trump this week would strongly object if someone called the bill “textbook” racism. As long as lawmakers and politicians don’t say “black” or “Mexican” or “Arab,” they are cleared of racist intention, as though the impacts of their actions don’t matter.
The Tulsa Race Riot is one of the most shameful events in all of American history and as we know, that’s a high bar to meet. That event took place 95 years ago today. Amazingly, an account of this event written by the father of the legendary African-American historian John Hope Franklin, who was a leading black lawyer in Tulsa at the time, was recently discovered.
“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top,” wrote Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960).
The Oklahoma lawyer, father of famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), was describing the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood known as Greenwood in the booming oil town. “Lurid flames roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes—now a dozen or more in number—still hummed and darted here and there with the agility of natural birds of the air.”
Franklin writes that he left his law office, locked the door, and descended to the foot of the steps.
“The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues. “I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’”
The Tulsa Race Riot needs to be a much more central event to our national history. A national park site would be a good place to start, but given that the city of Tulsa is pretty much unwilling to deal with this event, that’s unlikely to happen soon. The discovery of this manuscript may help.
If You Want a Racist Campaign Team, the Staff of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is a Good Place to Look
Donald Trump senior policy advisor is a guy named Stephen Miller, who he plucked from Jeff Sessions’ staff. Miller went to Duke (which should disqualify anyone from political life anyway) and wrote for the college newspaper there. What sort of things did he write about?
His columns for The Chronicle range in subject from multiculturalism (which he calls “segregation”); to paid family leave (which results in men “getting laid off because [their] boss was losing too much money by paying absent employees”); to the Duke lacrosse scandal (“a large number of people – instead of rejoicing at our peers’ innocence – will insist it is a conspiracy of white privilege”).
The columns offer a revealing glimpse into the opinions and ideology of Trump’s top policy adviser, and the sort of advice the presidential hopeful might be getting.
In addition to standard college newspaper fare – an essay about town-gown relations in which Miller details the “condescension” inherent in giving a janitor a birthday card – Miller’s 25 columns, written between September 2005 and April 2007, frequently touch on hot-button issues.
On torture, for example, Miller writes that criticism of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques by American soldiers made then-senator Ted Kennedy “a traitor”, and that comparing the actions of the US military with those of its enemies means “you have betrayed your nation and are morally guilty of treason”.
Most of Miller’s writings, however, are concerned with the culture wars, particularly matters of race. In an article titled “Paranoia”, Miller writes that “racial paranoia” – belief in systematic racism – does a “tremendous disservice” not only to those accused of harboring racist beliefs, but to racial minorities as well.
“It saps their motivation and has devastating results on their potential for success,” he writes.
A great hire!
Reading the discussions of Andrew Jackson over the last couple of days has been really interesting to me. With both Dylan Matthews and Scott, I agree on all the merits of the case against Jackson. But I think it’s also just slightly misguided in emphasis. Jackson was terrible in pretty much every conceivable way–economic policy, slaveholding, genocidal murderer of indigenous peoples, extralegal executions of foreign traders, etc. John Quincy Adams was indeed much more of a visionary of a more just and functional America.
So you’ll see no disagreement from me on banishing Jackson to the back of the $20 or getting rid of him entirely. Good riddance.
But I think all of this lets the real culprits of American crimes off way too easy: white people. Relatedly, I this is a result of and is spurred on by too much focus on the presidency as a way to understand what is still a Great Man History that we can’t get beyond and a way to understand modern politics. These two issues intertwine to provide us a somewhat limited view of the problems of the past and the present. The problems of the past and present in the United States can be blithely summed up as too many racist, selfish white people. Matthews and Scott are both right by calling Jackson a reactionary. He was indeed. But it’s not like Jackson was putting himself out on the line politically. Jackson’s actions–destroying the National Bank, holding slaves, committing genocide against Native Americans–were all the popular positions of the American white population. There’s a reason he was so popular and a reason why the Whigs struggled so much to defeat him. He delivered on what millions of Americans wanted.
Andrew Jackson was the living embodiment of the American Dream in the early 19th century. Growing up dirt poor and barely literate, he managed to rise rapidly in American society through his use of violence, shrewd financial dealings, and military success. Owning slaves was the primary way to wealth for basically the entire South during the pre-Civil War period, a part of the nation it should be remembered that also included Maryland and Kentucky. Moreover, many, many whites would have loved to own slaves in southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The genocidal project was supported by nearly every white American, outside of the northeast at least. What is forgotten about in the Indian Removal debates is that the whites of Georgia simply would have massacred the Cherokee had the government not removed them. Yes, Jackson should have followed John Marshall’s decision. But remember that he and Van Buren faced zero political fallout for ignoring Marshall. The Democratic Party was the embodiment of white desire. Jackson may have been a reactionary, but so were the majority of American whites.
Another way this is really interesting is that it’s really hard for me to see people who are damning Andrew Jackson defend the American Revolution. The American Revolution was largely a movement of racist white tax avoiders who openly advocated for genocide against Native Americans and who then acted upon that. Yes, the fancy Enlightenment thought that gussied up the Declaration of Independence did cause some whites to question their society and you saw northern states slowly move toward banning slavery, although this was by no means an easy task in many of them. But even there, the real issue was slavery wasn’t making any money and so was easily disposed of. In the South, the reason there was some emancipationist talk was that the tobacco farms had depleted soil and so it didn’t make much financial sense. Almost the very moment the cotton gin is invented, all of that southern talk about emancipation disappears and the region doubles down on slavery. Slavery once again became the way for white wealth accrual in much of the nation. Andrew Jackson helped move that process along but he was also very much a creation of it.
The problem of Andrew Jackson is the problem of white people. It’s the problem of genocide against Native Americans after the American Revolution. It’s the problem of slavery. It’s the problem of James Polk lying to Congress to invade Mexico to expand slavery. It’s the problem of John C. Calhoun and John C. Breckinridge. It’s the problem of popular sovereignty and Bleeding Kansas. It’s the problem of the Democratic Party running Horatio Seymour in 1868 and Horace Greeley in 1872, both running on the Republicans doing too much for black people. It’s the problem of William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan wanted to exterminate Native Americans and being irritated with Grant for not allowing that. It’s the problem of Wade Hampton and Tom Watson. It’s the problem of Woodrow Wilson and the Ku Klux Klan, first, second, and third editions. It’s the problem of George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. It’s the problem of Reagan giving campaign speeches about race in Philadelphia, Mississippi and people responding to that. It’s the problem of the Tea Party and the rise of Donald Trump.
In other words, the problem of Andrew Jackson is not just that Andrew Jackson was a terrible person. It’s the problem of most American white people being racists. By focusing too much on Jackson or too much on Trump, we let ourselves and our society off the hook. Take Jackson off the $20, please! But by focusing our criticism too much on a single individual, we not only reinforce a type of personality politics today that is deeply problematic and reinforce Great Man History, we also cover up for our own culpability in all of these horrors and culpability of our ancestors.
The three last sociopaths competing for the Republican nomination will be debating this Tuesday in Milwaukee. Of course, they will be pushing visions that are counter to the interests of the people who actually live in Milwaukee, as opposed to the racist white suburbs that are Scott Walker’s base.
Desmond’s harrowing data points about the material indignities of Milwaukee poverty derive in turn from hard, ugly facts about America as a whole. Well-paying jobs fled the city to be replaced with service sector work that paid less than half as much. Those who turn to the criminal economy in order to keep the roaches out of their kids’ cereal boxes, or just to avoid eviction from their current rat hole, end up having to check a box on every job application acknowledging their criminal record and dooming their chances of getting a call back.
One in four times that an impoverished Milwaukee family moved house from 2009 to 2011, it was involuntary. Most of those forced uprootings were formal evictions, though Desmond notes that landlords who don’t want to bother with housing court and sheriff’s eviction squads sometimes tear the front door off a delinquent tenant’s home or otherwise push them out informally.
While evictions are commonplace today, Desmond writes that American communities used to rally together against them with force and verve. A New York Times article from the Depression era once described a 1,000-person anti-eviction protest crowd as small.
When they’re not evicting people, Desmond writes, Milwaukee’s slumlords encourage them to “trade their dignity and children’s health for a roof over their head.”
One in five Milwaukee renters lives with broken windows, busted appliances, or days-long rat or roach problems. One in three have had their plumbing clogged up for more than a day. One in 10 have endured a day with no heat. Kicking up a fuss about any of these problems might mean a city inspector came out and cited the landlord, but it would probably also mean being evicted and starting from scratch.
Desmond’s reporting reveals a casual brutality grinded into every corner of the low-income rental market by decades of job flight, poverty, and neglect.
An inner-city landlord named Sherrena Tarver, while at times callous, is laboring away on her own hamster wheel of incentives and constraints. A woman named Arleen moves her boys into a shelter after Sherrena evicts them, and goes through 90 different landlords with open listings just to find a single one who will take her – and days later, they toss her back out on the street again.
There’s the trailer park manager who supervises a hard-assed Illinois man’s investment in white destitution, and a woman on disability for a middle school hip fracture that was never treated. There are housing court commissioners who crank out scores of evictions every day, often awarding landlords the right to collect debts later from any flat-broke tenant who manages to turn her life around.
The landscape corrupts all who deal in it. And beyond the immediate landscape, a complex and far-flung industry extracts profit from the evictions churn by selling related services to landlords and tenants alike.
It’s a sort of cottage industry designed to extract profit from a crisis that American cities create by failing to build and maintain enough housing that their residents can actually afford. Trump’s own early career involved some real estate dealings that contributed to that shortage, focusing his resources on building luxury housing where dense, rent-controlled units previously stood.
The only mistake made here is emphasizing Trump. This isn’t Trump’s America. It’s Republican America. It’s Scott Walker’s America. It’s an America of over a century of the exploitation of black communities by zoning laws, slumlords, housing markets, urban renewal, de facto and de jure segregation, all tied together in a big package of racism. Hell, it isn’t Trump’s America. It’s just America.
Donald Trump’s embrace of white supremacists reminds Ben Railton of that mostly forgotten election year of 1924, when the KKK dominated the Democratic Party and anti-immigrant politics won the day, closing the American borders to most immigrants for four decades.
Lost in the latest Trump uproar is that the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists have been significant players in our national politics for a century, engaged in debates over not only race and region but also over immigration, culture, and American identity more broadly. Indeed, just under a century ago, the Klan muscled its way to center stage at a national political party’s convention in a moment that captured the hate group’s tenacious national presence. Back then it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, struggling to quell the divisions within their ranks. But the story speaks volumes about the racial tensions that continue to tear at the national body politic.
It was 1924, and the Democrats were holding their national convention in New York’s Madison Square Garden, a political brawl that ran continuously for more than two weeks and required a record 103 ballots to nominate the party’s presidential candidate. The two frontrunners coming into the convention were William Gibbs McAdoo, a California businessman and future U.S. senator who had served as Woodrow Wilson’s Treasury Secretary, and New York Governor Alfred Smith, a Catholic vehemently opposed by the Ku Klux Klan. The delegates linked with the Klan, which had over the preceding decade had gained significant, controversial national influence in the Democratic Party and beyond, supported McAdoo. Like Trump when first asked about David Duke, McAdoo did not disavow or decline the endorsement.
From June 24 to July 9, Catholics, immigrants, and other coalitions within the party fought the Klan delegates in a series of back-and-forth nominations of Smith, McAdoo, and a number of other candidates. The result was a convention that broke all records for length, came to be known as the “Klanbake,” and eventually nominated a broadly unpopular alternative candidate, namely former West Virginia Congressman John W. Davis. Davis went on to lose the presidential election to Republican incumbent Calvin Coolidge by a margin of nearly 250 electoral votes.
That historic convention serves as a reminder that white supremacists have been tied to both major parties, and that Democrats have not been immune from ugly racial attacks. Indeed, the Klan and its ilk were most prominently associated with the Democratic Party until at least the 1948 “Dixiecrat” revolt, when segregationist Democrats nominated Strom Thurmond as a third-party presidential candidate. (To be clear, this does not mean, as the recent comments of CNN analyst and Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord suggest, that the KKK is a “leftist” organization; the hate group has always been and remains thoroughly reactionary.) Yet the 1924 convention also illustrates the nation’s ongoing struggle with itself over immigration and visions of our collective identity. The Klan’s rise a century ago went hand in hand with the passage of the first comprehensive national immigration law, the Immigration Act of 1924 (also known as the Johnson-Reed Act).
At the time, the 1924 law extended and made permanent the so-called Emergency Quota Act, a 1921 law that had established immigration quotas based on national origin. The central arguments for both creating a national immigration law and basing it on such quotas were openly racist, as reflected in a speech delivered on the Senate floor by then-South Carolina Senator Ellison Durant Smith, himself a white supremacist dedicated to “keeping the niggers down and the price of cotton up.” Smith, one of the 1924 law’s more ardent supporters, argued that “the point as to this measure … is that the time has arrived when we should shut the door. … Thank God we have in America perhaps the largest percentage of any country in the world of the pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock; certainly the greatest of any nation in the Nordic breed. It is for the preservation of that splendid stock that has characterized us that I would make this not an asylum for the oppressed of all countries, but a country to assimilate and perfect that splendid type of manhood that has made America the foremost Nation in her progress and in her power.”
I doubt I’m the only who could see Trump making speeches very similar to Ellison Durant Smith.