How Conservative Elites Stoke Racist Anxieties to Gain Power and Split Blacks and Whites
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Red State America's Alternate Reality
This language does not exist in a vacuum. It is reproduced, circulated, and reinforced by the right-wing echo chamber. In a moment when conservatives are increasingly isolated within their own media bubble, and many only trust Fox News and conservative talk radio, an alternate reality is created for Red State America. Once more, a fictitious belief that whites are being oppressed by the country’s first black president, and that the United States is a country in which white people are somehow disadvantaged, is omnipresent in conservative media.
Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly bloviated about how white people are abused and held down by Barack Obama, and need a civil rights movement to fight for their rights. He has even gone so far as to suggest that with Obama’s election there will be slavery reparations and other “goodies” paid to African Americans at the expense of whites. In this bizarre vision of America, white people are beaten and abused by blacks as a matter of routine, and “liberals” are actively working to ensure that white people and conservatives kiss the feet of people of color.
Pat Buchanan has famously argued that white people are experiencing Jim Crow under Barack Obama and that they are marginalized and repressed just like black people under the ax handles, fire hoses, guns, and baseball bats of Bull Connor’s thugs during the darkest days of the civil rights movement. And in their fixation on the New Black Panther Party, ACORN, the Reverend Wright “scandal,” and other manufactured controversies, Fox News has created a fictionalized world in which white people are under siege, second-class citizens in their own country.
The white victimhood narrative has paid substantial political dividends. In recent surveys, a majority of white conservatives believe they are oppressed, and a significant percentage of respondents also believe that anti-white racism is a bigger problem in American society than the discrimination faced by people of color. The sum effect of this politics of white victimology is a public policy that is less well-equipped to serve the common good, as shared class interests across the colorline can be sabotaged by right-wing appeals to white racial fears.
We can draw a long line here -- from the aborted interracial alliance of black and white indentured servants during Bacon’s Rebellion in the 17th century, to the populist, labor, and progressive movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, and into the present, when a narrow group of white elites have been able to distract the white working class and poor from their shared class interests with people of color. Race is a canard. Instead of looking to how people of color and white folks have common concerns about economic inequality for example, appeals to white skin privilege and white racial anxiety can be used to derail positive social change. To borrow the language of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the 1 percent has been using racism to divide and conquer for centuries. There is little new about the plutocrats’ game.
Ultimately, the Republican Party’s attraction to the rhetoric of “white oppression” is an example of the classic paranoid style in American politics. For many white conservatives, the election of the country’s first black president created a sense of existential upset. This event combined with a pre-existing set of deeply held fears about “liberal elites” in the media, academia, and elsewhere, who are out to persecute Republicans. The creation of an alternative reality by the right-wing media only enables these paranoid beliefs. Subsequently, racial demagoguery mates perfectly with a politics of grievance, persecution and oppression.