Posts Tagged ‘Racism’

Things the Right Gets Wrong, pt. 1: Immigration

January 20, 2020

Things the Right Gets Wrong, pt. 1: Immigration: two wrongs don’t make a right, but they do sometimes make a right-winger

 

We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.

—-Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa

 

 

Six people have been arrested so far in connection with terrorist threats and plots in Richmond, VA this week.[1]   Right-wing pundits have renewed threats of “civil war” if the elected governments attempt to implement laws that they, private citizens with no legal education and speaking only for a minority of Americans, declare “unconstitutional.”[2] President Trump has openly sided with the violent extremists, echoing their paranoid fears without a whisper discouraging their violent intentions.[3] This is occurring at the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial, one that many GOP senators have promised will be short, look at no evidence, and completely exonerate him. As much as I would like to just stick to philosophy, I am reminded of Plato’s warning that the price of ignoring politics is to be ruled by evil men.

At the center of all of this talk of civil war and this eagerness to ignore crass and rampant corruption, we find this repeated conservative horror that American civilization is on the verge of collapse and that nothing short of armed force or at least the credible threat of violence can save it from the will of the foolish majority. Chants such as “Blood and Soil and “You Will Not Replace Us” reflect their real or affected fear of a “white genocide” where darker-skinned people from countries outside of Northern Europe either slaughter “real Americans” or settle for merely destroying our culture.[4] It is in this context that words such as King’s, coming from Republican elected officials for years, are so chilling. They are nothing less than a call to violence. They are also wrong.

If I have to argue with someone that racism is immoral, I’m doomed to waste the precious time I have on Earth to serve God and enjoy God’s good world. What I choose to do here and now is to say that their plan leads only to national suicide. Japan before the arrival of Perry, China before the Opium Wars, Russia under the Tsars, Spain under the Inquisition, or North Korea today: all followed or follow variations of Rep. Steve King’s mantra. Countries that wall themselves off from the world, convinced of their own superiority or obsessed with their own stability, wind up declining. Even Sparta stagnated and fell, an impoverished husk of a nation despite its powerful army. And Japan today, despite being an open and reasonably progressive democracy, is literally dying of old age.[5] I think to of the Mongol Empire. Mongolia was the largest land empire ever, stretching from the North Pacific to the Middle East, encompassing what we now call China, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North India, South Russia and more; and it all virtually vanished. Sure, you can find genetic evidence of Mongolian occupation, and plenty of ruins of cities they burned; but despite laws the Khan attempted to enforce to keep his people separate from the conquered foes, within a generation they were culturally absorbed. In China they became Chinese, in Islamic lands they became Muslim and so on.

By contrast, look at the Roman Empire. It initially expanded through extremely brutal military campaigns. However, it offered a truly vibrant culture, giving aqueducts, roads, Roman civil law, concrete, and more (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo).   It didn’t do most of this out of any sense of benevolence, but it did have a lot to offer. People wanted to become Roman citizens, and Rome was happy to oblige by making citizenship available even to those born and raised in other cultures. And Roman culture took as freely as it gave, welcoming all sorts of other religions (so long as they themselves also included a little Emperor worship, which got the Christians in trouble), foreign philosophies, foreign gods, foreign science and literature, new foods, new art and more. The testimony to the power of Roman culture is that when Rome fell, generations spent all their efforts trying to become the new Romans. Not only was Europe nominally under the Holy Roman Empire, but Roman laws, Roman architecture, Roman engineering, and even the Roman language for many centuries were the standards all later European cultures sought to imitate. The German “Kaiser” and Russian “Tsar” were their languages’ “Caesar;” even peoples who had never been part of the Roman Empire or whose ancestors fought it vigorously and successfully later sought to claim the Roman heritage. Much the same occurred in Islamic lands as the initial Arab conquests led to absorption of much of the culture of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine culture.

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, I saw a televised interview with a young British Muslim guy ranting about how evil the USA was and how great al Qaeda was for standing up for Islamic culture. He was wearing a NY Yankees baseball cap, without any apparent sense of irony. America may have become a mighty nation by conquering Mexican territory and successful involvement in two world wars; but it became a great nation because of its culture. People around the world want to watch our television and movies; they want our hamburgers and our Levis; they want our free markets, representative democracy, rights for women, free speech and so on. We are not great because we are paler than others; we are great because of baseball, rock and roll, and T-shirts. People want to be us; even our enemies don’t want so much to destroy us than to replace us, while taking over for themselves who we are.

Nations that strive for low immigration, conservative and unchanging cultures, and racial purity either die, or end up like North Korea, impoverished and backwards lands surviving only because most of the population is unable to leave. That is the end of the road which the white nationalist follows. Steve King may claim that he isn’t racist, that he “only” wants to keep out immigrants who aren’t “good Americans,” but this is foolish if not dishonest. He echoes the rhetoric of white nationalists while claiming to not understand what it really means. I say this instead:

 

“We can ONLY restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

 

What do I mean by that? The United States is better at turning immigrants into citizens than any other nation is or has been. We’ve been doing it for our entire history, and we know how to make it work. We’ve been most prosperous when we sought to welcome immigrants, and our economy has always suffered when we tried to shut out foreign goods and foreign peoples. That doesn’t mean “open borders;” that’s the Straw Man argument of the fearful and the racist. But we’ve been able to take in people from the Russian Jewish shtetls to the Bosnian villages and mosques to the Chinese cities and farms and a hundred other cultures, and within a generation they’re as American—or more!—-than the “patriots” who marched in Charlottesville with their torches and their red hats and their threats of civil war. “The hands that built this country we’re always trying to keep down.”[6]

Cultures, like individuals, change as long as they live. “Whatever is not busy being born is busy dying.” Anyone who wants to “restore” a civilization seeks to practice the mortician’s art, when what is needed is a midwife. Sure, you can embalm a culture so that, like a corpse, it looks as good as it once did; but first it has to be dead. A great civilization is one that grows, that produces science and art and prosperity, that attracts immigrants and imitators, that learns from other cultures and takes the best to use for itself. It is like the scribe whom Jesus describes, who has learned and preserved the traditions of the past while also embracing new insights and values, “like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”[7]

Civilizations can die from too much change too fast. Conservatives instinctively understand the values of boundaries and definitions, which liberals can overlook. Reform Judaism began as a modern revival or resuscitation movement, to help the spiritual heritage of the past live in the modern world. But a century later, it seemed ready to dissolve, as young Reform Jews became secular, or Buddhist, or some other faith. Reform has begun emphasizing Hebrew in worship and other conservative traits, to restore a sense of what it is to be Jewish, to be Reform Judaism. I don’t want to say that conservatives are always wrong, or that we should ever totally silence them. But right now our country is swinging more towards the example of the Amish or the Wahhabi, where all change is seen as evil until it is virtually forced. White nationalists refer to Donald Trump as “Glorious Leader;” North Koreans refer to Kim Jong-il as “Dear Leader.” Is that the sort of “patriotism” we need? No! That will not “make America great,” any more than cultural and racial homogeneity, militarism and cultural petrifaction has made North Korea “great.” The ideology of Rep. Steve King, Donald Trump and others of their ilk will kill America, merely to satisfy the xenophobic and those who, like so many despots, are willing to foster paranoia and resentment, knowing it leads to national poverty and decline, simply to satisfy their own ambitions.

[1] Ryan W. Miller, “Three More Suspected Neo-Nazis Arrested before Virginia Gun-Rights Rally, Authorities Say;” USA Today 1/17/2020 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/01/17/virginia-gun-rally-3-more-suspected-neo-nazis-base-arrested/4499733002/)

[2] Cydney Hargis, “Fox Nation’s Tomi Lahren on proposed Virginia gun safety laws: “Stop coming for the Second Amendment” or there will be a civil war in the U.S.” Media Matters 1/17/2020 (www.mediamatters.org)

 

[3] WJHL, “President Trump: Second Amendment is Under ‘Very Serious Attack’ in Virginia;” ABC 8 News (https://www.wric.com/news/politics/capitol-connection/president-trump-second-amendment-is-under-very-serious-attack-in-virginia/)

[4] David Neiwert, “When White Nationalists Chant Their Weird Slogans, What Do They Mean?” SPLC: Southern Poverty Law Center 10/10/2017 (https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/10/10/when-white-nationalists-chant-their-weird-slogans-what-do-they-mean)

[5] Francisco Toro, “Japan is a Trumpian Paradise of Low Immigration Rates. It’s also a Dying Country;” The Washington Post Agust 29, 2019 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/08/29/japan-is-trumpian-paradise-low-immigration-rates-its-also-dying-country/)

 

[6] Bruce Springsteen, “American Land,” Wrecking Ball 2012 (Sony Legacy) Here’s a pretty good version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02mZTyTbdTI

[7] Matthew 13:52

What’s Old is New Again

November 10, 2016

What’s Old is New Again

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

 

—–Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind”

 

 

Historical progress is not inevitable. We are always one generation away from barbarism. We always have been. We always will be.

We all know the facts. There are today four groups of Americans.   One group is known today as the alt-Right. When I was born in 1960, they were known by different names: the KKK, white supremacists, Nazis or The Man. They controlled those around them by fear and violence. They were terrorists, and very often they were also the police and elected government officials at the same time. As I was growing up, I remember thinking about The Klan the way some of you would think about some dangerous animal you had never actually seen, but which you knew still lurked just beyond the city limits. I never remembering thinking they were defending my rights as a white man; I always knew that they would turn on me or any other white male in an instant if they sensed “disloyalty to your race.” And as a child of educated parents who believed that moral goodness and intellectual ability were not limited or granted by race, I was and am one of those “enemies.” But I have the privilege, or temptation, of keeping my mouth shut and passing through life relatively unmolested, if cowed. I didn’t have black friends. Thanks to redlining and segregated neighborhood schools, I don’t recall even seeing a black kid my own age until high school. I did try to be friends to the younger black kid in the small private school I attended when I was around fourteen. I was frequently bullied but I can’t say it was specifically for that. I did, however, always know that the same people who hated me for being educated and eager in school also hated others because they were a different skin color or religion.

There is a second group, the group of those who see the racists and thugs as terrible people, but who still see them as fellow travelers and allies. They know from experience what I know from observation and from opinion surveys: that half the people who support Donald Trump are in fact racists, homophobes, and willing to use sexual harassment and rape to keep white males in control. They themselves claim to be disgusted by that behavior. However,—-and that is the point. That recognition is followed by a “however.” Sure, Donald Trump follows KKK and Nazi groups on Twitter and repeats what they say as fact, proving from his own words that he embraces those views, and like Mike Pence they say they are personally horrified by such people; but like Mike Pence they refuse to call them “deplorable” and continue to consider them friends, even leaders. They may consider the burning of a black church and the scrawling of “Vote Trump” on the site to be bad taste, but not as bad as wearing a T-shirt that says “Black Lives Matter.” For every racist, there is at least one of those enablers and allies who claims to be better than that, but who supports the rights of racists, terrorists, and oppressors. When I was a child, most white Southern Christians claimed to believe that Jesus came to save everyone regardless of race; but they also chose to look the other way when some of their so-called Christian friends murdered blacks or Jews or some liberal who thought she was just so smart. The Southern Baptist Convention even wrote it into their theology: it is not the Church’s place, they said, to meddle in politics or criticize the State. And as long as they saw the State as protecting their protected status as white people, they were more than happy to ignore segregation and lynching and focus on stamping out drinking or dancing or games with dice. You know, like Jesus said.

There are today people who are shocked and horrified. Some, like me, may remember the history of Southern racism, and the Klan in Indiana and other Midwest states, and the anti-immigrant violence of the Know-Nothings in the cities, and how a person could be beaten or even killed if someone even thought he might be gay. Others are themselves non-white, or immigrants, or non-Evangelicals, or non-straight, or simply have friends or family that fall into one of those groups. They now know they have a target on their backs, and that they have elected officials like Gov. Matt Bevin or Senator Richard Burr who talk about how great it would be to literally shoot any of us who are not like them. We know the chance of random unprovoked violence against one of us is much higher today than we thought it was even a day ago, and that even those who are supposed to be protecting us are in fact encouraging it.

And then there is the fourth group. They sat out this election. They thought that we could never go back to the America I grew up in, where gay-bashing and lynching were considered “disorderly conduct” at worse. They thought progress is inevitable whether or not they fight to protect it. They voted to legalize weed, but allowed a federal government of Congress, President and Supreme Court to come into power that has promised to fight the “drug war” and won’t give a damn what your state law is. Whether a woman has a right to abort a fetus she is carrying that is either dead or dying within her, and which is killing her, is a decision that they say should be left up to state law; but whether a person in the privacy of his or her own home should be allowed to smoke a joint is a Federal matter, even if that person grew the marijuana and paid no foreign drug runner a penny. They knew that Clinton was just as sleazy as Trump, because they saw advertisements from Trump that told them so and read stuff on Facebook that was written by Trump supporters in the U.S. and Russia, and still think they are morally pure because they chose to believe the propaganda. They felt anxiety at having to make a difficult choice, and like many people they chose to simply not make that choice. Now the choice is made for them. Good luck stopping oil pipelines through tribal lands now.

I can’t say anything to the people in the first group. They are simply evil, and you can’t argue with evil. Jesus didn’t argue with Satan; he rebuked him. Jesus rebuked Satan when Satan tried to get Jesus to further his ministry on Earth by embracing showmanship and power politics. Jerry Falwell accepted the Devil’s offer. I can’t argue over that; I can only be repulsed by it.

I can’t argue with the second group. I’ve tried. They are not irredeemable, but they have protected themselves from reality and facts and history and logic. If the news reports something that they don’t like, that’s “lamestream media” and they can ignore it. If a Nazi says something they do like, they can embrace that claim without evidence because it feels good, and not ask whether someone who advocates killing other Americans might not be a reliable source. They may be taught, but they can’t be reasoned with.

I hope I can say something to the third group. The U.S. survived this sort of thing before. It is not inevitable that the U.S. will survive. In the 1930s we were very, very close to losing democracy forever. There were a lot of people who were angry and afraid as the Great Depression wiped out their livelihoods. They wanted a strong man to lead them to prosperity and fix all the problems. They looked at Hitler and said, the way Trump says about Putin, that at least he is a “strong leader,” not like the ones we elect in this country, and they wanted American leaders who would imitate Hitler or Stalin and silence the press, crush nonconformists, and make America great again: white, male and Evangelical Christian. Many of the richest and most powerful businessmen in this nation, job creators like Henry Ford, supported Hitler and repeated anti-Jewish propaganda originally written in Tsarist Russia. The same way Trump retweets things written by the paid Russian trolls and propagandists today, businessmen like Ford and celebrities like Charles Lindberg swallowed the propaganda of our nation’s worst enemies and repeated it. And for many, many years large swaths of this country were controlled by white supremacist terrorists, many of whom were also prominent politicians or police officers. We survived the 1930s through the 1960s and created an America that really was a shining beacon on a hill, one that at least came close to living up to those words on the Statue of Liberty. It was worth fighting for then; it is worth fighting for now. We can’t fight for it successfully by killing those who threaten to kill us. I know that, when you’re scared and angry, that is a temptation. But that is exactly what the first group, the alt-Right, wants you to do. They want to create a world where they can say they are morally equivalent to civilized people, and where they can claim their lies and bullshit are equal to actual empirically true facts and logic. When they do that, they can keep that second group in their control. The only way to save those people, and the only way to weaken the truly deplorable, is to be prepared to suffer. Jesus did not kill; he died. Jesus did not say, “Well, Caesar has a bad personal life, but he preserves law and order;” he said, “Take up your cross.” Mahatma Gandhi did not drive the British out of India by force; he let them beat him and his followers, both Hindus and Muslims together being beaten by white Christians, until enough of those white Christians realized that what was being done in their name was worse than anything that was supposedly the danger—worse not only to those who were suffering, but even worse to those of us it was supposedly helping. I don’t know if I will have the courage to let myself be beaten or shot, if the time comes. When I think about it I get scared and angry and want to imagine fighting back. But I pray that I will stand with those who are not like me, and suffer with the suffering as my religion and my philosophy tell me I should. I have friends of different races, religions and sexual orientations, and I hope I will have the courage to stand with them always. I believe that is what Jesus wants me to do; after all, it was Jesus who said that in the end times those who truly love God would be persecuted and killed by those who say they love God, but who love money and power more.

To the fourth group, I say this: You made a choice. Your choice was to allow a known racist, who denies all science and logic and who brags about being a serial sexual predator and about defrauding people, and who is even facing legal trials for these crimes to which he has in fact confessed, to become President. You either didn’t vote, or you voted in a way that you knew would likely allow this to happen. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, or gay marriage bans are reinstated, and the Supreme Court returns to being the enemy of justice that it was in the days of the Dred Scott decision and Plessy v. Ferguson, well, you built that, and that choice will be with us for thirty years. If you think that makes you morally pure, fine. Morally pure people will bleed with the ones who voted a different way. Morally pure people will march in protest against evil and oppression, not hide in their gated communities or college safe spaces. And truly morally pure people may have to make a choice between doing good and feeling morally superior. You may have to march with Democrats next time. Greens, Libertarians: the GOP is not your friend. If you care about individual freedom, by definition you are a classical liberal. The GOP does not care about individual freedom. Conservatism fought against the American Revolution. Look it up. Religious and non-religious liberals fought for freedom; conservatives fought for the Crown and for law-and-order. After the revolution, those liberals argued among themselves, and sometimes they made bad choices or took a very long time to make the right choice; but first they had to join together and do what was necessary to create a society where we COULD argue and disagree and use our words. Trumpists do not like to use their words; they call that “PC.” They like to beat people up and then claim the bloody sack of flesh at their feet was trying to assassinate their leader.

Everyone who is saying, “This is not my America:” this is America.   This is the segregationist, religiously bigoted, sexually repressive, anti-intellectual, paranoid, self-pitying America I grew up in as a Southerner. If you don’t like it, you had better stop watching reality TV and start preparing to change reality, again.

White Evangelicals and the Dolezal Syndrome

August 3, 2015

White Evangelicals and the Dolezal Syndrome

 

 

I have been so busy with work that I have badly neglected my blogging duties. However, the conjunction of two events in June seems so revelatory that I can’t resist looking back.

The first event was June 11, 2015.[1] The leader of the NAACP in Spokane, WA, Rachel Dolezal, was revealed by her parents to be white, not biracial as she had claimed for years. Days later, in response to direct questions on whether she was black or white, she responded that “I identify as black.”[2] Hilarity ensued. Panelists on The Nightly Show debated whether you get to pick your ethnicity, and there and elsewhere people debated just what “race” means anyway. After all, well, Caitlyn Jenner. If a famous male athlete can identify as female and even undergo surgery, why can’t a white girl grow up to be a black woman if that is who she feels she really is on the inside? Particularly in a culture that is celebrity-fixated and science-illiterate, this seemed like a valid question (at least to someone who had never actually BEEN black). But to most people, the whole idea that you can just choose your race seemed, and still seems, dishonest or nuts. You can’t really own a history that isn’t yours, no matter how much you may love a culture or identify with the experiences of those who did live that history.

When one white person attempts to claim the black experience as her own, it seems hilarious to many; but what if millions of white people do the same thing? On June 17, 2015, six days after the Dolezal story hit the 24 Hour News Cycle, a young white man walked into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and killed nine people. No one who had paid any attention to any of the available facts had any doubt what had happened. After all, the vile, “insane” words of the killer were in fact no different than words that might have been heard on the street anywhere in the South when I was born in 1960: You rape our women, you are ruining our country, you have to go. For a century after the end of the Civil War, thoughts like these were not considered “insane” among Southern whites. They might have been seen as ignorant or bad taste, particularly among the more educated and wealthier folk I grew up around; but we all knew that these views were quite common. Even as a white child in Florida, I knew there were other parts of the state where crosses still burnt at night. They were terrorists, and they worried me even though I knew I wasn’t one of their prime targets. So yes, about ten minutes after the events happened, I knew exactly what had occurred. I am too good a philosopher to say I had 100% knowledge that soon, but I at least knew that the motivation was almost certainly racial hatred.

America’s Most Popular News Provider, however, got it stunningly, depressingly, and completely predictably wrong.[3] To them, and presumably to their target audience as well, the only thing that was clear was that this attack was in a church; therefore, the attack was not against black people, but against Christians. That is, this shooting was against “us,” not in the sense that FOX News felt solidarity with the victims but rather in the sense that it was stealing their identity and claiming it for themselves. A veritable parade of Evangelicals stepped up to echo the claim that Christians, the largest religious group in this nation, are under attack.   It is an odd persecution we Christians are enduring. We are over-represented in Congress, with 92% of Congress identifying as Christian while only 73% of Americans overall do.[4] At the state and local levels, our dominance is often even stronger. Recent court rulings have even given us the right to open taxpayer-funded public political meetings with Christian prayers, thus compelling Jews, Hindus, Atheists and others to spend their tax money to honor and invoke our religion.[5] Much has been made of the rise in violent attacks on churches.[6] However, even in the news reports of this disturbing trend, it is reported that more than half of these so-called attacks upon Christianity were actually domestic or personal disputes that were settled in churches. What this report seems to suggest, then, is that in a violent culture, churches are not immune; but of the 75 dead reported in 2013, less than half were targeted specifically because they were Christian. Furthermore, a reported 135 “deadly force incidents” doesn’t sound so bad considering the roughly 350,000 religious congregations in this country.[7] By contrast, consider the violence directed at, say, abortion clinics.[8] In Wisconsin in 2012, one of three Planned Parenthood clinics that offered abortion services was bombed.[9] If one in three churches were bombed, we would hardly be able to walk outside for fear of the shrapnel.

Compared to what our Christian ancestors endured, saying that we today are being persecuted is a joke. Compared to what Christians around the world are enduring in many parts of Africa and Asia, it is an insult to their martyrdom. Why, then, did so many white (and some non-white) Evangelicals leap to the conclusion that the Charlotte shootings were an attack on faith, part of a larger cultural war against Christianity?

Really, ever since Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313, Christians have faced a dilemma. Suffering for the faith has been central since the earliest days of Christianity. The Gospel of Luke even goes so far as to report that not only did Jesus say, “Blessed are you when men curse you for the sake of the Son of Man;” he also said, “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”[10] But when the Roman persecution ended, it became increasingly difficult to find ways to suffer for the sake of the Son of Man. By 380, Christianity became not only legal, but the only legal religion in the Empire; being Christian became the path not to suffering, but to safety and prosperity. How can we Christians possibly suffer for the faith, when we are the ones running the world?

There have been two standard answers for that riddle. One is some sort of additional asceticism, either monasticism (in Catholic and Orthodox traditions) or joining a strict, possibly separatist denomination (for Protestants). But there is another, easier answer: delusion. There are two styles of this. One is to interpret something one would be doing anyway as a divine command. The holy warrior who kills his (or her) enemies and seeks glory and power, personally or for some group, is one of these; not only do I get to indulge my hatred, I get to present the Almighty with a bill for my services. (The culture warrior is simply a toothless version of this, fighting for his or her preferred mores and, by selective editing of the Scriptures, fighting to defend the parts that condemn others, like “the gays,” while ignoring the parts that apply to himself or herself, like the books of Amos and Luke). The other, and more perfect example, simply takes events that have nothing to do with one’s faith and interpreting them as religious suffering.

And now we come to the full-blown persecution complex. A group of people were targeted for a hate crime, which is to say they were victims of a terrorist attack aimed to injure not only them but all people belonging to their group. They were targeted because they were black, and the attack was intended to terrify all black people. To pretend this was an attack on white Evangelicals is like claiming the 9/11 attacks were part of a vendetta against the airline industry. It is as if the Iranians had come out on Sept. 12, 2001 with the announcement, “Al Qaeda is attacking airplanes; we have airplanes too so we are the victims here. The fact that those planes yesterday were full of Americans and crashed into American buildings is just a coincidence; after all, they didn’t kill Americans in malls or grocery stores, but on airplanes.” That is exactly the sort of logic that led FOX News to say that since the Charleston shootings took place at a black church and not a black disco, it was chosen because it was a church and not because of the people inside. The only difference is that if the Iranians had said that, we would have immediately been outraged and known it was intended as an insult; but we apparently expect less from FOX News and the Religious Right, so we accept that their stupidity is genuine.

Evangelicals know the Bible says they are supposed to be persecuted; but they are in fact wealthier and more politically dominant in this country than anywhere else in the world. Overall, they seem to have even more influence than their vast numerical advantage alone would explain. Black Christians have a better situation than do Christians in many parts of the world, and racism in this country is undoubtedly less than it was fifty or a hundred years ago; but as Dylann Roof shows, those racist impulses are still alive, and the same rhetoric that was used to inspire lynchings when I was born can be used to inspire shootings today. While white Evangelicals might want to believe they are targeted for discrimination, black people actually are still red-lined and segregated, even if it is not as totally as it was and not legally required.[11] By claiming that Dylann Roof was targeting white Evangelicals, FOX News was able to ramp up the anxiety level among its target audience, making them all the more eager to keep watching FOX for news of the latest threats (and more willing to spend their money on gold futures and other high-risk, low-return apocalypse insurance schemes that advertise heavily on conservative news outlets). And by arguing and believing that Roof was attacking them, white Evangelicals were able to appropriate the suffering and persecution of the black victims for themselves, without having to actually suffer or be persecuted in any meaningful sense. And there doesn’t seem to be anything consciously cynical about this impulse to assume their own victimhood; they seem to be at least as sincere in believing that they too were shot at by Dylann Roof as Rachel Dolezal was in her assertion that she “identifies as black.”

It’s one thing to play the race card; it’s another thing to steal the race card from the deck and slip it into your hand. But if Ms. Dolezal did that for her own personal reasons, FOX News attempted to do so on behalf of millions of white Evangelicals. They chose to “identify as” Dylann Roof’s victims, even though birth and social circumstances make that impossible. And just as Rachel Dolezal became a punch-line by claiming to “identify as black,” the cultural leaders of the Religious Right make themselves and their loyal followers ridiculous. We cannot know the full effect of feeding this persecution complex. Certainly it will affect voting patters and thus public policy, replacing rational consideration that might actually solve the problems we face with paranoid defensiveness. It will make the rest of society regard the Religious Right as millions of Little Boys Who Cried Wolf, and thus quite likely make it less, not more likely that others will be willing to address legitimate concerns they raise. And we can be sure that by encouraging white Evangelicals to seek comfortable, socially dominant lives while simultaneously telling them that they are persecuted martyrs for Christ, FOX News and the leadership of the religious right will create millions more Rachel Dolezals, privileged white people who imagine that they are themselves the impoverished victims of oppression that Jesus calls all his followers to become.

[1] Taylor Viydo, “Parents ‘Out’ NAACP Leader as White Woman;” USA Today June 12, 2015 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/12/spokane-naacp-president-ethnicity-questions/71110110/)

[2] Eun Kyung Kim, “Rachel Dolezal Breaks Her Silence on TODAY: ‘I Identify as Black’.” June 16, 2015 (http://www.today.com/news/rachel-dolezal-speaks-today-show-matt-lauer-after-naacp-resignation-t26371

[3] Michael Allen, “Fox News: South Carolina Shooting of Black People was ‘Attack on Faith,’ not Race;” Opposing Views, June 20, 2015 (http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/fox-news-south-carolina-shooting-black-people-was-attack-faith-not-race-video)

[4] Antonia Blumberg, “A Look at the Religious Make-Up of the 114th Congress;” The Huffington Post, Jan. 5, 2015 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/05/congress-religious-affiliation_n_6417074.html)

[5] Lauren Markoe and Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Supreme Court Approves Sectarian Prayer at Public Meetings;” Washington Post, May 5, 2014 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/supreme-court-approves-sectarian-prayer-at-public-meetings/2014/05/05/62c494da-d487-11e3-8f7d-7786660fff7c_story.html)

[6] “Deaths from Church Attacks in US Rise 36 Percent;” CBNNews.com, Jan. 31, 2013 (http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2013/January/Deaths-from-Church-Attacks-in-US-Rise-36-percent-/)

[7] “Fast Facts about American Religion,” Hartford Institute for Religion Research, (http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/fastfacts/fast_facts.html#numcong) accessed July 29, 2015

[8] “Violence and Harrassment at U.S. Abortion Clinics;” Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance (http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_viol.htm) accessed July 29, 2015

[9] Laura Bassett, “Planned Parenthood Bombing Suspect Arrested in Wisconsin;” May 3, 2012 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/planned-parenthood-bombing-wisconsin_n_1400449.html)

[10] Luke 6:22, 26

[11] Jamelle Bouie, “A Tax on Blackness: Racism is Still Rampant in Real Estate;Slate, May 13, 2015 (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/05/racism_in_real_estate_landlords_redlining_housing_values_and_discrimination.html)

Quick comment on voter registration

January 16, 2012

I find it curious that there are so many people who are interested in passing new restrictions on voter registration, and who it is who is interested.  Awhile ago, this story ran:  http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/political/league-of-women-voters-accuses-legislature-of-voter-suppression  and more recently, this one:  http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2012/0111/Partisan-feud-escalates-over-voter-ID-laws-in-South-Carolina-other-states/%28page%29/2.  So it’s an ongoing issue, now front-and-center in the South Carolina Republican primary elections.

On the one hand, this is presented as an example of the Federal government trampling states’ rights.  Surely, states have a right and even a duty to prevent voter fraud; requiring strict rules on who can register to vote and holding registration workers legally liable for any voter fraud is simply an attempt to prevent subversion of our democracy.  There are two problems with this argument, though.

The first point raised is states’ rights.  As Ayn Rand says, “there can be no such thing as the “right” of some men to violate the rights of others” (Ayn Rand, “Racism,” in The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 153 in the centennial edition).  However, she also goes on to point out that “It is true that the Federal government has used the racial issue to enlarge its own power and to set a precedent of encroachment upon the legitimate rights of the states…”  So that is one issue here:  is this a necessary concern, or an unnecessary and illegitimate intrusion by the Federal government?  But the other important issue is, are these restrictions on voting legitimate and necessary, or are they illegitimate and criminal intrusions on the rights of individuals?  Anything that prevents a person from voting is an intrusion; the only question is whether it is legitimate or not.  In the case of the Florida law, the burdens placed upon voter registration workers were so daunting that one of the oldest, most respected and most legitimately nonpartisan voters’ rights organizations pulled out rather than face criminal prosecution for accidentally registering a voter who might have deceived them by registering illegally.  As a result, many people will not register to vote, either for lack of knowledge how to register, or knowledge of when the cut-off date is, or for any of the many other reasons the League of Women Voters has found its work to be so necessary for so many decades.  In the case of the South Carolina law, “10 percent of blacks don’t carry government IDs, compared with 8.4 percent of whites” (see “Partisan Feud Escalates Over Voter ID Laws…” via the link above).  That actually doesn’t sound like a big deal, although that small percentage would be more than enough to swing an election.

Again, part of the problem here is the question of where the right to vote comes from.  If, as Rand says, our rights come from our human nature— or if, as others say, our rights come from God— then denying a person the right to participate in choosing his or her government is a denial of that person’s inalienable rights.  Denying a person the right to vote is just as serious as denying a person the right to liberty; it is just less visible.  We do deny people liberty all the time, if those people are criminals or mentally incompetent or something of that sort; but to do so without a damned good reason is nothing short of slavery.  But if, as these states claim, it is state that decides who gets to vote and the individual’s rights are dependent on the will of the state, then the state does have every right to restrict voter registration.  Since conservatives generally emphasize individual liberty, you would think they would want to expand individual rights, not find ways to restrict them.

It is, of course, legitimate to restrict rights to prevent lawbreaking and fraud.  Libraries require cards, cities ban driving 70 mph through school zones, and so on to prevent fraud and protect the public welfare.  But again, conservatives are generally known as the ones who promote individual liberty, even at the expense of the greater good of society.  President Carter lowered the speed limit to 55 mph on interstate highways to lower our nation’s fuel consumption and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  President Regan raised the limit as soon as he was inaugurated.  Cars are 17% less efficient at 70 mph, 23% less efficient at 75 and the fuel use shoots up the faster you drive (source:  http://mpgforspeed.com/), so Regan’s policies made us more vulnerable to the whims of foreigners (even if we produced our own oil, the costs would fluctuate as the worldwide supply fluctuates; that’s simple economics of supply and demand, assuming you believe in free markets and the rights of multinational corporations, who are people too, to sell their goods to the highest bidder).  So it isn’t enough to restrict individual liberty just to make the states’ job a little easier; there has to be an overriding concern.

Conservatives are very concerned about individual rights.  For example, when the Federal government sought to limit access to guns, the NRA and many Republican politicians campaigned against this intrusion of big government into our individual rights.  From the shooting of Ronald Regan (which inspired the Jim Brady law), to Columbine, to the shooting of Gabby Gifford, the debate has raged.  It seems there are legitimate concerns about fraud when it comes to gun ownership.  Even children and the mentally unstable are able to obtain high-powered weaponry, which they use with alarming frequency. But conservatives would undoubtably agree with philosopher Ronald Dworkin, that it is better to inflate a right than to unduly restrict it; to inflate a right inconveniences society a little, but restricting the rights of an individual is a denial of that individual’s humanity.  So even in the case of gun ownership, where fraud and criminal acts are known to occur on a regular basis with the result that many people lose their own individual right to life every day, it is wrong to limit the individual right to own a gun.  The police will simply have to work harder to prevent lawbreaking that comes from gun use.

In the case of voter registration (as opposed to gun registration) a different standard applies.  There is in fact no evidence that significant amounts of voter fraud occur (except with the collusion of the local government, as in Chicago under the Daly Machine, which these laws do not even attempt to stop).  Here, even before a person has been shown to be criminal, laws are being put into place to prevent that person from possibly committing voter fraud.  It is as if tighter gun registration laws were being passed even without any evidence that anyone was being killed by criminals, crazies and children with guns.  Instead of telling the police to invest more money and effort into finding and punishing criminals who vote illegitimately, as is done routinely when it comes to gun violence, the states (Republican, conservative states, that is) are saying that individual citizens are to be inconvenienced and perhaps even denied their rights, just to make the state’s job a little easier.  And while fraudulent gun ownership often leads to the death of decent citizens, if there were fraudulent voting it would harm no one unless it were so massive that no one could fail to notice it.

If, as Republicans routinely say, it is wrong to restrict the rights of the law-abiding just to make things easier for the State, then it is wrong to restrict voting rights with new laws and procedural obstacles.  Only big-government liberals are supposed to sacrifice the rights of the individual for the greater good of the community.