Inside the Fearful Conservative Mind: The Right-Wing's Latest Race Terrors
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The facts are not kind to this version of reality: African Americans and Latinos are significantly more likely to be unemployed during the Great Recession; the wealth gap between blacks and whites has continued to grow, with the latter have two dollars in wealth for every 10 cents owned by African Americans; blacks are given harsher sentences than whites when charged with the same crime; there is evidence of persistent discrimination in the labor market against people of color; and the United States remains segregated, with its schools being as racially divided as they were in the 1960s.
Racially resentful conservatives ignore and deny this reality. For them, the central struggle of the 21 st century is to ensure equal rights for white people. To further this dream world of white oppression, conservative elites and opinion leaders have completed a masterful transformation and inversion of language and logic.
In an Orwellian turn, nonsense words such as “playing the race card” (where does one get this card?) and “reverse-racism” (if racism is “reversed” then does it exist?) have been introduced into the American vocabulary. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Right has successfully convinced a large segment of the public that racism is a thing of the past (and which for all intents and purposes) has been eliminated as a meaningful variable in American social, cultural, and political life. For example, a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute reported that 44 percent of respondents believed that racism against white people was as big a social problem as that suffered by people of color. A significantly higher percentage of Republicans, Tea Party supporters, and Christian Evangelicals held this view.
There remains a consistent gap in the white public’s willingness to acknowledge the persistence and impact of racism in the United States: during the 1960s when Jim and Jane Crow were still lived realities, a majority of white Americans believed that the life chances of black and white people were roughly equal— a similar pattern continues into the present.
This is the beating heart and ultimate goal of the conservative dream world: an alternate reality has been created where racism only exists when white people are the “victims.” The race war trope is a fulfillment of this vision on a grand scale. These stories garner attention, and thus generate revenue for the conservative media. They also play on white anxieties about changing racial demographics and the “browning” of America.
A moral panic about roving bands of black people who are intent on attacking white folks also does practical political work. White racial anxiety, fear, and racial hostility are variables that could potentially mobilize some voters to move away from the Democratic Party and towards the GOP.
In keeping with the Right wing’s Culture War strategy, the conservative media’s fixation on young people of color running ramshackle over polite white society is also a way of portraying the black community as both uniquely pathological, and as possessing “bad culture.” African American parents are implicitly indicted for allowing this behavior to occur; black leadership is smeared as ineffective and incompetent for failing to intervene; African American activists are branded as hypocrites for their supposed silence when whites are the victims of black “hate crimes”; white liberals and progressives are tarred for enabling criminal behavior by people of color.
Who will Protect the White People?
The conservative media is playing with the highly combustible elements of race, violence, and white fear in order to further a narrow, dishonest, and petty political agenda. A narrative of white victimhood at the hands of black mobs begs and demands a response. If white people are really the victims of blacks in a race war, then they are going to need “defenders” and “heroes.”