Rod Graham

The GOP is using a range of power plays to seize political control — regardless of legitimacy

Power is the ability to get what you want, even in opposition to others. In our two-party system, the party in power can pass legislation the other party may oppose.

Democrats thought they were in power, but Biden’s inability to pass his Build Back Better legislation casts doubt on how much power Democrats actually have.

In my state of Virginia, the governor in power has signed a raft of executive orders, including banning the teaching of “divisive concepts.”

We see this as a normal and anticipated aspect of democracy. We want our party in power so they can pass the legislation we think is best.

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But we miss a crucial element in this understanding.

The party in power has traditionally had authority as well.

Power minus authority
Sociologists talk about authority as the legitimate power that one group or individual holds over another. People are said to be in positions of authority when they can issue commands and reasonably expect them to be carried out.

We don’t say parents have “power” over their children. That implies conflict and struggle. Instead, we say they have authority. We expect children to (more or less) willingly be guided by their parents.

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And so, although authority is rooted in power, it rests on a belief that the person issuing commands is doing so legitimately. Authorities manage, command, lead and govern with consent of the governed.

Power in the absence of the consent of the governed is tyranny. Since at least Obama’s presidency, the Republican Party has been making plays for power with little regard for authority.

From complex to simple
This line of reasoning is not new. There are several lines of analysis for what is happening with the Republican Party.

Some focus on the dismantling of our system of free and fair elections and call it authoritarianism. A despotic figure rises to power and attempts to corrupt the democratic process to maintain power.

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I believe Republicans have been doing this in fits and starts since the 1960s. However, this critique gained momentum during the Trump presidency, as he seemed to be operating from a dictator’s playbook and reached a crescendo after the J6 insurrection.

Others adopt a more complex sociocultural analysis and will liken the current, Trump-led far-right turn of the Republican party to fascism.

To be sure, there is a there, there. But sometimes, it can be hard to tell what counts as fascism and what doesn’t. For example, one piece points out seven themes of fascist movements.

It’s also hard to tell what people mean when they say fascism, and resorting to a Wikipedia search doesn’t cut it. Vox did a piece where eight experts weighed in. “Is Trump a fascist?” They concluded no.

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Authoritarianism and fascism are not mutually exclusive, as a fascist government is an authoritarian government.

Another analysis worth considering is that the Republican Party is attempting to make southern politics national.

In an interview with the Editorial Board’s own John Stoehr, professor of political science Angie Maxwell argued that the American south is a one-party system characterized by “a politics of entertainment as opposed to a contest of ideas.”

Moreover, “the long history of one-party politics in the south has created real structural barriers to progress and change.”

Maxwell argues that as more states fall under one-party rule, they will also experience problems of the American South. Stoehr subtitles his interview with Dr. Maxwell “The American south as mini-Russia.”

Authoritarianism. Fascism. Mini-Russia.

These are all fruitful ways of thinking about our current political climate. But I tend to look at these issues more straightforwardly.

The current iteration of the GOP wants power. It cares nothing about legitimacy. It’s as simple as that. We may end up describing it as authoritarianism or fascism or whatever. But it’s all about gaining power by hook or crook, and their power plays need cataloging.

Where to start?
I guess the first place is voting and elections.

  1. According to the ACLU, Republicans have introduced more than 400 anti-voter bills across the country in recent years. Voter suppression has become a major talking point on the left for a good reason. Voting is the primary way people exercise their voice. The Republicans are trying to silence that voice.
  2. The nation is becoming browner, especially where Republicans are in power. The nation’s population growth in the 2020 census came largely from racial minorities in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. In these states, Republicans control redistricting, and they are working hard at gerrymandering districts to keep them red.
  3. The ultimate power play, thankfully unrealized, was to overturn legitimate election results. One hundred and forty-seven Republicans voted to overturn a free and fair presidential election. We can’t overlook the desire to manipulate our knowledge landscape. Severing the population from truth is its own type of power play.
  4. The Trump administration had on several occasions denied access by revoking press passes and banning reporters.
  5. If one imagines this is simply an idiosyncrasy of the Trump administration, consider that Republicans are possibly withdrawing from public debates. The RNC claims that the Commission on Presidential Debates is biased towards Republicans.
  6. Across the nation, Republicans are attempting to severe the population from the truth by instituting truth bans. Since January of last year, 33 states have “introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.”

Power and precarity
A more complex analysis will see these power plays as fitting within an overall scheme to institute a totalitarian, one-party state. I’m not sure that is the best way to understand the dynamics at play.

These accumulate into qualitative changes in how our democracy – what’s left of it – operates. But let’s not lose the trees for the forest.

Republicans are not interested in governing with legitimate authority. Instead, they are taking deliberate action that’s designed to gain or maintain power, regardless of what the population wants.

They are taking these actions not because of a grand scheme of dismantling democracy. At least, not intentionally. They are doing these things because of precarity.

They know that if they let democracy play out, they would have little authority in this country. And so, by necessity, they suppress votes, gerrymander, contest election results and ban the truth.

The American hyper-focus on individualism makes us poorer, sicker, and sadder

It is rather easy to lament the state of our country right now.

We are not wealthy. The US economy, despite the pandemic, has been doing reasonably well overall. However, income inequality is at its highest in 50 years. We are richer in the aggregate, but most of the gains have gone to upper-class families. The wealth gap is even starker, with upper-income families possessing 75 times as much wealth as lower-income families. In 1983, that ratio stood at 28.

We are not healthy. Around 42 percent of our country is obese. The Obama administration passed legislation to fight the opioid epidemic. It has only gotten worse, with New York needing to open overdose prevention centers. Before the pandemic, the life expectancy for white males was declining, with what has been termed “deaths of despair.”

We are not happy. We’re still in the middle of a national referendum on racism. Racial minorities are urging us to atone for historical injustices and address contemporary forms of racism. Trans persons have quickly gained visibility, and many people are unsettled. Some are downright fearful. Powered by disinformation and conspiracy theories, large portions of the right are convinced white students are being taught to hate themselves by teachers, Donald Trump won the election, and COVID was created in a lab for biological warfare.

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What can be done?

A popular argument is to fault the left. In particular, that the progressive, social justice-oriented “woke” wing of the left is to blame for many of our nation’s ills. Because of this group, we are discarding our commitment to reason and rationality, individual responsibility and equal rights. Because of this group, we are putting emotional “lived experiences” and group identity politics in their place.

A shift back to focusing on individual choice and personal responsibility will be the remedy, we’re told. Instead of Americans asking a nanny state for assistance, they should commit to personal changes in culture and character. Moreover, the purpose of government is to ensure individual equality under the law, not identify groups that may have been discriminated against, and then compound this mistake by discriminating against another group. A government that attempts to correct for vague “systemic” causes of racial or gender inequality will only interfere with meritocracy. This is unfair to people who had nothing to do with whatever phantom process scholars and activists have supposedly identified.

If we make this change, away from social justice “wokism” and towards the classical liberal values that made America a great country, the logic goes, we will be wealthier, healthier and happier.

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Personal troubles and public issues
I agree with the diagnosis. I do not agree with the remedy. To be sure, we need liberal values for our democratic, capitalist society to function. But I do not detect any real decline in those values. If anything, social justice movements are trying to extend rights to more individuals. And even if we had strayed away from those values, strengthening them would not address the issues I outlined above.

Instead, these social problems continue to plague us because of a lack of imagination – a sociological imagination. If anyone has taken a sociology class in the last several decades and remembered it, you may have heard this idea tossed about. It originated with one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century, C. Wright Mills.

For Mills, the sociological imagination begins with distinguishing between the “the personal troubles of milieu” and “the public issues of social structure.” An example is unemployment. If only one woman is unemployed, we must look at that woman’s character or skills.

However, “when in a nation of 50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.”

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Mills’ sociological imagination is about properly identifying the social problem – that our institutions, laws and policies are at fault – and suggesting appropriate, evidence-based solutions.

Our wealth, health and happiness problems are not individual personal troubles that can be resolved by exhorting people to think or act differently. People’s thoughts and actions occur within a given context, and we need to have more conversations about how we can change that context. This is what we are missing as a nation.

This is the remedy.

A New Year’s resolution for progressives
Many Americans see the problems we have in society as being about the individual and character. If you don’t have money, you didn’t work hard enough. If you are unhealthy or addicted to drugs, put the needle down, put on a pair of sweats and go for a run. If you are queer or Black, stop worrying about your group identity and focus more on personal achievement. What is this “herd immunity” these folks on CNN speak about? If you think you will get sick from the covid, take personal responsibility, and stay in your house.

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This hyper-focus on the individual makes us poorer, sicker and sadder.

We should pay attention to how institutions, laws and policies create problems. We should look at our tax structure and minimum wage laws to understand wealth and income inequality. Drug and alcohol abuse are symptoms of a society failing to meet the needs of its citizens, not personal moral failings. We need to lean into discussions about systemic racism and institutional discrimination. Instead of looking at individual Trump supporters as somehow being uniquely misinformed or prone to manipulation, we need to take stock of our fragmented media environment and citizens’ lack of trust in journalists.

Let’s resolve to use our sociological imaginations more in 2022.

How conservatives launder their hate into the mainstream

Sometime earlier this year, I asked my sister what a “woke” and “anti-woke” person was. She didn’t know. She had some vague sense of what it meant to be “woke” and tried in vain to derive “anti-woke” from that starting point: “Is it … not being woke?”

Of course, I knew what the terms meant. I had been raving like a madman about the problem of “anti-wokes” – people who are against what they see as the excesses of social justice – for months!

I asked my sister about critical race theory (CRT) around the same time. Again, she didn’t know. Of course, I did. The year before, I had already been a part of several conversations. I even had one with the Editorial Board’s own Mia Brett on my YouTube channel.

Yet my younger sister, a high school math teacher, was oblivious to these terms. I suspect I could have asked her what “gender critical” was. Or “viewpoint diversity.” Or “immutable characteristics.” The answer would have been the same.

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In this fragmented media environment, she had not stumbled into the communication spaces that trafficked these ideas. She doesn’t read publications like Quillette and Areo. She doesn’t listen to podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience. She does not subscribe to Jesse Singal substacks. She doesn’t support organizations like New Discourses.

These spaces are occupied by PhDs, doctors, lawyers, accomplished writers and successful podcasters. They say they want to have honest conversations and get at the truth. They often talk in terms of science, logic and reason. To avoid a conservative label – a label that is often at odds with science – they may call themselves “true liberals.”

But many of the narratives produced in this space have the impact of undercutting disadvantaged groups they focus on. These narratives also become talking points for conservatives, even those people on the far right. In this way, they launder hate. I’ll give two examples.

“I am a gender-critical person with concerns about rapid-onset gender dysphoria”
If you’re like me, and you’re not in tune with the evolving discussions around gender, you may consider yourself gender-critical in that you believe it’s a critique of how gender has been used to oppress people.

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But no.

Being gender-critical means that one is against legal reforms that would have sex or gender be a matter of self-identification. Gender-critical people maintain that what makes someone a man or a woman is materiality – do they possess a penis or a vagina?

They claim this is not about hurting trans people, but instead protecting what they see as actual women. Do you want someone who only says they are a woman leering at women in a bathroom?

You will rarely see gender-critical folks make any claims to be anti-trans. Instead, you might see video clips of Abigail Shrier or Dr. Deborah Soh speaking with Joe Rogan about the controversial concept of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). ROGD, in simple terms, is a social media-influenced “contagion” spreading among young girls, where they are being influenced into declaring themselves as trans and taking steps to transition. Well, clearly this is not about hurting trans people, the logic goes. Instead, it is about using science to protect vulnerable youth from making disastrous decisions.

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But there is a lot of harm in this narrative that may not be obvious if you are a neophyte to these conversations. By clinging to the notion that only people with vaginas are women, or only people with penises are men, you are, in effect, erasing people who don’t fit that criteria.

Or consider people who believe the ROGD narrative. By denying a young person’s request to begin transition, they are forcing that person to suffer, simply because they believe the young person has watched too much YouTube. As a side note, there is significant controversy surrounding ROGD – to the point where the research underpinning it had to be retracted and republished, emphasizing that ROGD was not an established diagnosis. Gender-critical folks have cleaned a dirty anti-trans narrative for the general public.

“This is true equity”

The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, or FAIR, claims it is “a nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing civil rights and liberties for all Americans, and promoting a common culture based on fairness, understanding and humanity.”

The organization’s main page uses images of Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Its highly accomplished supporters include Daryl Davis, the Black musician who deradicalized Klu Klux Klansmen, and Coleman Hughes, the Black podcasting Manhattan Institute fellow on the Forbes “30 under 30” list.

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This group is ready to push us forward as a society. Right? I mean … King! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is right there on the main page!

A recent video released by FAIR shows that even with King on the main page, or especially with King on the main page, hateful ideas can be cleaned and presented to the public. In the video entitled “Misguided ‘Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion’ Harms Science” Colin Wright, once in the academy but now an editor for Quillette magazine, narrates his frustration with being asked by universities to care about diversity:

As an academic, I care more about fostering diversity of thought and advancing science than caring about people’s immutable characteristics.

And later:

I hire candidates who happen to be the best candidates for the job. That’s true equity.

This sounds wonderful! But we know from research that Black candidates are often overlooked despite being equally qualified. I suspect this may be the case for Hispanic candidates. We know one’s social environment impacts educational outcomes, such that people growing up poor or lacking social networks will do less well in school. True equity actually means recognizing these conditions and addressing them through diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

FAIR is advocating against these efforts, as a consequence arguing for perpetuating systemic racism. And what of the notion that it is harming science – the video’s original premise? To my knowledge, there is no evidence that scientific production has been damaged by the last few decades of diversity efforts on college campuses.

My take on hate launderers
The people in these spaces will claim to be liberal and find conservative ideas problematic. They are often pro-choice, pro-legalization of marijuana, and many of them would support raising the minimum wage. They are accomplished, educated and make a big show of being rational. For this reason, the narratives in which they traffic do not have the stink and grime of hatred or bigotry.

But hate or bigotry wrapped in a patina of intellectualism is still hate or bigotry. And the thing is, the Republicans know it.

We don’t have to look further than how the term “woke” was leveraged. The negative narrative surrounding this term germinated in the spaces I am speaking about in this essay. You can do searches from 2019 and earlier and see podcasts and publications talking about the horrors of wokism well before Republicans began using it to smear anything they do not like. (As a side note: I lost a valued colleague in part because their research was smeared by conservative outlets as a “woke.”)

The same phenomena will occur with the anti-trans narratives honed in these spaces. It will be no surprise to me if suddenly, in 2022, Republican politicians will be scaring their voters with fears that their children will be tricked into wanting to cut their penises off.

And the hate cycle will continue.

The meaning of white supremacy since the rise of Donald Trump

In a speech last month at Washington’s Martin Luther King Jr. monument, President Joe Biden described the January 6 insurrection as being about “white supremacy.” Later on, MSNBC did a segment on Thanksgiving in which guest commentator, Gyassi Ross, discussed its realities. Ross, who is Indigenous, sees it as the beginning of theft, genocide and “white supremacy.” After Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal, Colin Kaepernick tweeted, “white supremacy cannot be reformed.”

It seemed like the term had come out of nowhere. I decided to check Google Trends. From 2004 to about 2016, there were relatively few searches for the word “white supremacy.” Then in 2016, there was an increase in the frequency of searches, with several sharp spikes. Two of those spikes were in August 2017 and June 2020. What happened?

Donald Trump. One cannot say with certainty, but his rise, replete with far-right dog whistles and bullhorns, was probably explained by many writers through a lens of white supremacy. The spikes in search frequency in 2017 was probably because of Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally. In June 2020, it was likely due to George Floyd protests.

The January 6 insurrection. Thanksgiving. Kyle Rittenhouse. Donald Trump. Unite The Right. George Floyd. All of these phenomena are linked to something called white supremacy. As I suspect this term will be a part of common parlance for some time, it’s worth explaining it.

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More nuance, more rejection

The way we identify and discuss racism has changed quite a bit. That’s because the way racism is expressed has changed quite a bit.

Inquiries into racism were more straightforward 30 or 40 years ago. First, you ask: “Do you hate people of a different race than you, yes or no?” If no, they’re not a racist. Then you looked at laws and asked: “Are any laws on the books explicitly discriminating against a racial group?” If there are no laws like that on the books, then there is no racism.

Now consider how racism is discussed today. It’s rather complicated. For individuals, racism is no longer only about conscious hate and clear cases of discrimination. It’s about implicit biases and seemingly benign behaviors that have racist consequences. The focus has shifted from laws and policies that discriminate to laws and policies that may not appear at first to be discriminatory but turn out to have disproportionate effects. Scholars look at how interlocking institutions work to produce unequal outcomes, like the much-discussed “school to prison pipeline” populated by poor young Black and brown men.

All things considered, this is a net positive. Learning more about how something happens -- in this case, racial inequality -- should be seen as a good thing. Unfortunately, it is not. That, however, is primarily due to people rejecting the political consequences of this scholarship and then doubling back to question the merits of that scholarship.

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How we understand white supremacy followed a similar trajectory.

Maintaining the racial hierarchy

White supremacy has in the past meant the maintenance of a racial hierarchy with white people at the top. In a white supremacist society, white people have the most power and privilege. White supremacists actively attempt to maintain and perpetuate this hierarchy.

Liberal media outlets have linked the events surrounding Kyle Rittenhouse to white supremacy. This may seem to be a stretch for many. Or, as Briahna Joy Gray titled an episode of her “Bad Faith” podcast, “Has White Supremacy Jumped the Shark?”

Rittenhouse is the teen who armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle and drove from Antioch, Illinois, to a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said he was going to guard a car dealership. Rittenhouse got into an altercation with protestors, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injuring a third, Gaige Grosskreutz. He faced several counts but was cleared of all of them.

Some say these events had nothing to do with race or white supremacy. Rittenhouse is white. He killed two white people. They will point out that in an interview with Tucker Carlson, Rittenhouse said, “I support the BLM movement.” You see, no white supremacy here.

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They would be wrong.

White supremacy is about maintaining a racial hierarchy. How that is done changes over time. People may still imagine Klansmen must be present for there to be white supremacy. Again, that would be wrong.

The Rittenhouse saga reveals exactly how people attempt to maintain white supremacy. It is white supremacy without white supremacists.

A supportive right-wing media ecosphere

Let’s start with the night of the killings. The Kenosha Police seemed to ally themselves with the militia group Boogaloo Bois. According to a statement from Boogaloo Bois member Ryan Balch, the police told the militia group “that they were going to be pushing the protesters towards us because we could deal with them … KPD made a conscious decision to abandon the people of Kenosha to people they felt [were] justified in using machines and weapons of war against.”

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Then in January, after pleading not guilty to all charges against him, Rittenhouse went to a bar and posed for photos with members of the Proud Boys, a group described as neo-fascist, and flashed what many people call a “white power” hand sign (the okay hand gesture).

In the months leading up to the trial over $600,00 was raised for Rittenhouse on the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. This is not inherently problematic, as religious communities give all the time.

But the Blue Lives Matter flag on the page and the description “Kyle Rittenhouse just defended himself from a brutal attack by multiple members of the far-leftist group ANTIFA -- the experience was undoubtedly a brutal one” has a whiff of Christian nationalism.

During the trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder made several decisions that seemed to help Rittenhouse. He would not allow the two people killed, Rosenbaum and Huber, to be called victims. “Rioters. Arsonists. Looters. Refer to them that way,” he said. Despite visual evidence of a connection, he also would not allow the prosecution to connect Rittenhouse to the Proud Boys. He threw out two charges against the defendant, a curfew charge and a weapons possession charge.

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And then there is the immediate aftermath. Far-right Congressmen Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar have offered Rittenhouse an internship. The Monday after the trial, Rittenhouse appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show, pleading his case and innocence before a supportive right-wing media ecosphere.

White supremacy without white supremacists

In the same way our understanding of racism has evolved, so has our understandings of white supremacy. How America’s racial hierarchy is maintained today is not the same as it was a century ago. In 2021, we don’t need white supremacists for there to be white supremacy.

Those Fox viewers tuning in to watch Rittenhouse’s interview with Carlson would say they were concerned with “upholding the right of self-defense.” The Proud Boys would say they are against “wokism.” People who contributed money to Rittenhouse’s crowdfund may say they are a “good Christian helping another good Christian.” The Kenosha police and Judge Schroeder may mutter something along the lines of “maintaining law and order.” The congressmen offering Rittenhouse an internship may say their concerns revolved around the “erosion of gun rights in this country” and so on.

That suggests an interest in maintaining the racial hierarchy.

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It is a hierarchy where Black and brown people are at the bottom absorbing the lion’s share of the state-sanctioned violence meted out by hyper-aggressive police officers. Meanwhile, at the top of that hierarchy are white people who believe it’s their right to storm the Capitol to demand their chosen candidate be given the presidency.

The right-wing panic over critical race theory can't come to grips with what really happens in our schools

The "critical race theory in schools" narrative is in its second edition. The first edition was the stuff of activism legend. According to a story published in The New Yorker, a Seattle city employee sent anti-bias training materials to a local journalist named Christopher F. Rufo. Fresh off of a defeat in a city council run, Rufo saw a chance to further his political ends. He cobbled together materials from more anti-bias trainings in Seattle and wrote an op-ed for the Manhattan Institute publication City Journal.

After the City Journal article, more training materials were sent to Rufo. Again, according to The New Yorker, Rufo noticed that footnotes often pointed to books written by Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell. Rufo discovered that these authors were labeled "critical race theorists." And thus, a conspiracy theory, a moral panic and the saving grace of the post-Trump GOP in 2022 were all born.

We were being told that critical race theory (CRT) was going against Martin Luther King's dream. It was separating people by race. It was teaching children that America is systemically racist, and our great nation was founded in racism. It taught "racial essentialism" — a term referring to the belief that a person's characteristics are determined by their race. White people — white children even — were born racist. Now, a GOP bereft of good ideas had something to talk about.

That was the first edition.

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Eventually, scholars, educators and every thinking person pushed back hard. It was absurd, they said, that such an esoteric set of ideas would be taught to ninth graders between gym class and algebra.

The propagandists realized their story wasn't sticking. And so, there was a need for a second edition to the "critical race theory in schools" narrative, something credible enough to continue stoking fear.

Enter John McWhorter.

McWhorter's recent op-ed in the Times claims that a "CRT-lite" is now in schools. It is not explicitly CRT, McWhorter claims, but ideas influenced by critical race theorists. OK, John, whatever you say.

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I prefer a more reality-based, nonpartisan approach to this issue. Then I can filter what is happening through my progressive values. First, I suggest acknowledging something has changed in our schools. There is indeed a there there. Then I offer an alternative, progressive narrative more consonant with these facts on the ground.

Something has changed
Critical race theory, as understood by fabulists such as Christopher Rufo, is not in schools. Everyone knows it. That's why McWhorter fabricated "CRT-lite" in order to make propaganda more believable.

But something has changed. It makes no sense to ignore it. Here is my take. It is grounded in my observation of two parallel trends.

We have seen growth in the number of Black students and students of color in our public schools, nationally. The number of students identifying as white in public elementary and secondary schools dropped from 61 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2018.

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These demographic changes placed pressure on educators to deal with some hard racial realities. Students' lives are textured by their racial and ethnic backgrounds. It impacts how they identify, interact with others and receptivity to educators and classroom content.

When a national school system is primarily white, a message of being colorblind to race (not seeing skin color) can be functional, even if it means students from non-white backgrounds suffer either academically or personally. But in an increasingly diverse public education system, being colorblind is simply being foolish. Educators in public school systems had a problem in need of a solution.

Meanwhile, beginning in the 1970s, social science was taking a critical turn. The societal questions deemed worthy of intellectual pursuit by the lion's share of academics were those that sought answers to inequality and oppression. They produced the best answers they could. I am not sure why this "turn" occurred. But reducing it, as many people on the right do, to a secret cabal of Marxist professors, is a self-serving lie. It dismisses the fact that legitimate, well-trained and accomplished scholars across a range of disciplines saw these issues as worthy of concern and, more or less, agreed on acceptable paths forward. Social scientists had a solution to the educator's problem.

Cultural relevancy
How many readers have heard of culturally relevant teaching? How about culturally relevant pedagogy? Not many. If you are not an educator working with a diverse student population, why would you?

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And this is the difference between K-12's response to demographic changes — culturally relevant teaching — and the GOP's response to potential irrelevancy — phantom critical race theory. The former is a slow, organic lurch of necessity while the latter is a hyper-focused pivot to propagate a false narrative for political gain.

If I gave a bar napkin synopsis of cultural relevancy, it would be (1) an embrace of students' differing cultural backgrounds and (2) a more flexible approach to teaching those students given their backgrounds.

My state of Virginia has adopted a culturally relevant approach. Here is how the state's Department of Education describes it:

Culture strongly influences the attitudes, values, and behaviors that students and teachers bring to the instructional process, making culturally responsive educators necessary for the equitable achievement of today's increasingly diverse student population. Culturally responsive educators see the diversity in their classrooms as an asset and use their knowledge on students' backgrounds to enrich educational experiences. These teachers form a thorough understanding of the specific cultures of the students they teach, how that culture affects student learning behaviors, and how they can change classroom interactions and instruction to embrace the differences.

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"Cultural relevancy in schools" is the more accurate frame for changes occurring in our modern K-12 educational system. Universities with well-regarded education departments, including NYU, Brown, Harvard and Vanderbilt teach and research a culturally relevant approach. Also prominent organizations such as Teach for America, the famed KIPP charter schools, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

The evidence for the effectiveness of culturally relevant teaching comes from case studies and survey research. This is a standard approach in the social sciences, but I would like to see, as a social scientist, future studies comparing students who are "treated" with culturally responsive lessons to those who are given standard lessons.

There you have it.

Instead of describing these well-meaning attempts by sincere, hard-working scholars and educators as yet another manifestation of "wokism," we can look at school activities as efforts to deal with the realities of racial and cultural diversity in American school systems.

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And so, when Conor Friedersdorf writes about a "CRT-inspired" Black Lives Matter curriculum being incorporated into a school curriculum in Evanston, Illinois, he is approaching it through a strictly political lens. To be fair to Friedersorf, I do believe it is a bit heavy-handed, but indoctrination it is not.

The educators believe, as I do, that this is an effective way to teach. Many of their students navigate spaces where discussions of police killings are ongoing around dinner tables and in church pews. Why wouldn't you incorporate that reality into classrooms?

CRT is in our schools and we love it
I'm aware moral panics like CRT are not combated by resorting to the truth. Moreover, I tend to avoid engaging in too many "get CRT out of our schools" conversations, as they only legitimate the lie. There is no need to engage with someone who actually believes teachers are telling their white students to hate themselves.

But there is an alternative narrative that progressives can employ: There is a CRT in schools. It is culturally responsive teaching.

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This shift in education and thinking was necessary given our more diverse public school system. It helps teachers be more effective at educating our youth. It respects a student's cultural background. It uses that background as an on-ramp to facilitate learning.

We should be happy about that.

Conservatives have poisoned people's minds about police reform — so it's time for a reset

Minnesota voters have made their decision on the Replace Police Department with Department of Public Safety Initiative. They voted "no." The vote asked if residents want to replace their police department with a collection of public health professionals, of which some will be "licensed peace officers" (police officers).

Efforts to reform the police have been proposed and attempted all over the country and will continue to be for some time. The Minneapolis ballot was more significant as it is the place where George Floyd was killed and is the symbolic epicenter of police reform.

I believe the conversation around police reform needs to be reset. Conservatives have done their best to poison people's minds. They have evaded the real on-the-ground issues and focused their attention on the Black Lives Matter organization, linking it to communism, among other things. Meanwhile, progressives and activists have perplexed everyone by latching themselves to confusing terminology. What does "defund the police" mean? What about "abolish the police"?

What follows is an explainer for those sympathetic to police reform. It is for people who wish to give it moral support, but are unsure about the rationale and evidence for it, or what reform might truly mean.

Police as 'violence workers'
Police are trained to administer lethal and nonlethal violence using a variety of weapons — handguns, military assault rifles, truncheons, battering rams, armored trucks, grenade launchers, pepper spray, tasers, and tanks. This violence is to subdue or detain individuals who have violated the law. To be sure, police get training on how to deal with the community and social issues like domestic violence. But overwhelmingly so, according to this 2013 Department of Justice report, police are trained to be "violence workers." Unfortunately, much of their job requires skills of non-violent diplomacy.

Consider responsibilities we give local police departments:

  • Managing a city's homeless population
  • Enforcing traffic laws
  • Resolving family and domestic conflicts
  • Tracking down and corralling truant children
  • Enforcing order in schools by suppressing fights or removing unruly students
  • Maintaining order in public spaces by removing homeless people, the intoxicated or the mentally ill

None of these are your standard violent crimes (murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault) or property crimes (burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson.) But these are rarely of the type requiring lethal and non-lethal violence.

There is a basic mismatch here between what police are trained to do and what they need to do. Situations requiring de-escalation, mediation and conflict resolution are "resolved" with force.

But because of media representations of police, especially reality shows, we don't see this mismatch. As a society, we have become inured to images of police administering violence to citizens. Videos of teenagers handcuffed and spread eagle on the pavement after a fight in school or a woman being tased and crying out in pain because she refused to wear a mask are not met with the outrage they deserve.

Disproportionate violence
Starting with the Nixon administration's tough-on-crime rhetoric, police departments have been modeling themselves after the military. Local police officers are being trained to be warriors, complete with military-style equipment. The "enemy" is the always suspect Black and brown residents of the neighborhoods they patrol. Policies such as the "qualified immunity" and now-discredited "stop and frisk" give police departments the legal foundation for implementing this aggression.

How does this culture and policy play out in Black and brown communities? Civil rights lawyer Jim Freeman recounts his observations in his book Rich Because of Racism:

It is jarring, as an outside observer, to see how much more aggressive officers are with residents. Verbally aggressive. Physically aggressive. Psychologically aggressive. In my entire life, I have never had anyone speak to me with half as much contempt as some officers that I have seen confronting young men and women of color. I have also never had anyone feel nearly as entitled to put their hands on me as many officers do with respect to people of color.

Many white Americans living in middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods are simply unaware of the degree of violence visited upon their fellow citizens in Black and brown neighborhoods.

The big question — does more police decrease crime?
Police reform is based on sound premises. Progressives will likely accept the notion that police are violence workers (everyone should, actually). They also understand that this violence is visited on Black and brown communities disproportionately. But the main concern for everyone across the political spectrum is — if we remove the police officers' presence from a neighborhood, will crime increase?

The short answer is that certain types of policing can prevent crime in the short run. Research by Scientific American suggests the focus on high crime hot-spots and high-rate offenders (as opposed to aggressively policing entire communities) helps reduce crime. Also, enlisting third parties, such as businesses, can help reduce crime.

However, increases in certain types of policing can be incredibly counterproductive. One such strategy is broken windows policing, where minor violations like loitering are aggressively enforced. Another is "stop and frisk," where police can search someone's person if they have a suspicion the person is carrying a firearm. Arrest rates do rise under these policing regimes, but it is questionable if these tactics reduce crime. Cities that employed broken windows strategies, including Los Angeles, Denver and New York, experienced declines in crime – but so did other cities across the country, raising doubts about its actual impact. Indeed, when New York City phased out "stop and frisk," the city's crime rates dropped to historic lows (before the pandemic). The cost of these hyper-aggressive demeaning policing strategies is the engendering of mistrust between citizens and police.

Moving forward
Even when policing achieves the goal of reducing crime, police are still administering lethal and non-lethal violence in situations where different skills are needed. The basic mismatch is occurring disproportionately in Black and brown communities. Moreover, no matter how temporarily effective police are at crime prevention, they cannot address the human needs caused by poverty, drug addiction, homelessness and a lack of avenues for building self-esteem.

These facts lend themselves to supporting some kind of police reform. And so, the question becomes, what would police reform mean in practice? What does "Defund the Police" mean?

I suggest that there are at least three broad types of reform:

  • Changing the culture of policing and the policies that govern it. Police departments can shift away from an ethic of officers as "warriors" in a "war on crime" to guardians of communities. Moreover, policies can change so that police have less latitude in applying lethal and non-lethal violence.
  • Redistributing some police funds toward public health and social workers. Non-violent professionals can be hired and trained to do some of the non-violent work police are often asked to do. For example, if a community has a serious homeless problem, professionals can be hired to address this specific concern.
  • Transforming police departments into public safety departments with an emphasis on prevention. This is the Minnesota model mentioned at the beginning of this piece. This would reduce the number of violence workers to a fraction of professionals within a wider department dedicated to preventing crime with public health and social workers.

"Defund the Police" is a broad slogan with a variety of interpretations. This range should not be seen as internal confusion within one monolithic movement. Instead, it should be viewed as proposals from different communities with different needs sharing a similar evidence-based understanding of the relationship between police, citizens and crime.

A sociologist explains how moral panics serve the right-wing agenda

ProPublica detailed a pattern of suppressing cases of sexual assault at Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. After female students reported being assaulted, campus officials submitted them to victim-blaming, suggesting they violated campus policy against drinking and fraternizing with the opposite sex. Students told ProPublica that staff did not even report their cases to the Title IX office, a legal requirement. This has been going on for years. How?

How can an institution of this size and visibility carve out this immoral space and thrive in it for so long? What allows staff to feel justified in minimizing complaints of sexual assault? There are many explanations, including the obvious one that Liberty University was concerned about its image of producing good Christian women and men. But I want to offer an explanation that may not be obvious.

Moral panics are the taking of anecdotal instances and making them seem more prevalent than they actually are (the panic), then demonizing groups associated with these instances (the morality).

The moral panics engineered by a philosophically bereft and culturally out-of-step Republican Party allow pockets of America to continue patterns of behavior that most of society would deem problematic.

Let me explain.

Moral panics and immoral action
Social scientists and faculty administrators have been aware for some time that women endure all forms of sexual aggression on college campuses, from unwanted sexual advances to inappropriate touching to rape. It is a long-standing problem. It is well understood in progressive and academic spaces. A common statistic shared in these spaces is one in five women are sexually assaulted on campus.

The Harvey Weinstein case of 2017 and the subsequent #MeToo Movement was a watershed moment, inaugurating a wave of women coming forward about their experiences with sexual aggression. For many, it was simply making public what was already known.

But conservatives turned the #MeToo Movement into a moral panic, suggesting that hapless innocent men were in danger of being persecuted by liberal feminists. News organizations frequently ran stories saying the movement had "morphed into a career-destroying mob," "gone ridiculously too far" and that it was a "scary time for men."

Liberty University could then position itself as being against these feminists and what they support, and double down on practices we know are harmful. Administrators at Liberty University can operate under the assumption that they are a place free of progressive, pink-haired "feminazis." At the same time, they routinely dismiss legitimate claims of sexual assault from their students.

This is how moral panics sustain immoral practices.

The panics keep coming
I chose the Liberty example, because it is the most recent and one of the more disturbing. But also because the links between Liberty's practices and the moral panic that helped sustain it are not readily apparent. Other instances are much clearer.

Consider "cancel culture." The idea is that a hypersensitive irrational "woke mob" will call for the firing or the deplatforming of someone based solely on their ideas. A few cases where people have lost economic opportunities (rarely is someone actually canceled) are used to suggest a pervasive phenomenon. We now live in an oppressive society, they say, where people cannot speak their minds.

This narrative allows people to continue to disseminate damaging ideas without considering their impacts on vulnerable populations. They can say they are against "the wokies" and will not be silenced. So instead of operating in a moral space where people are mindful that speech is an action with consequences, people propagating racist, sexist and transphobic ideas can do so with no qualification or filter.

The panic around critical race theory (CRT) is even clearer, with candidates making the banning of it a significant part of their platform. Liberal, unionized public school teachers are the demonized group in this panic. Because scholars and K-12 teachers themselves have pointed out the ridiculousness of K-12 teachers discussing an esoteric set of ideas oriented towards law school students, anti-CRT advocates have stretched the idea of what CRT is. It now includes anything deviating from Martin Luther King Jr.'s phrase of judging one another based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

In response, citizens uncomfortable with talking about racial inequality can hide behind the anti-CRT banner, and legislators are now emboldened to narrow what children learn. In effect, they are upholding a white supremacist version of our history and reducing the ability of our young people to think with any depth about racism.

Let's do one more example, shall we?

Society continues to move forward on recognizing trans rights. It is inevitable that conservatives will generate moral panics giving people the cover needed to continue practicing their transphobia.

But this particular moral panic comes from an unusual space. Within the conservative media sphere, stories about trans women prisoners raping female inmates are becoming more numerous. While this does happen, and we need to find ways of preventing this, these instances are exaggerated (the panic) and they demonize trans persons (the morality). In an odd twist, conservatives have finally developed some sympathy for our incarcerated population only because it allows them to push back against what they see as "trans ideology."

The politics of panics
Moral panics have utility for people who want to resist change and continue operating in ways becoming increasingly inappropriate. People attracted to Liberty University do not want to accept a world in which women are not at the sexual disposal of men. Many white Americans are uncomfortable with a school system that critiques their ancestors and our nation's history. People are uncomfortable with the visibility of trans people and chafe at requests to treat them as equals.

Panics are tools for these people.

But they also serve a broader purpose.

The Republican Party of the 21st century is struggling with rapid change. It has always been the smaller party in terms of registered voters. Recent polling suggests it is getting smaller. Few policies Republicans can offer appeal to voters who are young, educated, less economically secure or of color. One of the ways they can maintain competitiveness is to make sure their voters are energized and vote.

My concern is that progressives legitimate these moral panics by participating in the discourse. By generating an argument against them, we operate on the battlefield conservatives chose. If these panics are at best distortions, at worst lies, maybe the most effective strategy is to double down on our own, more truthful narratives.

I have invested too much time discussing why CRT is not in our schools. Why did I do that? The anti-CRT folks and the political party supporting them were not invested in the truth. My engagement as a progressive academic only helped validate an anti-CRT opposition.

I will be doing that much less now.

Rod Graham is the Editorial Board's sociologist. A professor at Virginia's Old Dominion University, he researches and teaches courses in the areas of cyber-crime and racial inequality. His work can be found at roderickgraham.com. Follow him @roderickgraham.

America is growing skeptical of the Gospel of Big Business

My mother is a firm believer in Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. When she receives an unexpected windfall, or a report of good health from her doctor, she says she's been blessed. When things are not going well, it is God testing her faith in Him. Never, absolutely never, does she question decisions by her personal Lord and Savior.

This is the relationship many Americans have with business.

Except for a contingent on the far left, local companies, major firms and multinational corporations are revered. CEOs are venerated as job creators. The decisions filtering down about wages, benefits, and work environment are justified through the gospel of the free market.

But we need to be skeptical of our relationship to businesses.

Tributes and sacrifices
We all know about efforts made by local and state governments to court business. They are like "tributes." But the scale of these tributes can be mind-boggling. Consider Amazon. Good Jobs First has been tracking subsidies — grants and tax incentives — Amazon receives yearly. According to the nonprofit, Amazon has received over $4.1 billion in subsidies since 2000. One could imagine tax breaks for a smaller, or emergent, company. But Amazon recorded revenues of $280 billion last year. It is No. 2 on the Fortune 500 list (behind Walmart). Yet the tributes keep coming. The company has gotten $650 million in tax breaks from local and state governments this year.

There's no reason subsidies shouldn't go to a profitable company instead of an emergent one. If one sees subsidies as investment, it makes sense to give a tribute to Amazon. But what Amazon gives in return are modest wages to warehouse workers and delivery drivers plus horrible working conditions. On March 17, an Amazon warehouse worker testified at a Senate Budget Committee hearing about her warehouse's "grueling" working conditions in Bessemer, Alabama.

Maybe the tributes are more like sacrifices, and meager blessings are given in return for taking the heart out of a tax base.

It goes on. We are currently in a worker shortage crisis. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the number of job openings surpassed the number of job-seekers in July. That month, the US had 10.9 million job openings, an all-time high (the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report estimated 10.4 million job openings at the end of August).

One interpretation of this is that the COVID relief benefits have dampened interest in working. Fox News Business asked in a recent story, "Are unemployment benefits the new welfare?" Quoting from a research fellow at the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability, the story claims: "Unfortunately, due to the recent COVID-19-related changes, unemployment insurance has been morphed into more of a long-term benefits program."

Yes, many people decided to receive COVID benefits instead of seeking low-paid employment. The "unemployment as welfare" line of reasoning ignores the responsibility of employers to employees. It assumes that if an employer "graces" us with a job offer, we should accept, regardless of how much it pays or the quality of work conditions. Businesses give us what we need, not always what we want. We should be thankful for what we have received.

A great awakening
Around 2015, my university decided to offer a degree in cybersecurity. The nation had coalesced around a narrative that there was a shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Our nation's president at the time, Barack Obama, allocated money for institutions that began offering degrees in this field. Our governor at the time, Terry McAuliffe, doubled down with even more money. As a result of government funding and some bright, industrious academics and administrators, we now have a fantastic School of Cybersecurity at my university.

Around this time I stopped singing from the business hymnal. I was on the front lines of my university's program development. The extent to which we attempted to meet business needs was problematic.

We wanted course content reflecting what students would be doing on the job. We even hosted seminars during which we listened to what business leaders wanted from graduates. This was already a problem for me, because I don't see universities as job-training programs.

At the same time, it became apparent to me that the tasks companies needed done did not require a four-year or two-year degree. Firms could train bright, hardworking people out of high school if they wished.

I worked with my university to create an elaborate feeder program, helping absolve businesses of their responsibility for identifying good workers and preparing them. My university's relationship with the cybersecurity industry is indicative of a broader problem.

We complain about the expense of higher education, and rightfully so. It is insane that a college graduate can expect to be saddled with $30,000 in debt. That is the average, but some end up owing much more. Universities deserve some blame. But remarkably, there are few complaints about businesses not hiring people out of high school.

Yet that is the central issue. Even if college were cheaper, a student, instead of owing $100,000 in loans for a job they could've gotten out of high school, would instead owe $50,000. Better, but they shouldn't owe anything or spend four years doing something they don't want.

Our deification of businesses makes it heretical to question this. But they also have a responsibility to identify, screen and train people.

Be a skeptic
We should question our relationships with businesses. Do localities need to offer all these tax breaks? Suppose no one offered them? I am sensing a growing pushback about these tax breaks, with evidence accumulating that these sacrifices do not lead to blessings.

On the minimum wage front, there is still an energetic Fight For 15 movement. Pushback will come from free-market proselytizers. But there are solid arguments for raising the minimum wage. Improving working conditions is a moral argument that must be articulated.

And the responsibility for worker training? I don't see anyone talking about this, which is unfortunate. The closest I have seen are commentaries about raising the profile of two-year colleges.

Understanding that everyone does not need a four-year degree is a step in the right direction but still does not put any responsibility on businesses. There is still a lot of work to do, but I feel good about where we are headed. We as a nation are becoming more skeptical.

Why are teachers in our country paid less? Because we devalue what they do

Our most precious resource is our children. Their development is what ensures the health of our nation. Next to parents, K-12 teachers are the most instrumental in cultivating that resource. They are the primary means of transferring knowledge from old to young.

This most important of jobs can't attract and retain people to fill them. A report published by the National Education Association details an alarming number of teachers deciding not to return to classrooms this fall. And we may be about to face a long-term teaching shortage. According to the Center for American Progress, enrollment in teacher training programs dropped by a third from 2010 to 2018.

Why?

When I began working on this piece, I was sure that I would focus on the low pay of teachers. I saw that a starting teacher in the school district where I graduated from makes $36,000 per year. This kind of compensation is untenable for such an emotionally taxing profession that requires four or five years of training.

But I shifted gears rather quickly. Something comes before pay — our belief that the job is of value. Teachers in our country are paid less because we devalue what they do.

"Women's work"
Standard views by economists as to what determines wages will include worker productivity or supply and demand. Meanwhile, many economic sociologists claim that our societal assumptions about the value of a job influence the wages it can command. If a job is seen as "women's work," the wages for that job decline.

One version of this claim links the five c's — cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical work — to lower pay, because these jobs are predominantly female. One can see this without any complex analysis.

But when complex statistical models are used to tease out precise changes in pay, it gets worse. A study in 2009 showed the changes in the average wages of a profession as women move into it.

The study looked at changes from 1950 to 2000, and the findings were eye-opening. As highlighted in the Times, the pay for jobs in recreation declined by 57 percent over that period, as women entered the profession. As women became designers, wages fell by 34 percent. For biologists, 18 percent.

"It's not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance … it's just that the employers are deciding to pay it less," said Paula England, one of the authors of the study. In other words, wages are not simply about productivity or the demand for a job. It is also about how much we value what that person does.

Since the advent of mass public education in the mid-19th century, teaching has been a female-dominated profession. By the late 1880s, women were 63 percent of the nation's teachers. The percentage of women in teaching has only increased, even as other professions opened to women in the late 20th century. By 2015-2016, there were 3.8 million public K-12 teachers in the US, of which about 77 percent were female.

The long association of teaching to femininity is partly to blame for the devaluing of the teaching profession. But there is another reason.

Draining the pool
One of the best books I have read over the past year was Heather McGhee's The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. McGhee, the former president of the think tank Demos, describes the consequences of the racial hierarchy in the US.

Many white Americans view public policy, as it relates to race, as a zero-sum game. They interpret policies that disproportionately benefit Black Americans as them losing something.

McGhee uses the example of public swimming pools closing across the country in the 1960s after civil rights legislation made separate swimming facilities unconstitutional. McGhee argues that white communities saw a sharing of privileges with Black Americans as a lessening of theirs. They voted to close public swimming facilities. As McGhee puts it, they preferred to "drain the pool" rather than share it with Black Americans. McGhee, clearly linking this to the policies of the Republic Party post-1960, sees this dynamic in other public goods as well, from social programs to public infrastructure to health care.

And so it is with teaching.

Republicans have been attacking public schools since at least Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign. Most liberal commentators will center their discussion on school choice and vouchers — something Reagan indeed brought up during his campaign. School choice, some may argue, is a way of starving a public school system. A more cynical view is that school choice would reduce the power of teachers' unions that almost universally support liberal policies.

But there is something deeper here, and this is why I like McGhee's analysis. Our public school system is supposed to be a great leveler — a dismantler of racial and class hierarchy. Our schools are supposed to be places where young people from different backgrounds can meet, mingle and learn together. It is … a kind of pool.

Teachers are caretakers of that pool. As such, there is little mystery as to why what they do is devalued. Why would Republicans support a pay raise or better working conditions for people who are a part of a system they despise?

They want that pool drained and cemented over permanently.

Valuing value
Two factors work together to suppress the wages of teachers. There is the historical association of teaching as "women's work." And then there is the disdain by white conservatives for public goods that threaten to level a racial hierarchy.

Knowing the cause gives us some clues as to the cure. Until we address the undervaluing of teachers, an increase in teacher salaries or investments that improve their working conditions is a non-starter. The organizations that support K-12 teachers need to value value. Our expectations about what teachers deserve, their worth, and their social esteem are important in of themselves. Without public perceptions of teachers as valuable, lawmakers are simply not going to make teacher raises or smaller classroom sizes a major priority.

I am calling out our two most prominent K-12 organizations – The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. These organizations need to make a concerted effort to improve the public perception of teachers. They need to shift some time and energy away from partisan politics and invest it in demonstrating to the American public — and yes, this includes conservatives — the value public school teachers have in our society.

The truth about political bias on college campuses

A common point in centrist and conservative spaces is that academia has a liberal bias. This charge is levied most often at the social sciences. The logic is easy to follow. There is universal agreement that professors in the social sciences are liberal and vote Democratic. Moreover, it is in social science departments (sociology, anthropology, gender studies and the like) where ideas that challenge inequality are produced. You rarely see a sociologist or someone from African-American studies making claims conservatives find agreeable.

So this must mean their activities are biased. It must mean their research confirms liberal ideas about society, and their teaching will be about indoctrinating students into a liberal worldview. Right? No.

It is a fundamental misunderstanding of research and teaching.

It's the questions, stupid
There is a link between social scientists being progressive and the research they conduct. But the conservative narrative is wrong.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool progressive. I'd love for my research (whenever I get to do any) to support progressive policies. But I can't make up data or draw conclusions too far afield from what evidence suggests. I have my professional ethics in place. I could face severe repercussions for fabricating or grossly misinterpreting data.

Even if I could get away with such a thing, would I want to? If I'm researching a social issue, I want answers that work. I gain little from drawing faulty conclusions. What if my "progressive goggles" tricked me into seeing something that wasn't there? Social sciences work on the principle of "the preponderance of information." A faulty study would get swamped by other sociologists who found evidence to the contrary. For my biased conclusions to lead to a consensus — consensus is something scholars hope to achieve over time — other sociologists would need to misinterpret data the same way I did.

Conservatives want research that supports their conclusions. Unfortunately for them, conclusions are grounded in evidence even for the most value-laden forms of research (think critical scholarship).

This does not mean, though, that the liberal orientation of academics has no effect. I can tell you it does — just not in the way conservatives want the public to believe. Imagine 10 conservative scholars recruited to study racism in the United States. Do you know what this collection of conservatives will find? Well, racism in the United States.

The bias is in the questions asked, not the conclusions.

Conservatives want the public to believe conclusions are biased so they dismiss them without going through the trouble of thinking about them. Racism in policing? The research is biased. Transphobia in society? The research is biased. Dismiss it and read this opinion piece by a writer who, oh-by-the-way, works at a conservative think tank.

Dislike college climates? Blame your kids
The notion that campuses are hostile to conservatives has some degree of validity. But, again, not for reasons conservatives give.

You see, I am teaching in a hostile climate. My 1990-early 2000s references are met with dumbfounded looks from students. If I listen carefully, I can hear muffled snickers. In the face of this social pressure, I have officially retired any references to "Friends" and Beyonce. I am being silly here. Student opinion has minimal impact on me, and in turn, they care little about what I think of them. My influence is restricted to the grades I give.

The point here is that students are the enforcers of cultural norms on college campuses, not professors. Students are the ones who draw moral lines of right and wrong. A student brave enough to say "men are naturally better at math" will get whispers and looks from other students. That is what creates the so-called "hostile climate."

Conservatives have done an excellent job of indoctrinating folks into believing that academia indoctrinates folks. The story they tell is that the social norms that dominate college campuses are imposed from above by leftist professors who stifle conservative thought. This false narrative benefits them. They don't have to reckon with the idea that at a fundamental level, their focus on traditional family values, religion, raw capitalism and the maintenance of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and white supremacy are simply antithetical to most young people.

Toward a progressive narrative of bias
The purpose of this essay was to urge readers to think differently about the damaging narrative of bias on college campuses. It starts with the fact that academics, especially in social sciences, are liberal. There is no disputing this. Unfortunately, the claims of bias in teaching and research — narrated in such a way as to benefit conservative political ideology — don't necessarily follow. The conclusions from academic research are still valid and reliable, and whatever hostility conservative students feel on campus comes from their peers, not their professors.

This conservative narrative of bias on campus is self-serving and it's used to support the status quo. It encourages dismissal of academic scholarship and young people who embrace progressive causes.

This is unfortunate.

It's time for progressives to take control of this narrative. Admit that most of the questions asked by social scientists are of primary interest to people on the left. It's just a fact. We can admit that most young people are not interested in conservative values on college campuses.

Let's acknowledge these trends. Then put the onus on conservatives. They have to articulate what they want to be answered by social scientists and integrate that into what's already known. They will also have to realize they must discard their antiquated notions about class, race, sex and economic inequality to appeal to younger voters.

They probably won't want to do those things.

That's why they stick to a false narrative.

A sociologist explains the truth about cancel culture

The topic of "cancel culture" has been discussed ad nauseam in the national media. As far as I see it, it goes something like this.

Conservatives believe that progressives are far too sensitive and censorious. According to conservatives, progressive thought police, armed with a notion that "words are violence," patrol social media and bludgeon anyone who says something they deem out of bounds. They may cite attempts to cancel Harry Potter author JK Rowling for making comments that ran afoul of trans rights groups. Or they may point out how internet mobs can take a video or phrase out of context and falsely paint someone as racist, as in the case of Dominique Moran.

Progressives counter by saying that there is no epidemic of cancel culture. Most of the supposedly canceled people are doing quite well, even thriving after the so-called cancellation. The negative publicity around people like Dave Chappelle and Bari Weiss seemed to have increased their relevance rather than erase them from public view.

Moreover, progressives argue, conservatives try and cancel folks, too. One of the more famous cancellations was the blacklisting of the Dixie Chicks by conservative radio stations, because the trio criticized the George W. Bush-led Iraq invasion. They were called "Saddam's Angels." More recently, and more concerning, is the banning of what is being called critical race theory from K-12 schools in many states.

Thinking critically about cancel culture
Cancel culture is, in the abstract, levying negative social sanctions on someone we perceive as doing something out of bounds. This is not new or unusual. Individuals throughout history have found informal ways to express their disapproval of others. Our political ideologies do not exempt us from the human tendency to want to call out the behavior we think is unacceptable.

Technology puts this tendency in hyperdrive, allowing everyone with a social media account to register their disapproval. The wider cleavages in modern society present people with more opportunities to identify behavior deemed "out of bounds." But ultimately, we are using our cell phones to paint modern-day scarlet letters.

Cancel culture arguments are not about free speech. Both "sides" agree in principle that we need free speech in a democracy. The arguments are about the public's response to speech (counter-speech). The crux of the argument is whether people have a right to express their criticism in any way they (legally) can.

Conservatives respond more poorly to cancel culture than progressives, although both are at risk of receiving negative social sanctions. The less you think you need other people, the more likely you are to get upset when the people you think you don't need complain about something you say.

Progressives, on the other hand, need to view public outcry differently. We believe we are in a broad community working to address issues of poverty, oppression and inequality. It is essential to consider public opinion. I think this is especially so for marginalized groups. They are more likely to register a concern because their hold on full citizenship is more tenuous. Transgender people cannot afford to let transphobic jokes by Dave Chappelle go unchallenged. Sometimes a joke is not just a joke. When groups make a stink, progressives need to stick their nose in it and grow.

Using cancel culture to grow
The CBS reality show The Activist illustrates how one can grow through public criticism. The original format of the show was a five-week competition between activists seeking funding for their causes. The activists were to be assisted by the photogenic celebrities Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough.

The reaction to the press releases for The Activist was swift and not kind. Activism is not a game. The causes the contestants would focus on — global health, education and the environment — are matters of life and death. Instead of staging an expensive show, why not simply donate the money to those causes? The show and its photogenic stars are trivializing serious issues.

In response to public outcry, the producers changed the format. According to a statement from CBS, the show will shift from placing activists in competition with each other to highlighting the "tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in … Each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice, as was planned for the original show."

While this was a PR move, I'd like to think the folks at CBS learned something. "Social justice warriors" and "virtue signallers" actually do care about the causes they promote and don't want to see them sullied by a reality show.

Need another example of growth?

Here is a tweet from me a few months ago, where I tweeted that I "understand incels." The reaction to this tweet was swift and not kind. The replies were primarily about me being far too sympathetic to a group of people who actively hate women and propagate ideas about hurting them. It was the replies from women that were the angriest. And I understand now. They did not want incels to be spoken of so sympathetically because women are in harm's way of incel violence.

Had I not received that public criticism and been open to learning from it, I may not have experienced that growth.

The progressive's guide to "cancel culture'
I understand that a mob can be unreasonable. When phrases are taken out of context, it should not be incumbent upon the person mischaracterized to defend themselves against a lie. This essay is not about those situations. Instead, it is about the cases where the public has a legitimate concern about something said or done. This essay is also not for conservatives who do not share assumptions about an individual's obligation to others.

I suggest that instead of scurrying into a bunker labeled "free speech" and howling madly into the moonlit night about "wokism" or "snowflakes," lean into the criticism. The people who share this earth with you are telling you something. Think about why people are registering concern and incorporate their ideas into your future thoughts and communications.

The Activist failed at its initial attempt to do a reality show about social justice, and I fell in my initial attempt to talk about men struggling to gain intimacy. I want to think that both of us learned from that experience. And instead of thinking we were "canceled," we may have been given more information about how to platform our ideas more effectively.

Rod Graham is the Editorial Board's sociologist. A professor at Virginia's Old Dominion University, he researches and teaches courses in the areas of cyber-crime and racial inequality. His work can be found at roderickgraham.com. Follow him @roderickgraham.

Many white Americans feel threatened by the increasingly diverse country — and their fear is dangerous

If you put all Americans in a bag, shake us up and pull one of us out, the odds are that you will pull out someone who identifies as white. That has held since the nation's founding. However, sometime in the middle of this century — in a mere two decades — it will no longer hold. At that time, America will be a majority-minority country.

The exact date, the tipping point, tends to change based upon the latest figures. In 2018, William H. Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote that the United States would become "minority white" in 2045, according to census projections at the time. "During that year," he wrote, "whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations."

This is a demographic change few would have anticipated in the mid-20th century. How we talk about this change – its social, cultural, and political implications – can be called the majority-minority narrative. Unfortunately, we are not talking about it enough.

Threat responses
Yale psychology professor Jennifer Richeson is one of the leading researchers in what can broadly be termed intergroup relations. In a summary published in 2017 of her work and others, Richeson wrote that white Americans who are threatened by a more diverse nation express support for more conservative policies, less support for diversity, and more racial resentment:

This emerging work suggests that anticipated growth in minority groups is perceived as threatening to whites' current status as the dominant racial group in the United States, which, in turn, triggers in-group-protective and, often, out-group antagonistic attitudes, policy support and behavior.

This dynamic is not unique to white people. This is a human response to perceived threats. It is, in the abstract, a reaction to the belief that an out-group is gaining in power and status and one's in-group is losing power and status. Thus, Richeson cites research showing that in Black neighborhoods, a growing Latino population perceived to have economic advantages is met with negative attitudes by black people.

But the main concern is how this dynamic will impact the white population for obvious reasons. They are the largest racial group and control most of the resources and authority positions in society.

The average person can intuit this dynamic without rigorous research. It's just common sense. If a white person identifies as "white people" being their in-group and then perceives that non-white people are being centered in society and occupying more positions of authority, they may feel threatened. They may feel they are losing something in terms of power and privilege. This would then lead to advocacy of policies that reduce this threat.

We see this already with voter suppression and anti-immigrant policies from conservative state legislatures. If we are seeing this now, what will happen when America becomes a majority-minority country? Will it be mainstream for white politicians and white people to begin advocating openly for "pro-white" policies? Will we have interethnic conflict? This is apocalyptic. But we're not talking about it.

Saying the loud part in quiet
We have all heard the expression "saying the quiet part out loud." It describes a situation in which someone voices an ulterior motive or says something meant to be kept secret in a public space (a compilation of Republicans saying the quiet part can be found here.)

The opposite of this would be voicing that secret thing, and no one responds. They hear it but pretend they don't, because it is such a horrible thing to talk about. It is saying the loud part in quiet.

Jennifer Richeson and other scholars who are studying the threat responses of whites in response to the majority-minority narrative are saying the loud part in quiet. People hear her, but say nothing.

I suspect that most people hear themselves think about it as well. Maybe it is too icky, too unpleasant to dwell on. Maybe, as is often the case with white Americans, they may wish to imagine they are colorblind. Talking about this would therefore violate that cherished myth. Whatever the reason, there is collective silence on this issue.

Tucker Carlson was rightly called out for his endorsing of "white replacement theory" — the idea that non-European immigrants are being brought into the country to replace white Americans. Tucker Carlson notwithstanding, these demographic changes are rarely spoken about openly in conservative spaces. Instead, they are communicated through dog-whistles. When people say things like taking "our" country back, the "our" means white Americans. Making America Great Again is about making it great for white folks, and so on.

In liberal spaces, when the topic is discussed at all, a more favorable narrative is preferred over one of a potential crisis. The narrative attached to majority-minority is that of a benign statistical oddity, if not a positive development in America's quest to be a melting pot.

More sophisticated analyses in liberal spaces point to the fluidity and complexity of race and of racial categorization. A simple binary of white/non-white obfuscates more than it enlightens, the argument goes. More people are identifying as multiracial, what it means to be white changes with time. (Hispanic Americans increasingly identify as white, and the rates of intermarriage are growing exponentially.) This is the case put forth in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by George Mason University political scientist Justin Gest.

City University of New York sociologist Richard Alba is one of the more forceful voices on the subject. Alba wrote The Great Demographic Illusion in 2020, which summarized his arguments, and has appeared on several media outlets discussing the complexity of racial categorization in America. Talking about America in terms of a future majority-minority country is a divisive myth, according to Alba. In an essay for The Atlantic, Alba and co-authors wrote:

The majority-minority narrative contributes to our national polarization. Its depiction of a society fractured in two, with one side rising while the other subsides, is inherently divisive because it implies winners and losers. It has bolstered white anxiety and resentment of supposedly ascendant minority groups, and has turned people against democratic institutions that many conservative white Americans and politicians consider complicit in illegitimate minority empowerment.

For Justin Gest and Richard Alba, the loud part should never be heard. It is a myth and shouldn't even be said as it creates division.

We must talk openly
I am sympathetic to their arguments, and I suspect they are more right than wrong. However, the empirical reality that Gest and Alba describe is separate from the narrative and the feelings of threat it generates.

In other words, regardless of what is actually happening in society, conservative thought leaders will generate a narrative that plays on the fears of their white base. They are already doing it and there is no reason to suspect that they will change course simply because a few well-meaning academics want them to be more accurate.

Moreover, white Americans, from across the political spectrum, are not blind to the fact that the look of America has changed drastically in the past 40 years. Theoretical understandings of the fluidity of whiteness and statistics about rising rates of intermarriage or people checking boxes as multiracial will not be enough to assuage their fears.

They can look out of their window and see that the neighborhood they used to know has gotten browner, and they don't feel as comfortable walking across the street and asking for a cup of sugar. Even the most racially progressive people may succumb to this "threat."

To combat a damaging narrative, we must talk about it. We must say the loud part not in quiet, but in spaces where it's heard and discussed. Put it out there. Then address the concerns of people.

Progressives should add sex worker rights to their agenda — it’s a matter of social justice

Labor Day is "an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers." There is one industry that is far from celebrated. It provides income to many people who would otherwise have difficulty finding meaningful work. It gives leisure and emotional connections to many. I am talking about the sex work industry and prostitution specifically.

Good information on the economics of sex work is hard to come by. However, according to a highly cited study by the Urban Institute, the industry is quite lucrative. Among eight major sex work markets studied in 2007, it estimated that sex work produced $290 million in Atlanta on the high end and $40 million in Denver on the low end.

Unfortunately, those who stand to gain the most from this industry — women, racial and sexual minorities, and the poor — must work under the threat of police intimidation, abuse and exploitation. Sex worker rights groups such as the Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) have been attempting to engage the broader public on this issue for quite some time. A big step internationally came in 2015 when Amnesty International declared sex worker rights are human rights.

But America has been relatively silent. When progressives think of social justice, they need to think of sex worker rights and the end to criminalizing prostitution. There are many ways to reach this goal, but the two best alternatives, in my view, are full decriminalization, in which the government has no say in the sale of sex, and legalization and regulation, in which prostitution is legally practiced and licensed.

The case for full decriminalization
I have had several conversations with sex workers and sex worker rights advocates. The consensus is that the best way forward is full decriminalization.

I do not agree. I believe legalization with licensure is the better option. However, I'd like to describe some of the reasons sex workers and their advocate argue for full decriminalization.

One reason sex workers argue for decriminalization is because government intervention inevitably brings an antagonistic police force into contact with vulnerable prostitutes. Police harass, intimidate and even rape sex workers. Because prostitution is illegal, sex workers have no recourse.

I believe that the only group that trusts police less than prostitutes is young urban Black and brown men. Just like young males of color, this mistrust comes from decades of mistreatment by police.

A second reason is licenses are hard to obtain for poor or marginalized people. This is the same pool from which a disproportionate number of prostitutes are drawn. Licensing would make it harder for them to work in the industry, further marginalizing them. There is no doubt about this. Completing the steps for licensure — likely a combination of fees, classes and tests — would make it harder for those with fewer resources to compete for work. For some, it would be impossible.

A third reason is grounded in personal freedom. Sex workers argue they should have the right to do with their bodies whatever they please. Government should not, the logic goes, be legislating how a person uses their body or who a person can have sex with.

The case for licensure
The case for full decriminalization is a strong one. Because it is the path endorsed most by sex workers, I am more than willing to support it. While the full decriminalization idea is grounded in a libertarian ethic that I can admire, as a progressive, I believe markets left unattended are exploitative. If I were forced to choose between them, I would pick legalization with licensure over full decriminalization.

The concern about police mistreatment is genuine. But licensure can move prostitutes out of public spaces and into public-facing businesses or their own homes. It separates them from contexts in which overly aggressive police thrive. If there is a need to call the police, they are coming into a place with licensed professionals and not to spaces where they are accustomed to other illegal activities, such as drug or gang activity. Admittedly, this does not prevent police from mistreating anyone, but a shift from the street to the salon, from sidewalk sales to small business sales, would make a big difference.

The concern for marginalized people being priced out of the profession as a result of the cost of licensure is real. But I believe, in the long run, an occupation will always be stigmatized if the idea is that it is "for the marginalized." We are much better off as a society finding routes for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to attain licensure.

It may also counteract a rapidly growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots in terms of esteem within sex work. Elizabeth Bernstein, professor of women's studies and sociology at Barnard College, published an article in the journal Sexualities entitled "Sex Work for the Middle Classes." In that article, Bernstein explores the meanings middle-class sex workers — in this case, escorts — have about their profession. Bernstein writes that a hollowing out of middle-class jobs, rising costs of living in urban areas, and young women delaying or questioning marriage make escorting a viable option. Her article was published in 2007, and I do not believe that these trends have decreased. This "white girl magic" in the sex work industry is already evidence of a two-tiered sex work economy with higher-paid escorts selling sex in relative autonomy and freedom, while lower-paid prostitutes must risk violence from clients and police.

I fear that if sex work is decriminalized and there is no way of signaling the quality of service, patrons will choose "white girl magic." One of the functions of licensure is assurances to patrons that the service is of a certain quality. As such, it may allow prostitutes who are marginalized, not from middle-class backgrounds and not white to demonstrate services are safe and meet a certain standard of quality.

The third concern for prostitutes is controlling their own bodies, which I do not entirely grasp. The purpose of licensure is not to regulate bodies. It's regularing the act of buying and selling sex, i.e., the market. I am in favor of regulating markets. Moreover, and I think, more importantly, all occupations require someone doing something with their body to gain money. Why should prostitution be different?

I don't think prostitutes want to argue that their job is "special," as that plays into the conservative argument that sex is such a unique activity that it cannot and should not be sold. A more compelling argument would be that prostitution is just like any other occupation.

Sex workers rights and social justice
Whether you agree with the idea of full decriminalization or legalization with licensure or some other path that allows sex workers to practice their trade free, it is well overdue that progressives add sex worker rights to their list of "to-dos." It is a matter of social justice.

Sex workers come from the historically marginalized and disadvantaged groups we care about — the poor, women, sexual minorities and racial minorities. In this way, sex worker rights and social justice are one and the same.

A handful of Democrats are holding the rest of the party hostage in a critical game of chicken

It appears we're moving toward a massive investment in infrastructure. The Senate recently passed a $1.2 trillion "core" infrastructure bill as well as a $3.5 trillion "human" infrastructure budget resolution.

The core infrastructure bill, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed with a supermajority of 69 votes on August 10. This bill provides funding for, among other things, the repair of roads and bridges, an expansion of light rail systems and the modernization of the country's electrical grid. In what was a surprise for many, 19 Republicans voted for the bill, bypassing the threat of a filibuster. This was a small but major legislative victory for the Biden administration.

On Wednesday the Senate then approved a budget resolution for the fiscal year 2022 that would expand the country's social safety net. This was not bipartisan but passed on a party-line vote 50-49 through a process called reconciliation. The reconciliation process starts with the chamber budget committee setting general goals to be reached and the funds allocated to meet them. Committees are then tasked with crafting the policies to meet those goals. As an example, the Senate Budget Committee has given instructions to 11 Senate committees, one of which is the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This committee has been given a budget of $726 billion to be used for, among other things, universal pre-K, tuition-free community college and job training programs. The separate committees then craft policy for meeting their goals, which is then combined into one omnibus bill for voting within each chamber. The Senate is now in that time-consuming reconciliation process.

The two pieces of legislation are now in the Democrat-controlled House where legislation is passed with a simple majority. The House returns this week. It would seem as if major hurdles have been overcome.

You first, no you first
But the Democratic Party is now fighting with itself.

A handful of moderates want the smaller core infrastructure bill passed and signed into law first before the arduous reconciliation process on the human infrastructure budget ends. Nine have made this pledge in an open letter sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Nine nay votes are more than enough to prevent the passage of any bill. (The House Democrats hold a slim majority of three).

Meanwhile, a larger portion led by the progressive wing, say they will not vote on a core infrastructure bill until the Senate completes the reconciliation process and passes the human infrastructure bill. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, always quotable, tweeted on August 7:

"If mods want to blow up the infra deal, that's on them. I know this is tough for some to understand, but the US is more than a handful of suburbs- communities outside them aren't disposable. And just bc something is "bipartisan" doesn't mean it's good. Look at Wall St bailouts. War was bipartisan. Tax cuts for the rich were bipartisan. Wall St bailouts were bipartisan. Fossil fuel giveaways were/are bipartisan. Just because something is "bipartisan" doesn't make it intrinsically good for people or worthy of passage. Substance matters."

The logic is clear for this wing of the party. If the core infrastructure bill passes first, moderates may then withdraw their support for the human infrastructure bill – the bigger, more impactful piece of legislation. Pelosi has sided with the progressives and agreed to not bring the core infrastructure bill to a vote until the Senate has completed the reconciliation process.

In this colossal game of chicken, progressives must stand firm.

They have received a recent boost, with both senior House Democrats and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee urging the moderates to support the budget resolution.

Income inequality, not economic growth
The letter submitted to Pelosi by the nine moderates stated that "the legislation will help create millions of good-paying jobs a year across the nation and lead to continued strong economic growth."

Democrats should be focusing less on economic growth and more on economic inequality and its damaging effects on the social lives of people. Our gross domestic product can rise, but that does not mean everyone benefits equally from that growth. Our gross domestic product (GDP) has, with some bumps along the way, steadily risen over the past several decades. Meanwhile, income inequality has increased by about 20 percent since 1980.

Yes, more people will be put to work as laborers to rebuild infrastructure. But their incomes will pale in comparison to business owners and elites. Consider who will gain the most:

  • The business owners with the government contracts to do the rebuilding
  • Other businesses that will grow because of these infrastructure investments
  • Owners of stock in those businesses
  • Highly educated professionals securing employment in management, technology, and research and development

Passing the core infrastructure bill without the accompanying human infrastructure bill will only exacerbate the problem of economic inequality.

Yes, jobs are important. They will allow a person some measure of dignity and a climb out of poverty. It will be a living wage and they will be able to purchase the latest flat-screen television. But it will hardly make the lives of poor and working-class people any easier or manageable. They will still struggle to pay for healthcare and childcare. Higher education will still be cost-prohibitive. Affording housing, especially in large cities, will be a struggle.

The focus on appeasing the economic interests of businesses and elites in the guise of increasing GDP with a simultaneous hollowing out of the social safety net is a major reason why America has low life expectancy and highest suicide rates, lower rates of academic achievement, and high rates of child poverty when compared to other wealthy countries. This is despite America having the highest GDP in the world. It is also why white American male's life expectancy has dropped over the past decade. Social scientists Anne Case and Angus Deaton attribute this drop in life expectancy directly to white males dying "deaths of despair" because their prospects for achieving the American dream are so dim.

Investing in "US"
We need to make it easier for our citizens to live meaningful, rewarding lives. A mother should be able to pay for quality daycare for her children. A father of three should be able to look forward to all of his charges going off to college if they so desire. Health care should not be a privilege for those with professional jobs. A married family should be able to find adequate housing. A middle-aged person whose job has been obsoleted by new technologies should be able to find retraining and start a second career.

This is not "pushing America towards socialism" as the Republican senator from Tennessee Bill Hagerty said on Fox News recently. No, it is an investment. The moderate Democrats are focused on investing in the US as an economic entity. This is certainly needed. But they cannot do this at the expense of investing in "us" as a people.

A sociologist tried to attack anti-racism — but he got a whole lot wrong

Anrecent essay in Noema, published by the Berggruen Institute, argues that anti-racism is illiberal. The essay, "How To Be An Anti-Anti-Racist," was written by City University of New York sociologist John Torpey. Torpey offers a way forward called "anti-anti-racism." He gets a lot right in this essay, but a whole lot wrong. It's worth a read by all progressives and a response by this particular anti-racist.

Torpey's arguments are emblematic of an important subset of the US population. It is educated and well-read, centrist or liberal in their political leanings. But they find social justice activism problematic.

I take social justice activism to mean being aware of oppression and inequality in its material and symbolic manifestations and being willing to do something about it. When Black Americans began using the term "woke" some time ago, this is what they meant by it. Anti-racism, then, is simply the application of social justice activism to issues of race.

Because anti-racism is just one aspect of social justice activism, Torpey's essay speaks to a wider range of concerns from sexism, trans- and homophobia and xenophobia. In this sense, Torpey's arguments can be modified to be a critique against social justice activism itself.

At the risk of using too much terminology, Torpey is what I would call "anti-woke." The anti-anti-racist is therefore someone who pushes back against anti-racism and is, in a broader sense, an anti-woke person pushing back against woke social justice activism. Got it?

Progressives must engage with left-leaning, intellectual anti-wokes like Torpey. I believe what they are asking for is not unreasonable or unattainable. Moreover, as liberals and centrists, they are sympathetic to social justice issues. They are our once and future political allies.

What follows are excerpts from Torpey's essay and my responses.

After an extended wave of activism fueled by police killings of unarmed Black men, scholars and activists like Ibram X. (How to Be an Antiracist) Kendi, Robin (White Fragility) DiAngelo and a cottage industry of diversity, equity and inclusion consultants led an accelerating anti-racism movement.

Yes, anti-racism is more prominent today. I am personally happy to see the national dialogue bend in the direction of people of color, especially Black people who have long been demonized in the media.

If one expands one's intellectual radius outward from Kendi and DiAngelo and downward toward prominent public figures, one will be amazed at the amount and diversity of activity surrounding anti-racism. Scholars are now studying how algorithms are biased against people of color, how the tax code has negatively impacted Black people and the causes and outcomes of the racial wealth gap.

On the ground, activists have been doing anti-racist work for a very long time–from numerous male mentoring programs to organizations doing research on criminal justice reform to teachers attempting to help Black women learn to code. There has been an anti-racist ethic within the Black community since there was a black community. Collapsing all this activity down to Kendi, DiAngelo and diversity initiatives makes it easier to dismiss anti-racism. However, it is a fundamental misreading of anti-racism in America today.

In its illiberal form … anti-racism has replaced substantive political thinking with an emphasis on symbolic cultural changes like replacing school names, [and it has] become dangerously intolerant of dissent and sidelined discussions of class exclusion and oppression that affect Americans of all races.

There are three core ideas in this passage–an emphasis on symbolic changes and "virtue signaling," illiberalism and a lack of focus on economic concerns. In my experience, discussing issues with anti-woke folks, these are three of the most common themes (the others being wokeness as anti-science and wokeness as religion).

Concerning symbolic changes, I agree with Torpey. I see something like the pasting of BLM imagery on a corporate website as being rather meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Taking down Confederate statues is less important than jobs or healthcare. My sense of things is that a Black working-class person would gladly keep the statues up in favor of a middle-class job. He might even sit at the base of that statue and eat a sandwich while on break from said middle-class job.

But being of less import does not mean they have no import. In a climate in which any substantive proposal is met with rabid pushback from conservatives, these symbolic changes are that much more welcome. For example, the Biden administration allocated monies for Black farmers to address historical discrimination. This was met with outcries of reverse racism and challenges in the court system.

The second theme–illiberalism–is also common amongst anti-wokes. Indeed, an entire media organization, Counterweight, has been established to combat the perceived illiberalism in social justice spaces. Illiberalism in its weak form refers to a narrowmindedness and intolerance of other people's opinions. In its strong form, it is the imposition of one's ideas onto another group, often by using the state (ironically, it is conservatives who are the most illiberal at this moment, with their bans on critical race theory and some of their thought leaders holding up authoritarian regimes as models.)

What Torpey, and many anti-wokes, are doing is attempting to impose their chosen brand of communication performance onto others. They emphasize civil reasoned debate and the accommodation of differing opinions irrespective of the content of that communication. When that is not accepted, they cry intolerance. This is the "Must I accommodate a Holocaust denier?" question that anti-wokes really cannot answer adequately because the logical answer for them must be "yes."

But many social justice advocates, including myself, do not take this view. We see ideas as interwoven with morality and the human condition. Ideas have consequences. As such, they can have immoral implications and are consequential to the quality of our conditions as human beings. In a democracy, those who have the quality of their conditions threatened have a right to communicate that concern.

A clear example is the discussions about race and IQ–given fresh impetus by a new book by Charles Murray Facing Reality. Murray can write whatever he wishes. His right to free speech has not and should not be violated. But I am not so naïve as to believe that someone asserting that a) there are biological "races" in reality, 2) these races are more or less intelligent and 3) success in society is based on one's cognitive ability, does not have negative implications for groups deemed to have less cognitive ability. As such, it is downright foolish to allow a "reasonable accommodation for a different opinion."

Quite frankly, I have no interest in accommodating the opinion that I and my ancestors are congenitally inferior. There is a wide array of other research questions that can be asked that do not rely on bad science–what is an "Asian"? A Korean or a Bangladeshi or an Indonesian?–or designed to justify a racial hierarchy.

I sympathize with the abstract, decontextualized notion of civil discourse and reasonable debate Torpey and another anti-wokes advocate for. I am just not sure if Torpey has been in a position where the ideas debated present an existential threat to him. I prefer a communication landscape that allows me to combat that threat. I suspect the same goes for trans people, gay people, women, immigrants, the differentially abled and the elderly.

The final part of that passage refers to discussions of economic inequality being sidelined. This is a problem. Inequalities of wealth and income are two of the major concerns of our time. There has been a steadily widening of the chasm between the rich and poor, and it threatens our democracy. It is also true that addressing economic inequality will indeed address many aspects of racial inequality.

But Torpey is asking something quite interesting here. He is suggesting that individuals who invest their time addressing racial issues in this country end these discussions and instead turn their attention to class-based issues. But why? Should an advocate for Hmong refugees give up their interest in favor of some other related social problem that will address some of the issues of Hmong indirectly?

I do not see a class-based approach as a replacement for a focus on racism. Often they are complementary. The racial wealth gap is a racial and class issue. The push for reparations is a race and class issue. They run in parallel but never intersect. This is because populations of color have their unique issues, histories and contexts. I don't think economic inequality has much to do with Black boys being disciplined more harshly than other children for the same offenses in the same school.

Torpey and other anti-wokes should know this. They should be aware that scholars and thinkers have thought about the importance of social class and factored it into their work. In any case, the reduction of class inequality and racial inequality is laudable. But they are different goals.

Such censorious symbolic politics put off many who might agree that America has deep and longstanding problems of racial inequality, but who increasingly feel like aliens in their own country. This includes many working-class whites who, indiscriminately lumped together with the "privileged"—even amid an epidemic of white working-class "deaths of despair"—are increasingly open to demagogic appeals by Donald Trump and other right-wing populist politicians.

I am surprised, again, that as a sociologist, Torpey has this impoverished view of what privilege means. Given his greater professional experience, he has likely seen more statistical models than I have showing that all else being equal, being white is associated with more positive outcomes when compared to being Black. He has also likely been exposed to more ethnographic studies than I have that show how Black Americans navigate a world where even if they attain high-status positions and wealth, their skin color still matters.

But also, again, there is truth in what Torpey is arguing. People on the left will have a hard time attracting white voters if white people are constantly being called racist or privileged. Arlie Russel Hoschild's instant classic Strangers In Their Own Land and Michael Sandel's Tyranny of Merit both make the argument that white Americans flocked to the Tea Party and then Donald Trump because they felt insulted and neglected by establishment political figures.

As the argument I make above about class and race, there is no reason why progressives cannot articulate policies that deal with class. We can let folks interested in anti-racism do their thing. But absolutely, there needs to be a similar articulation of ideas about income inequality, particularly among a white working class that is steadily losing ground relative to other groups. White working-class Americans are an interest group that needs to be courted and messaging is important. It might be empirically accurate to say that all things being equal, a white person will have an easier time navigating America than a person of color, but this is a political nonstarter for a white person who is struggling to make ends meet. Torpey is right.

What anti-wokes want

So what does Torpey see as a way forward? What is anti-anti-racism?

It is really what I suspect most anti-woke intellectuals want–a wider dialogue around racial inequality that does not demonize or exclude people who think differently, with this dialogue including class-based concerns. Torpey writes in closing that Martin Luther King, Jr.:

famously pleaded for his children to be judged by "the content of their character" rather than "the color of their skin." We need to take King's plea seriously. And that means listening to people's ideas and addressing them honestly, irrespective of the speaker's (or writer's) race, gender or sexuality. We need to rejuvenate our ability to see and hear each other. We also need to remember that King was an anti-war and anti-poverty activist, not just an anti-racist, especially as he neared the end of his life.

I think this is attainable and necessary. We should, within reason, listen to and incorporate other people's ideas. This should be done regardless of their characteristics. Despite the differences people may have in terms of their history and circumstance, the common thread of humanity binds them and we all must live in this country together.

Moreover, we do need to have a greater dialogue on the left about income and wealth. As I mentioned above, this does not need to come from anti-racists. But it needs to come from somewhere on our side.

What anti-wokes need

In reading Torpey's essay, I recognized many of the blind spots other anti-wokes exhibit. These blind spots come from a lack of humility.

I posted something on Twitter a year or so ago commenting on how growing up with dark skin was a problem, and how this is a problem for many populations of color who see European features as the standard. I was making a well-understood point about colorism. Dark-skinned people of color are devalued within their own communities. At that time, my mutuals were predominantly anti-woke, and the responses I received to this tweet were disheartening. The general thrust of the replies was to equate my experiences with "white people tanning." We are all the same, I presume, was the rationale.

No, in this respect, we are not. You cannot equate white people wanting to tan for aesthetic purposes with dark-skinned people of color being devalued in their own communities because their physical appearance deviates farther from a European norm.

This reaction illustrated a type of arrogance. Respondents were wading into a conversation without having any depth of experience. If anti-woke people are met with a hostile communication environment –what may appear to be illiberal–this is one of the reasons.

It doesn't stop there, though.

In reading Torpey's essay, I repeatedly came across instances that revealed a lack of knowledge or engagement with anti-racism activities other than at a superficial, culture war level. Anti-racism did not begin with Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, and it is not that now.

There is a wide swath of scholars studying all elements of how race is embedded in American society. I suspect that engaging with that work will demonstrate to Torpey and other anti-wokes why some anti-racists take the particular race-focused approach they do.

This is not a "read a book" line of argumentation I am building here. Instead, I am saying that to expect someone to not assume you are entering the conversation prepared to be at odds with them, it helps to assume that person is as intellectually capable as you are. I recall one exchange I had with someone on social media who was amazed that sociologists included class in their statistical models. I informed him that one cannot even get a master's degree in sociology if one does not include some measure of income or wealth in their models.

In this same vein, anti-racism is not just about diversity training. I do not doubt that there has been an increase in the number of diversity trainings, initiatives and hires. This has been matched by and maybe outpaced by the number of nonprofits addressing race-based issues and the number of activists urging local and state governments to redress past wrongs or address current injustices. These efforts are largely unknown. Anti-wokes want to be heard and not dismissed. They deserve this. But they need to exercise a bit of humility first.

The deep meaning behind the dueling reactions to Simone Biles' withdrawal

Simone Biles withdrew from the team gymnastics event at the 2020 Olympics, citing mental health concerns. "Whenever you get in a high stress situation, you kind of freak out," she said. "I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being." Team USA subsequently salvaged a silver. The Russians took the gold.

As expected, the 24 year old attracted defenders and detractors.

One side saw her decision as an understandable response to overwhelming stress. If one is not able to compete at an acceptable level, the logic goes, one should bow out. Robert O'Connell of The Atlantic wrote that Biles "rejected the false dichotomy between personal well-being and professional excellence, instead pointing to the former as a precondition of the latter." Some in this group not only saw her bowing out as understandable, but also as a sign of strength. It takes courage to admit one is struggling with mental health, especially in an environment where mental health issues are stigmatized. In this regard, she showed true courage by coming forward.

Then there were critics.

Charlie Kirk, the conservative Christian Nationalist, was highly critical of Biles, calling her a "sociopath" and a "shame to her country." "We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles," Kirk said. "If she's got all these mental health problems, don't show up." Admittedly, Kirk's view tends to run toward the extreme and he may not be the best representation of Biles' critics. But Texas Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz also joined the castigation. He retweeted a video of 1996 gold medalist Kerri Strug, who won team USA gold with an ankle injury. Reitz tweeted, "Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles."

On trigger warnings and safe spaces
While some of the reactions to Biles' decision, on both sides, amount to political posturing, I believe there is something deeper at play. The fault line rests on whether one recognizes the psychological harm caused by the subjective meanings people attach to their experience. I suspect Biles' detractors are the "facts don't care about your feelings" crowd. It tends to minimize the import of subjective interpretations.

A theoretical perspective in sociology called symbolic interactionism is dedicated to understanding how our interpretations of the world impact our behavior. From the perspective of a symbolic interactionist, facts create feelings, which are themselves scientific facts that we must try to understand. Our interpretations of the world can cause psychological and physiological harm. It is not the sounds coming out of the mother's mouth that matter. It is that the child interprets those sounds as words that mean that he or she is not good enough. Some scholars, including myself, believe interpretations of situations can be so traumatic we can rightfully call it violence. It causes serious harm. For example, being cyberstalked elicits responses from victims that are reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even if the stalker is not in the victim's actual presence, the victim interprets their environment as being unsafe.

These understandings are the rationale for several activities considered "wokish."

Consider "trigger warnings." Someone delivering a public talk or a teacher giving a lecture may wish to inform the audience of subject matter that may be disturbing. The words of the speaker or the content shown may cause unintended harm. It doesn't mean we avoid tough conversations. Discussions of sexual violence or the Holocaust, for example, need to happen. But we must allow the listener the opportunity to leave the room or to prepare themselves to hear the potentially triggering material.

Or consider "safe spaces." They rely on the same principle. People who are different in some way—their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ableness—are often under tremendous stress. They must act in ways they may not wish to act and instead worry about being judged if and when they don't. I can relate. When I was working on my master's degree, I was the only black male in my graduate department. I felt like I was in a fishbowl, like I was being watched. I wasn't sure if the things I was accustomed to talking about would go over well. I couldn't wait to get away and decompress.

Safe spaces and trigger warnings get roasted by conservatives who proclaim that "facts don't care about your feelings" (ironically, these same conservatives feel their children are experiencing psychic pain when hearing about white privilege or systemic racism). But from the perspective of a symbolic interactionist, facts create feelings, which are themselves scientific facts, which we must, in turn, try to understand.

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words hurt too
Before the Olympics began, Simone Biles spoke of the pressure on her in an Instagram post. "I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times," she said. "I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn't affect me but, damn, sometimes it's hard." At a press conference following her decision to withdraw, Biles comments made it clear she was under a tremendous stress:

  • The "mental's not there."
  • "I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness."
  • "It's been really stressful, this Olympic Games. I think just as a whole, not having an audience, there are a lot of different variables going into it. It's been a long week. It's been a long Olympic process. It's been a long year. So just a lot of different variables, and I think we're just a little bit too stressed out."

This is not about being weak. Biles has shown she can handle pressure, just as her joints have shown they handled pressure from the leaps and lunges that she puts them through. But as human beings, we all have a breaking point. The pitcher's arm gets tired. His fastball is five miles slower than normal. The marathoner struggles mightily to finish the last few miles strong but ends up walking the final few. The pitcher and the runner have already done all the "sucking up" they can. What they need now is rest. They risk permanent injury if they ignore what their bodies are telling them.

Biles was expected to be perfect. She was expected to be dominant. She was expected to produce the greatest gymnastics performance in human history. This is what people told her. This is what she read. This is what she saw on social media.

As former gymnast turned consultant Angie Fifer said in an interview: "So, the weight of pressure that Simone has on her shoulders is insurmountable. And the way to think about it is, imagine if you went to the office and everybody watched every move you made and made sure that every single thing that you did all day long was perfect."

Sticks and stones break bones, but words hurt, too. Biles had no safe space to decompress. And so, the gymnast, who was shouldering the pressure of being the face of one of the most-watched events from one of the most-watched global spectacles for the most-watched country, finally decided to take a rest.1 I think we all would.

A sociologist explains how minor league baseball can help save America

I'm not talking about major league baseball. I'm talking about the hundreds of minor league teams and their small ballparks scattered across the country. I'm not talking about the players or what they do on the diamond. I'm talking about the people who are standing in front of you in the concessions line or sitting beside you in the stands.

I've recently started going to minor league baseball games in the city I live, Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is a port city in southeast Virginia. The city is home to the Baltimore Orioles top-level minor-league team, the Norfolk Tides. The Tides play in Harbor Park, a beautiful 12,000 seat stadium. Tickets cost around $12. A hot dog is $5.

After the first 15 minutes of my first game, I realized that something special can happen in the spaces created by local ballparks. It's a space where people can come together in a nonpartisan environment. By making a day at the park a regular form of entertainment, Americans can build community across ideological lines.

Learning the local
What jumped out to me was how hyperlocal everything was. You can learn a lot about where you live by attending a couple of minor league games. The notables who throw out the first pitch, sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" or get recognized by the announcer between innings—these are people who live and work in the area. At one game I attended, the chief of the local Pamunkey tribe, Robert Gray, threw out the first pitch. At another, it was Maia Chaka, the first Black woman named an NFL official.

One way to look at this is to call it "small time." There is certainly no pretense of celebrity here. But if the concern is building community, you don't want someone who has appeared on a television show in Hollywood and is only passing through town.

You want to learn the local. The Pamunkey are a small tribe unknown to most folk. But they are historically relevant to Southeastern Virginia and people who live in the area should at least become aware of the tribe if they aren't already. Meanwhile, Maia Chaka is a graduate of Norfolk State University, a historically Black college in Norfolk.

The fans are local. I don't think tourists go to a minor league games. The people at them are your neighbors: your accountant and dental hygienist, the police officers and teachers living and working in the same area. You share mental maps. If I reference a restaurant in Ghent (a popular area in Norfolk for food and entertainment) the person I am talking to will understand. They will have the same catalog of major local events. If I want to explain when I did something significant, I can place it by saying it was just before "that big storm ... I think it was when Hurricane Matthew hit."

The sponsors are local. If I want to know where I can get my eyes examined, where to get legal advice or where to find discount groceries, the Jumbotron will tell me.

Experiencing the local
I don't want to give the impression that this is simply an exercise in cataloging local people, places and things for future reference. Being in a ballpark, smelling the hot dogs and the beer, and hearing the laughs and the jeers is what it's all about. And you are doing this with others. The shared experience is what sticks with you the most.

Because the games are inexpensive, stadiums are family-friendly, drawing a wider and more inclusive audience. Even if people are not baseball fans, the games are still a known quantity. Minor league baseball produces diverse crowds. You are sharing your baseball experience—the sights, the sounds, the smells—with a wide range of people.

Even here, where I am talking about diversity, it is still local in its orientation. Diversity in Norfolk means something different than diversity in El Paso, Texas. There is a greater urgency for folks in Norfolk to see a member of the Pamunkey tribe than it is to see a member of the Comanche Nation. Norfolk is still a largely segregated city, and the white man living on one side of town may benefit greatly from sitting in the same row as the Black woman from the other side of town, and vice-versa.

This is not to say that there is not a need for members of the two historic populations of Black and white to not have exposure to other Native tribes, or Latino and Asian populations. But that is already a national discussion. The beauty of the minor league game is that it is tailored to the specific context within which it is embedded.

Even in places that are racially or ethnically homogeneous, a minor league game may be a salad bowl of lifestyles. Norfolk is in a relatively populous metro area but is not a magnet for high-paying jobs in technology, finance and law. The cost of living is not near the crushing level of cities like Seattle or Washington. My sense is the Norfolk area does not have wide class distinctions. But we do have sharp lifestyle distinctions. The progressives come from the thriving arts community and a rapidly growing major university while the conservatives are drawn from a large military presence (Norfolk has the largest Navy base in the world) and an older white "Old South" population.

Because of Norfolk's large queer population, the park hosts LGBTQ-plus night, of which I was also in attendance. This was quite an experience for me. The LGBTQ-plus night at Harbor Park was one of the few times I have had to navigate a space that was more gay than straight. This needs to happen to more people and more often.

Local social capital
People make the mistake of assuming that conversations across ideological lines bring people closer. Let's get folks from the left and right, the logic goes, put them in a room and have them talk it out. Through dialogue we understand each other more and we come together more. I don't think that's going to work. If we want to bring people together across ideological lines, nonpartisan group activities are needed.

This is not simply armchair theorizing.

What I am talking about is something sociologists like me call social capital. There are many ways of describing it, but the definition from Wikipedia works well: "networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively." Sociologists are interested in social capital because it allows individuals to share information and work together. Criminologists are interested in it because, in communities where social capital is high, people are more willing to follow moral codes. Crime then decreases. And political scientists are interested in social capital because democracy needs citizens willing to cooperate.

In 2000, sociologist Robert Putnam wrote a book on social capital called Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. He charts the decline of social capital in our society since the mid-20th century. Putnam says this is because local civic institutions have disappeared—Elks and Kiwanis clubs, neighborhood improvements associations and, as per the title of his book, bowling leagues. I have a suggestion.

Let's go to minor league ballgames. Tickets are under 20 bucks. The stadium is less than an hour away. They play between 66 and 72 games a season, four or five times a week, day and night. Give it a try! You might enjoy yourself and help save America.

A piece of Biden's rescue plan sparked a conservative backlash — driven by a pervasive myth

A provision of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 reserves $5 billion for farmers of color. This set-aside was immediately criticized by conservative pundits and right-wing media, and derided as racist because white farmers were not eligible for the aid.

Giving farmers something because they are black is problematic. This is no better than giving privileges to someone because they are white. Instead, the government should give farmers debt-relief because they are and have been victims of discrimination.

But before society can progress to that point, we must break through the myth of colorblindness. It does not make us blind to race. It makes us blind to racism.

The bill
The American Rescue Plan was signed into law March 11. There are two parts reserving aid to Black farmers and farmers of color. The larger portion that provides $4 billion in debt-relief is explicitly reserved for "Black, indigenous, and farmers of color" who have United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm loans. One billion dollars is reserved for training and technical assistance to that same class of farmers.

United States Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, a supporter of the bill, said of the bill that the USDA "should now take this first step toward addressing the agency's history of discrimination by quickly implementing the law that Congress passed and moving forward without delay to pay off in full all direct and guaranteed loans of Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers." White farmers are not eligible.

The backlash
The bill has gotten backlash from a variety of places. One is from banks. They say debt-relief will cut into their profits. The strongest pushback, however, has come from white farmers. On June 10, Milwaukee District Judge William Griesbach issued a temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm, on behalf of a dozen white farmers.

Two weeks later, the bill suffered another blow. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian law firm, filed a complaint on behalf of Scott Wynn, a white farmer from Jennings, Florida, who is facing financial hardship. Florida District Judge Marcia Howard agreed and issued an injunction blocking the distribution of aid payments.

The blindness
Since the end of the civil rights movement, Americans—especially white Americans—have been indoctrinated into the myth of colorblindness. It goes something like this:

  1. We need to be colorblind and treat everyone the same regardless of their ethnic or racial self-identification.
  2. Racism is an individual-level phenomenon and only exists when individual bad people act with prejudice or discrimination towards other individuals.

But this is a myth.

First, there is a welter of evidence from across the social sciences showing that although we say we are colorblind, we still see and act on race. The same group that says, "I don't care if the person is white, black, yellow, or green," also cares about dating choices, friendship networks, and where they live and send their kids to school.

Second, it is law, policy and institutions negatively impacting groups that are the root of racism in America today, not individual interactions between bigots and victims.

When I describe a more scholarly understanding of racism that is not focused on individuals, I am accused of changing the definition of racism. But scholars of race shifted their focus away from single Bull Connors starting in the 1970s. They have demonstrated in a variety of ways that what produces the racial inequalities we see today is best understood through law and policy that disproportionately impacts the quality of life and wealth accumulation of people of color, especially Black Americans.

As an example, while much of the public has focused their attention on Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, most scholars would focus on the policies that allow law enforcement officials to have so much contact with Black and brown people, and act so aggressively with impunity.

The bind
Colorblindness is aspirational and has value, but it's removed from reality. It does not stop people from being blind to race. It does, however, blind them from seeing racism.

Even if a person says they don't see color, they see the associations between skin color and wealth, skin color and health, and skin color and crime. But because most people think racism must come from individual bigots, that person is blind to the wider social forces at play that produced those associations. This leads to the rejection of anti-racist policies aimed at institutions and policies. They are seen as "reverse racism" when they are meant to deal with racism already occurring or the effects of past racism.

The myth of colorblindness binds not just white Americans but all Americans to our racist past. We cannot address the effects of past racism and current racism that are ingrained into our institutions and policies if we do not open our eyes and "see" race.

We need to be color-conscious.

Color-conscious, not colorblind
Mekela Panditharatne describes the history of racial discrimination by the USDA and its anemic attempts at righting past wrongs. In 1982 and 1997, the USDA found evidence of discrimination towards farmers of color. She wrote that in 1997, the agency concluded that Black farmers and farmers of color were subjected to "arbitrary loan delays, reductions and even approvals of loan funds that never reached their destinations. The result was significant losses of land and income for these groups." A class-action lawsuit awarded damages to Black family farms but it was a small sum.

Panditharatne goes on to explain how the Reagan administration closed down the civil rights arm of the USDA for a time. During the George W. Bush administration, one claim out of 14,000 was deemed meritorious. Just one. The argument could be made that the indifference shown by these Republican administrations was party ideology of reducing the role of government in everyday life. But the Obama administration, according to Panditharatne, was little better at handling discrimination claims.

The myth of colorblindness binds us across ideologies as well as to our racist history. Most Americans, from Democrat to Republican, will say: "If everybody says they don't see color and no one is using racial slurs, then how can there be racism?"

A better understanding
Racism occurs at a system-wide level. The mistreatment of farmers was not about one or two bigoted officials screwing over a handful of Black farmers. An entire class was mistreated by a government agency, disadvantaging them in an entire sector of the economy. Individuals charged with adjudicating claims of discrimination needn't raise the bar so high there needs to be a David Duke in every loan office. If a farmer can show that he or she owns a farm or was bequeathed a farm when it was shown that the USDA mistreated farmers of color, then he or she should be eligible for farm aid.

We shouldn't think of the aid as being awarded because they are farmers of color. We shouldn't see the aid as given because the farmers are in need. We should see the loan forgiveness and other funds available through the USDA as awarded because an entire class of people has been discriminated against by that agency. This is what makes white farmers ineligible—there's simply no evidence they were discriminated against.

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