Blow and Krugman

In “In Charleston, A Millennial Race Terrorist” Mr. Blow says some are even hesitant to call the Charleston killings a hate crime, despite many signs that it was that and more.  Prof. Krugman, in “Slavery’s Long Shadow,” says despite changing attitudes on several fronts, race in America is an issue that won’t go away.  And today the New York Times is reporting that the campaigns of Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul got donations from the leader of an extremist group tied to Dylann Roof, the suspected gunman in the attack at a church in Charleston.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

“You don’t have to do this,” said Tywanza Sanders to the young man who suddenly rose and drew a gun, and according to witnesses, said he was there “to shoot black people.”

He had been sitting in the Bible study session at Charleston, S.C.’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for an hour, next to the pastor, debating scripture.

Dylann Storm Roof, the unassuming, boyish-looking man with the bowl-cut hair, replied: “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

Then he “took aim at the oldest person present, Susie Jackson, 87.” This according to Sanders’s cousin, Kristen Washington, as reported in The New York Times.

Roof opened fire, killing nine; Jackson was the eldest slain, and her nephew, Sanders, the youngest at 26. Four of the dead were reverends — one of whom was the church’s pastor, a South Carolina state senator, Clementa Pinckney.

This was a savage act of barbarism by a young man baptized in a theology of race hate.

There are so many threads to pull on this story that one hardly knows where to begin, but let’s begin here: Roof was only 21 years old. He is a millennial race terrorist. Roof was born in 1994, 30 years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

He had a white power flag fetish. He was once pictured wearing a jacket emblazoned with an apartheid-era South African flag and another flag of “Rhodesia, as modern-day Zimbabwe was called during a period of white rule,”according to The Times. Apartheid ended the year Roof was born, and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe long before that.

Who radicalized Roof? Who passed along the poison? We must never be lulled into a false belief that racism is dying off with older people. As I’ve written in this space before, Spencer Piston, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University, has found that “younger (under-30) whites are just as likely as older ones to view whites as more intelligent and harder-working than African-Americans.”

Racism is to social progress what cockroaches are to nuclear fallout — extraordinarily resilient.

Furthermore, there is a widely published photo of Roof sitting on his car with an ornamental license plate with Confederate flags on it. That is the same Confederate flag that flies on the grounds of the state Capitol. What signal is South Carolina sending?

There is the thread of couching his cowardice as chivalry, framing his selfish hatred as noble altruism in defense of white femininity from the black brute. So much black blood has been spilled and so many black necks noosed in the name of protecting white femininity, and by extension, white purity. Roof is only this trope’s latest instrument.

Then there is the question of whether to call this terrorism. Terrorism, as commonly defined, suggests that the act must have some political motivation. (By defining it this way, we conveniently exclude that long legacy of racial terrorism as a political tool of intimidation and control in this country.) And yet, this case may even reach that bar.

Reuters reported Friday that the case “is being investigated by the Justice Department as a possible case of domestic terrorism.” But whether it reaches the legal definition of domestic terrorism (it has already passed the common sense definition), some conservatives have even been reticent to call it a hate crime, which it surely is, rather preferring to twist this massacre into their quixotic crusade to establish evidence of a war on Christianity in this country.

On Fox News’s “Fox and Friends,” one host called the killings “a horrifying attack on faith.”

Another anchor on the show chimed in, responding to the comments of a guest: “Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime. Uh, and some look at it as, ‘Well, it’s because it was a white guy, apparently, and a black church,’ but you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility towards Christians. And it was a church! So, maybe that’s what they’re talking about. They haven’t explained it to us.”

Oh Fox, there is so much that needs explaining to you. First, Roof was a member of a Lutheran church in Columbia, S.C. As Rev. Tony Metze of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church confirmed to the Huffington Post, “He was on the roll of our congregation.” Lutheranism is one of the branches of Protestant Christianity.

Beyond that, according to CNN, “a friend recalled a drunken Roof ranting one night about his unspecified six-month plan ‘to do something crazy’ in order ‘to start a race war.’ ”

CNN also reported that Roof confessed his intention to cause a race war to investigators. This wasn’t a war on Christianity, but a war on black people.

Roof was a young man radicalized to race hatred who reportedly wanted to start a race war and who killed nine innocent people as his opening salvo. If that’s not terrorism, we need to redefine the term.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

America is a much less racist nation than it used to be, and I’m not just talking about the still remarkable fact that an African-American occupies the White House. The raw institutional racism that prevailed before the civil rights movement ended Jim Crow is gone, although subtler discrimination persists. Individual attitudes have changed, too, dramatically in some cases. For example, as recently as the 1980s half of Americans opposed interracial marriage, a position now held by only a tiny minority.

Yet racial hatred is still a potent force in our society, as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens.

Of course, saying this brings angry denials from many conservatives, so let me try to be cool and careful here, and cite some of the overwhelming evidence for the continuing centrality of race in our national politics.

My own understanding of the role of race in U.S. exceptionalism was largely shaped by two academic papers.

The first, by the political scientist Larry Bartels, analyzed the move of the white working class away from Democrats, a move made famous in Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Mr. Frank argued that working-class whites were being induced to vote against their own interests by the right’s exploitation of cultural issues. But Mr. Bartels showed that the working-class turn against Democrats wasn’t a national phenomenon — it was entirely restricted to the South, where whites turned overwhelmingly Republican after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Richard Nixon’s adoption of the so-called Southern strategy.

And this party-switching, in turn, was what drove the rightward swing of American politics after 1980. Race made Reaganism possible. And to this day Southern whites overwhelmingly vote Republican, to the tune of 85 or even 90 percent in the deep South.

The second paper, by the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, was titled “Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-style Welfare State?” Its authors — who are not, by the way, especially liberal — explored a number of hypotheses, but eventually concluded that race is central, because in America programs that help the needy are all too often seen as programs that help Those People: “Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.”

Now, that paper was published in 2001, and you might wonder if things have changed since then. Unfortunately, the answer is that they haven’t, as you can see by looking at how states are implementing — or refusing to implement — Obamacare.

For those who haven’t been following this issue, in 2012 the Supreme Court gave individual states the option, if they so chose, of blocking the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, a key part of the plan to provide health insurance to lower-income Americans. But why would any state choose to exercise that option? After all, states were being offered a federally-funded program that would provide major benefits to millions of their citizens, pour billions into their economies, and help support their health-care providers. Who would turn down such an offer?

The answer is, 22 states at this point, although some may eventually change their minds. And what do these states have in common? Mainly, a history of slaveholding: Only one former member of the Confederacy has expanded Medicaid, and while a few Northern states are also part of the movement, more than 80 percent of the population in Medicaid-refusing America lives in states that practiced slavery before the Civil War.

And it’s not just health reform: a history of slavery is a strong predictor of everything from gun control (or rather its absence), to low minimum wages and hostility to unions, to tax policy.

So will it always be thus? Is America doomed to live forever politically in the shadow of slavery?

I’d like to think not. For one thing, our country is growing more ethnically diverse, and the old black-white polarity is slowly becoming outdated. For another, as I said, we really have become much less racist, and in general a much more tolerant society on many fronts. Over time, we should expect to see the influence of dog-whistle politics decline.

But that hasn’t happened yet. Every once in a while you hear a chorus of voices declaring that race is no longer a problem in America. That’s wishful thinking; we are still haunted by our nation’s original sin.

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