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“We Shouldn’t Wait Until Trump Loses 40 States To Ask”: The Biggest Reason For The GOP’s Black Voter Problem? Apathy

Hey, remember when the GOP said it would try to reach out to black voters?

In the wake of the Republican Party’s crushing loss in 2012, it made a big show of trying to woo black voters. The RNC even hired a bunch of young, smart, black Republicans to work on outreach efforts.

It was a pretty good idea, too, since without its super majorities of the black vote, the Democratic Party becomes uncompetitive nationally. More importantly, though, if you’re living in a country where one political party has a super majority of the white vote and the other a super majority of the black vote, maybe that’s a problem and you should do something about it?

But all of those black Republicans are gone now. And a story in The New Republic by two scholars, Theodore R. Johnson and Leah Wright Rigueur, notes instances of casual racism by state-level GOP grandees towards black staffers.

The reasons why black voters don’t want to vote for the GOP are well known. They aren’t driven so much by policy — spend enough time in an African-American church, and you will hear things said about welfare and crime that would make Newt Gingrich blanch — but by the perception that the GOP doesn’t have black people’s interests at heart.

In a way, this is deeply unfair. The most successful anti-poverty programs of the past 30 years have been the Earned-Income Tax Credit and welfare reform, both Republican efforts. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the EITC lifted 9.4 million people (including five million children) out of poverty and improved the lives of 22 million more. As the scholar Scott Winship points out, the poverty rate basically didn’t change between 1967 and 1993. But after welfare reform, poverty, especially child poverty, plummeted, even as welfare rolls shrank and work was boosted to an unprecedented degree. This is probably why 2008 Barack Obama praised welfare reform, even though he had opposed it at the time.

And perhaps the single biggest obstacle to black empowerment has been bankrupt school bureaucracies supported by teachers’ unions which are a pillar of the Democratic Party. Conservatives have also taken the lead on prison reform.

But in another way, the perception is perfectly accurate. Most Republican elected officials and staffers don’t actually care about the interests of the black community. And it shows in their actions and priorities. This isn’t just about the infamous Southern strategy or any specific policy; it’s about the fact that most Republican officeholders don’t see the black community as an important constituency.

And, of course, there is the case of Donald Trump, whose candidacy is transparently about white identity politics.

America’s growing ethnic diversity isn’t happening without problems, and racial polarization, while perhaps not unavoidable, is also not surprising. And let’s not say the GOP is only to blame. Obama’s deft trolling of the GOP seems almost designed as a kind of “Southern strategy in reverse,” in a context where the Democratic Party needs a high turnout among minorities to win elections yet is running an underwhelming rich, old, white, out of touch candidate. To a much greater extent than the GOP, the Democratic Party’s electoral playbook requires that the electorate be, and remain, polarized along racial lines.

That being said, just because the Democrats are baiting doesn’t mean the GOP should take the bait. And it remains an uncomfortable fact that white identity politics remain attractive to many voters and, therefore, many politicians. Johnson and Rigueur put the GOP’s dilemma very well:

[National Republicans] can’t make explicit appeals to African Americans for fear of alienating segments of their state constituencies already fearful of power diffusion, but they can’t appear to be insensitive to the plight of minorities. As a result, they speak in terms of colorblind policies that purport to help everyone in general and no one in particular. This allows citizens to read into party policies whatever they’d like, which only serves to further racialize the issues and galvanize the electorate. The ambiguity provides cover for the states while leaving the national party both blameless and fully responsible for the continuing gulf between blacks and the party. [The New Republic]

The bottom line is: The reason why black voters don’t want to vote Republican is because Republicans don’t want them to. Not consciously, for most of them. But while almost every Republican would like for more black people to vote Republican, in a world of competing priorities and trade-offs, this one gets left on the cutting-room floor. One basic truth which they teach you in business school — and I’m told Republicans respect business wisdom — is that if you have 10 priorities, you have none.

So, is it a priority, or not? Until the GOP can answer that question, all the talk about “outreach,” and yes, even policy, will be moot. And maybe we shouldn’t wait until Trump loses 40 states to ask it.

 

By: Pascal-Emmanuel  Gobry, The Week, May 2, 2016

May 4, 2016 Posted by | Black Americans, GOP, White Voters | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“I’m No Neophyte”: How Racists Talk About Tamir Rice

A little time has passed since a grand jury in Cleveland refused to indict two white police officers responsible for the November 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was black.

One minute this child was playing in a city park with an air pellet gun. Seconds later, after a police squad car swooped up next to him, he was on the ground — alone and mortally wounded.

After 13 months of waiting for any sign of justice, the reaction from too many white people to the grand jury decision has severed me from my will for diplomacy. I am a 58-year-old white woman, and I am sickened by how many people who look like me talk about race.

I’m no stranger to their way of thinking. My father struggled with race until the day he died, but his fear of black people he never knew could not gain traction with me. By age 6, I knew he was wrong. Whenever he pounded the table and called them those awful names, I saw the faces of exactly half of my classmates. They were my friends.

As I wrote last year for The Atlantic, “it was not the natural order of things to be so young and know your father had no idea what he was talking about.” It framed our relationship for all of his days.

I share that story not to dishonor my father, whom I loved and miss to this day. I just want to make clear that I’m no neophyte when it comes to knowing what some white people believe about black people. Sometimes I think I’ve spent much of my career trying to make up for the harm the people I come from have inflicted on the lives of innocent strangers.

For as long as I’ve been a newspaper columnist — 13 years and counting — I’ve been on the receiving end of angry mail from white readers. One of their favorite cut-and-paste missives in emails and social media posts criticizes and even mocks what they call “black English.” How they love to spew their racist rants about dialect. It makes them feel so shiny-white superior.

Their hate is couched in white English, which has nothing to do with accents. White English is a state of mind. It turns words into weapons to dehumanize an entire population of people, and it is bubbling up like pus in a dirty wound after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty convinced a grand jury that the police were justified in killing a black child playing with an air gun.

White English casts Tamir Rice, for the first time in his short life, as an equal among men — rather than as a 12-year-old boy limited by the judgment of his years.

He “should have known better.” He should have “listened to the police,” as if there’s no reason to doubt their claim that they yelled three warnings to this child in less than two seconds.

White English repeats, over and over, that this child was “big for his age.”

He’s not 12-year-old Tamir; he’s “Mr. Rice.” Even in his grave, he grows. He is no longer 5 feet 7 inches tall.

He was 5 feet 9.

He was 5’11”.

He was 6 feet tall.

He was a man.

He was a menace.

He was a thug.

White English is the language of the Superior White Parents club, where perfect children raised by perfect parents now raise perfect children of their own who would never jump around in a park and pretend to be shooting a toy gun. They know this because they have special powers that allow them to see what their perfect children are doing every minute of every day. If you dare suggest this is not possible, they will turn on you in a hot minute. How dare you question their parenting as they pick apart Tamir Rice’s mother?

White English has no words to acknowledge that Samaria Rice loved her son. That she banned toy guns from their home. That she didn’t know he had his friend’s air gun that day.

Two months ago, in an interview for Politico, Samaria Rice told me she watches the video of the last few moments of her son’s life — when he was still very much alive. She studies it, over and over, searching for any sign of what he may have been thinking right before the bullet tore through him.

“He didn’t have a lot of suspicions about people,” she said. “I look at him in that video and I’m wondering: ‘What are you thinking right now? Do you know what’s about to happen to you?’”

She was certain there would be no indictments for those police officers, she told me. She was waiting for God to tell her what comes next.

Which is worse, having your hopes dashed or knowing you will never see justice from a system that insists your child had it coming?

He was a boy.

He was a boy.

He was a boy.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist; The National Memo, December 31, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Black Americans, Racism, Tamir Rice, White Americans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Waiting For Justice In Local Jails”: Why More Americans Are Dying In Holding Cells

On Monday a special prosecutor announced that neither the sheriff’s office nor jailers in Waller County, Texas, would face criminal charges related to the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was arrested during a routine traffic stop last summer in Texas and was found three days later hanged in her cell.

In a time of heightened scrutiny following the highly publicized killings of black Americans by police, Bland’s arrest and untimely death renewed national debate over the inequitable, and sometimes brutal, treatment of black citizens by police.

Bland’s family members have since filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against authorities in Texas openly questioning the official cause of death as a suicide. Friends and family have disputed that Bland would have taken her own life, saying that she was “in good spirits” and looking forward to starting a dream job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.

While it may seem unthinkable to loved ones, statistics show that Bland’s grim fate is shockingly common.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in local jails. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (PDF), since 2000, 4,134 people have taken their own lives while awaiting justice in local jails.

In 2013, 327 inmates—a third of the total who died while in custody of local jails—died this way. The suicide rate per jail inmates increased 14 percent from 2012 to 2013, and 23 percent from 2009.

Roughly 60 percent of all suicides in jails involve inmates between the ages of 25 and 44. Bland was 28 years old.

Suicide is more of a problem for jails than prisons, with half of them occurring within the first week of admission. The reason for the disparity is twofold, says Lindsay Hayes, the project director for the nonprofit National Center on Institutions and an expert in suicide prevention in prisons: fear and bad policing.

This month in Roanoke, Virginia, 22-year-old Clifton Antonio Harper was found hanging by his bedsheet in his jail cell. Harper had been in jail since March on charges of burglary, grand larceny, and assault.

And a 35-year-old Indianapolis man jailed for theft and possession of paraphernalia reportedly killed himself while in custody, prompting a review of jail suicides in Marion County.

In jails, Hayes says, people are sometimes going in for the first time, facing uncertainty and fear. Some are intoxicated at the time of their arrest, which can trigger an emotional response.

It’s what corrections expert Steve J. Martin called the “shock of confinement.” In an interview with NPR, Martin explained the trauma of being in jail for the first time: “My life is going to end right now with this experience. Everything I’ve worked for, the way people view me, the way my parents view me’—all that stuff is suddenly and dramatically in jeopardy.”

Hayes says that, while jails are getting better, there are still many that lack good training and intake screening practices that prisons have worked to institute.

“The classic response used to be, ‘If an inmate wants to kill himself, there’s nothing you can do about it,’” Hayes said. “Fast-forward to today and jails and prisons are much better resourced, and have tools now to identify suicidal behavior and manage it.”

In fact, Bland’s death prompted the Texas legislature to call for a review of local jails and how potentially suicidal inmates are handled and treated. Such reviews have resulted in an increased emphasis on training jail staff and an improvement in screening procedures in the state. New intake forms that identify suicide risks were put into practice this month by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Death by hanging is by far the most common method of suicide in U.S. jails—either by bedding, or with clothing attached to an anchoring device such as a bunk, bars, or a cell door, according to a national study of jail suicide (PDF).

Critics have blasted Waller County jailers for failing to properly monitor Bland after she told them about a previous suicide attempt. While an intake form shows Bland answered “yes” to whether she had ever attempted suicide—as recently as 2014 by “pills”—her jailers left her alone in a cell with a plastic trash bag which she used to strangle herself.

 

By: Brandy Zadrozny, The Daily Beast, December 22, 2015

December 24, 2015 Posted by | Black Americans, Incarceration, Jail Deaths, Sandra Bland | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Thugification of Ben Carson”: He Want’s Something Of A “Hood Pass”, An Acknowledgement Of His Toughness Authenticity

Ben Carson might well be the “Rick Ross” of presidential politics.

In no small irony, the retired neurosurgeon—much like the chart-topping rapper— is under fire for allegedly misleading the public about parts of his life story. Ross, also known as “Teflon Da Don,” was never the thugged-out, gun-toting, cocaine-slanging street menace that so often shows up in his lyrics. Instead, he was a college-educated corrections officer before he turned to the music industry to make his millions.

Carson’s exaggerations don’t go that far—his tales are far more pedestrian. But in story after story the iconic physician appears to embellish his life growing up in inner city Detroit. He certainly did not need to spin wild tales about his years as a young, gifted black boy raised by a single mother in urban America. That’s a story millions know and can relate to.

However, in various books, speeches and interviews, Carson appears to want something of a “hood pass”—an acknowledgement of his toughness authenticity—that functions both as insulation from “liberal media attacks” and as political currency among white Republican voters. The lure of a Carson candidacy (as I said in an earlier column) could not be more appealing to the evangelical base, which has been looking for a way to attract more non-white voters. For them, Carson is the perfect ambassador: an American success story who also happens to be black, and the quintessential Horatio Alger from the rough side of the railroad tracks.

For his part, Carson is playing along and seemingly has been for decades. He has leaned on (and sometimes added flourishes to) his backstory in order to expand his public platform. The truth is he has been building a personal narrative—whether true or weaved from whole cloth—about himself from the moment he leapt onto the world stage. He wasn’t just poor, in Carson’s telling, he was hard—the kind of hard that can get an otherwise promising young man into trouble. And while it might be customary in hip-hop, engaging in this kind of self “thugification” is new for politics.

Without a doubt, Carson grew up surrounded by pervasive poverty, and avoiding a myriad of societal maladies in the Motor City was no small feat. For every Ben Carson, there are thousands of black boys who didn’t make it to the sunrise—the ones whose mothers watched tearfully as they left the block cuffed in the back of a squad car or wept over their bodies in a funeral home. Carson more than beat the odds. The bookish kid with thick glasses and a pocket protector earned his way into Yale and went on to become one of the world’s most celebrated surgeons.

Today, based almost solely on that story, Carson is currently leading national polls for the Republican presidential nomination. However, in recent days, key elements—as told by Carson himself— have come under increased scrutiny.

To hear the good doctor tell it, he once tried to stab a “close relative” in a dispute over a radio and at another point he wanted to hit his mother in the head with a brick. He allegedly hurled a rock at a school friend, busting his glasses and leaving him with a bloody nose. If fact, if Carson can be believed, he was so violent that he needed a divine intervention.

It’s a compelling story—one that has sold millions of books, led to a biopic about his life, and earned him countless awards over the years. The problem is almost none of its flourishes ring true and, despite the earnest efforts of reporters, almost none of them can be verified. As it turns out, CNN could find no one—not even the next-door neighbor kids—who could remember a young, hot-tempered Carson, let alone one who tried to murder somebody.

Then there was the time that he was allegedly held at gunpoint in Baltimore while out on a chicken run to a local Popeye’s restaurant near Johns Hopkins Hospital. Carson says he wasn’t afraid. He’d seen enough violence, he said, that he knew the gunman wasn’t there to kill anybody. As tales go, that one smelled like a cooler full of warm catfish.

And of course it doesn’t stop there. In interview after interview, he has waxed poetically about how he overcame extraordinary odds, including personal demons, to achieve his extraordinary success. For many—black and white, alike—Carson was a living, breathing Heathcliff Huxtable.

Carson has staked his credibility on more than just his heroics in the operating room. He regaled us with Ricky Rozay-styled street stories that served to deepen his public policy bona fides and ingratiate him with working and middle class white audiences. But frankly, Carson never needed any proof of his “blackness” and certainly not an ill-advised campaign radio commercial featuring a rap song.

In fact, Carson may be the first presidential candidate in modern history who stands to lose some credibility because he was a goody two-shoes coming up. He is certainly the first frontrunner in my lifetime to admit to attempted murder. I’ve been on this planet nearly 50 years and I cannot recall a serious candidate for office who readily admits—or, for that matter, insists—that he wanted to pummel his own mother in the head with a brick.

Stripped down to its essence, without the auto-tuning and layered tracks, Carson has a powerful story. Unfortunately, it feels like he thinks he has something to prove about who he is and where he came from. Most unfortunately, based on the kinds of stories he has chosen to hype, it appears he has a skewed perspective of what it means to be black.

He should remember that he’s running for president, not selling mix tapes in a barbershop.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, November 7, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Black Americans, White Voters | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“In Defense Of ‘Uppity-ism'”: Michelle Obama, “Rise Above The Noise”; All Black Americans Should Take Her Advice

It became clear during the 2008 presidential campaign that America was going to have some real trouble handling the prospect of a black president of the United States and a black first lady. Despite hip-hop having defined much of pop culture since the 1980s, a fist bump was all of a sudden unfamiliar: Is it a salute or a “terrorist fist jab?” Cue the disingenuous shrugs.

Coded and blatant racial insults were everywhere during that election season and haven’t abated in the seven years since. Michelle Malkin, herself a woman of color, called Michelle Obama one of her husband Barack’s “cronies of color” in her 2009 book Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies. A Fox News Channel graphic colloquially insulted the married mother of two daughters, calling her “Obama’s baby mama.” Another slur came from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh in 2011, when in the course of lying about the public paying for presidential vacations, he charged the first lady and family with “a little bit of uppity-ism.” There are, of course, many more vitriolic examples.

“Uppity,” translated from thinly-veiled racial code, is meant to describe a black person who doesn’t know her or his place. It is as paternalistic as it is racist, meant to convey that a black person is somehow lower, in need of guidance back to the subjugated existence that makes the dominant caste more comfortable. Heaven forbid one even consider her or himself an equal. Or superior!

It’s a word I’ve been called once to my face, a few times online, and likely more behind my back. Unlike “nigger,” I’ve always felt oddly affirmed by it. It’s a term of hatred, no doubt, but someone who thinks me “uppity” considers my very existence a threat. That’s a good thing. We are threats to them and their detestable worldview, and Michelle Obama’s life, perhaps even more so than Barack’s, is a testament to this.

The first lady reminded us of these insults and slights in a commencement speech on Saturday, all in the context of facing “pressure to live up to the legacy of those who came before you; pressure to meet the expectations of others”—a fitting message for the new graduates of the historically black Tuskegee University in Alabama, where the Tuskegee Airmen, famed black military pilots of World War II, were educated while they trained at nearby Moton Field.

“As potentially the first African American first lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others,” she said during her speech. “Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?”

These sorts of questions are regularly hurled at women in America, of which the first lady is an avatar of sorts. They have a special appeal to sexists seeking to challenge the manhood of the president, a job that required the kind of fortitude and strength our culture has misguidedly sought to find in a pair of testicles. But given the entirety of Michelle Obama’s experience, we have to consider these narrowing notions in the context of race.

In an essay for The Root last September about the New York Times Arts review, historian Blair L.M. Kelley reminded how deeply rooted the stereotype of the angry, emasculating black woman is:

Beginning in the early 1830s, the first ‘black women’ American audiences saw on the American stage were minstrel ‘Negro wenches.’ Using burned cork and greasepaint to blacken their skin, white men in their performances as black men and women became wildly popular in the mid-19th century. White men used crude drag along with the burned cork to mark black women as grotesque, loudmouthed, masculine and undeserving of the protections afforded to white ‘ladies’ in American society.

Michelle Obama told the graduates how out here in the world that this sort of framing may seem small in the face of those denied a house or a job because of their race, and she’s right. But I’m glad she brought them up. (Frankly, I’m always happy to see a black person in the public sphere reflect black reality, as opposed to the white stories we’ve been forced to tell and celebrate for so long.) Microaggressions like this feed the systemic, more obvious incarnations of racial discrimination. And in that light, “uppity-ism,” as Limbaugh termed it, is worth claiming for our own and defending.

“Eventually,” she told the graduates, “I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me. I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself—and the rest would work itself out. So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth.” The First Lady closed by urging the graduates to “rise above the noise,” a fitting metaphor for the Tuskegee crowd.

Being deemed “uppity” signifies a specific kind of arrogance to a predominantly white power structure. For that, I embrace the term. Not as how oppressors seek to define it, but for what it literally represents: a desire to prove yourself superior to an inherently racist society and above the category they would otherwise assign you.

I’m hardly the first to do so; former National League president and baseball player Bill White used the word as a title for his frank memoir four years ago. “It’s a person, especially someone of a different color, who says, ‘Hell no’ and stands his ground,” he told the Times. It’s a crude declaration of the power of black ambition and steadfastness. Those are things I’ll never look down upon.

 

By: Jamil Smith, The New Republic, May 11, 2015

May 12, 2015 Posted by | Black Americans, FLOTUS, Michelle Obama | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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