Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Posts Tagged ‘race’

The NAACP and the Tea Party: The need for civil repair

In Domestic Politics on July 18, 2010 at 11:18 am

When leaders of the NAACP made public statements about race and the Tea Party, it drew a lot of attention and has subsequently produced quite a bit of debate.  Each side has been using accusations of racism against the other and some of these displays have been predictably strange. I have argued that the Tea Party is not a formally racist organization (although no one can doubt that it is surfacing racist sentiments), but that it is motivated by an assimilationist tendency of which many people in it may be unaware. These tendencies should be discussed so that we know what it is that people are fighting about. I think that we are closer to understanding one another across the racial divide than ever, even if it feels like we are falling apart. Racial suspicion keeps us from doing many other things that the country requires, and so we have to unfreeze the conflict by bringing the poison out in the open.

In the end, I think that the statement by the NAACP is measured and carefully worded. The organization has capitalized on a great opportunity to stimulate the national conversation on race that we have longed to have. We need to see race without seeing red, and all Americans need to understand that whoever takes back their country, cannot take it back to a situation in which only specific ways of life are respected . They also need to recognize that demands to take the country back sound like they are more about culture than they are about economic policy, and that rightly offends people.

As painful as it is for us to name racial bias, we have to do it, and we should do so in a way that opens up possibilities for what Jeffrey Alexander calls “civil repair.”  By this he means opening up the public space of solidarity to those who have been wrongfully excluded from it. We have moved a long way down this path with respect to race, but the structural legacies and residual indignities that resulted from previous exclusion are far from behind us. I think one piece of what makes this so painful is the fact that it takes so long. The lunch counter sit-ins that Ms. Maddow confronted candidate Rand Paul with after his primary victory are celebrating their 50th year. That is a long time and much has changed since then, but racial inequalities persist as do cross race suspicions. There is likely to be as much work still to be done.

One reason for hope can be found in the fact that in this discussion, the forces of civil repair are empowered and they are behaving well, even though I am sure that these paroxysms strain patience. Read the rest of this entry »


Constructive Confrontation: The case of Henry Louis Gates

In Africa, Domestic Politics on April 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Our times are extremely interesting–in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse. We have so much going on that there is ample opportunity for the likes of Rahm Emmanuel not to let this crisis go to waste. As we have come to chant, when the President came to office he faced two wars, the great recession, a crisis in health financing, climate change and the burden of a dysfunctional financial system among other things. And yet amid all of this, the key issue of our decade may be the ongoing challenge of racial reconciliation. In this grand spectacle, no figure other than the President himself has loomed as large as Henry Louis Gates. In Gates, we have one of the best examples of how ideas and their makers have consequences–in this case for the good.

Not only was Gates in the center of a public drama now known as the beer summit, which I believe was one of the major facilitators of the ethno-racial dimension of the Tea Party movement, but today he has published an op-ed in the New York Times that is only astonishing for the fact of its publication. His confrontation with Officer Crowley has helped to surface residual ethno-political tensions that we now have a chance to engage head-on to expose racially biased misconceptions, while in today’s confrontation with history, we find Gates engaging what must be one of the most contentious topics in the American record, namely responsibility for African slavery, with a balanced and historical view on how the practice developed.

In Gates’ story, there is excess blame to go around for the sins of the peculiar institution. We find the usual deserving suspects implicated, but we also find here a eerie tale of inter-ethic opportunism among Africans themselves. It is said that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, but the reality is often the reverse. The fathers of the tragedy of institutionalized racism that we are only now beginning to extirpate are more numerous than we typically suppose. Similarly Read the rest of this entry »

Inclusive Ethnocentrism: The political logic of the Tea Party

In Class and Social Stratification, Domestic Politics, Media and Politics on April 19, 2010 at 2:41 pm

It has been hard for most of us not to pay attention to the Tea Party movement. This fascinating right of center and middle American rejection of the activist politics of economic crisis is just colorful and controversial enough to have become the talk of the town in a mid-term election cycle. In 2009 the group, which broke onto the national scene with shouts of (T)axed (E)nough (A)lready in a national mall protest on tax day, managed to garner even more attention in their 2010 rally. The semiological savvy of the group is profound and there is more to expect from it, but this weekend witnessed a sea change in group’s narrative that will stick until the November elections. As Peter Beinart argued, in the wake of a New York Times/CBS News poll on the group, the Tea Partiers are widely regarded as phony populists,  and that is what they will stay until we have a real test of their electoral power. With the demonstration of power, everything can change, but for now, the conversation has turned.

I assume that most people have read accounts from the poll I mention above. There are plenty of discussions about it to choose from. Just today, E.J. Dionne weighed in with a gloss that he has spoken much of already on air: the populism of the privileged. Charles Blow had a devastating piece over the weekend as well. The arguments are not appearing by chance. The New York Times poll was surgically targeted to expose the true face of the movement at a crucial moment in the current political opportunity structure.

The findings were devastating for the group on two counts. First, the movement has been shown to draw on relatively well off citizens and not the lower classes. This is important because the greatest fear the democrats face is that false consciousness will drive their “natural constituency” of voters with an interest in activist government on economic matters toward the Right. If the class structure is working as traditional class voting hypothesis would predict, then there is little reason for the Democrats to worry and Read the rest of this entry »

Howl of the Haoles: Health as a Civil Right

In Domestic Politics on March 24, 2010 at 7:53 am

Perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from the fight over the health regulation bill that was passed in the House Sunday night was the linkage between health insurance and race. I had the chance to watch the fight while away in the Midwest and the tight connection between race and insurance was made more clear to me in that setting than it might have been here inside the Beltway. To put things simply: the bill itself has little to do with race, but the opposition to the bill is very likely inspired by some degree of racial anxiety. The important thing about this most recent incarnation of race consciousness is that it pits white people not against black, which was most common in the civil rights era. Instead the changing demographics of the country pits Middle America against demographic diversity itself. While hardly new, the changing context of ethnic confrontation makes it different this time and demands a different approach to conflict resolution.

For some of you, there will be no need to establish the link between health and race.  I often hear that this is all about race. There is Read the rest of this entry »

Talk, Talk, Talk: Why the filibuster will soon end

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2010 at 7:42 am

For obvious reasons, there has been a lot of recent debate about whether we should end the tradition of unlimited debate in the Senate. One nice op-ed article can be found here. It is well known that the Senate often stalls legislation, acting as a check on what the more volatile house does. There are many reasons that the Senate acts as the saucer for the tea cup mass opinion that the house represents (Funny to think about the tea thing again. As it turns out, I think that the founding fathers drank tea differently in those days because Washington suggested to Jefferson that you pour your tea into the saucer to cool it. This reminds me of the new wine in old bottles line that often gets reversed today).  Read the rest of this entry »