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“Small Men With Ugly Thoughts Expressed Aloud”: Bigoted Gasbags Reduced To Their Proper Size

Lonesome Racist of the Week: Robert Copeland of Wolfeboro, NH.

He’s not as wealthy or prominent as Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but the 82-year-old Copeland is no less detestable.

Until last week he served as one of three elected police commissioners in Wolfeboro, a town of about 6,300 people in central New Hampshire. A resident had complained to the town manager that, while dining at a local restaurant, she overheard Copeland use the N-word to describe President Obama.

Copeland didn’t deny making the slur, and brilliantly sent the following email to the other commissioners: “I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse (sic). For this I do not apologize — he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.”

Many people in Wolfeboro felt Copeland met and exceeded the criteria for being a bigoted gasbag, and a public meeting was convened. The crowd was virtually all white because fewer than two-dozen African-Americans live in the town.

Copeland sat there listening to all the outraged demands for his resignation, and never said a word.

Wolfeboro was in turmoil. It wasn’t as if Copeland could be ignored or led away like some demented old uncle. The police commission is in charge of hiring, firing and disciplining officers, and also setting their salaries. Copeland also worked as a dispatch supervisor.

The governor of New Hampshire and several state lawmakers condemned Copeland’s remarks about Obama and said he should resign immediately. So did Mitt Romney, who owns a house in the state.

After a few days Copeland gave up and quit. He’s now free to shamble around the house in his bathrobe and boxers, spewing the N-word as much as he wants.

He has little in common with Sterling besides hateful prejudice and advanced age (the Clippers owner is 80). After Sterling’s embarrassing mangled apology while being interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, some began to wonder if creeping senility is what causes old white guys to drop their guard and blurt whatever dumbass racist thought enters their brains.

They point to Cliven Bundy, 67, the deadbeat Nevada rancher who for two decades hasn’t paid grazing fees for the cattle he lets roam upon federal lands. When officers showed up last month to remove the livestock, they were met by a defiant Bundy and a band of armed supporters.

Bundy has claimed native rights to the lands, saying he doesn’t recognize the existence of the U.S. government. For “standing up to” the feds (and stiffing American taxpayers for more than $1 million), he was lionized by conservative radio hosts, Senator Rand Paul, Sean Hannity and the other parrots at Fox News.

If at that point he’d shut his mouth, Bundy would still be a media darling of the bug-eyed right. But while chatting with a New York Times reporter, he decided out of nowhere to offer some casual thoughts about “the Negro.”

He mused that black people might be “better off as slaves” rather than living “under government subsidy.”

Whoops. Here we go again.

Instantly Bundy became politically toxic. His cheering section at Fox fell silent, while Senator Paul, who has presidential ambitions, declared he didn’t agree with Bundy’s view on slavery and even unholstered the O-word (“offensive”).

Like Sterling, Bundy’s attempts to clarify his feelings about black Americans only made things worse.

“Are they slaves to charities and government subsidized homes?” he said two days later. “And are they slaves when their daughters are having abortions and their sons are in prisons? This thought goes back a long time.”

On CNN Bundy labored to stem the backlash with an incoherent reference to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, while on his Facebook page he stated more clearly that he doesn’t believe anyone should be put back into slavery today.

That’s comforting to know, but at this point Bundy’s trespassing cows are his biggest audience.

He, Copeland and Sterling have blabbed themselves into caricatures. It’s not that they’re harmless (Sterling’s discriminatory practices as a landlord were punitive to many black families), but all the repudiation and ridicule has reduced them to their proper size.

They are just small men with small, ugly thoughts, and every so often it’s useful to be reminded that they’re still out there.

Lots of ‘em.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald, The National memo, May 27, 2014

May 29, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Actions Speak For Themselves”: Talking About Race Is No Black-And-White Matter

When Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) remarked last week that some of the opposition to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “maybe he’s of the wrong color,” he was just saying out loud what many people believe. And no, he wasn’t calling Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) a “racist.”

Believing that some of the Republican and tea party opposition to Obama has to do with his race is not, I repeat not, the same as saying that anyone who disagrees with the nation’s first black president is racist.

Speaking Wednesday at a sparsely attended Senate commerce committee hearing, Rockefeller said this subject is “not something you’re meant to talk about in public.” He’s retiring from the Senate at the end of the year and, well, he’s a Rockefeller, so I imagine he feels free to talk about anything he likes.

Johnson was the only Republican senator in the room when Rockefeller made the remark. He took umbrage, telling Rockefeller, “I found it very offensive that you would basically imply that I’m a racist because I oppose this health-care law.” He later added, “I was called a racist. I think most people would lose their temper, Mr. Chairman.”

But Rockefeller didn’t call him a racist. Nor did he “play the race card,” as Johnson accused him of doing.

My purpose here is not to convince everyone that Rockefeller is right about the massive GOP resistance to Obama — although I certainly agree with him — but rather to consider the things we say when we want to avoid talking about race. “You called me a racist” and “You played the race card” have become all-purpose conversation stoppers.

Whenever I write about race, some readers react with one or the other of these end-of-discussion criticisms. Some people believe, or pretend to believe, that mentioning race in almost any context is “playing the race card.” Nearly 400 years of history — since the first Africans landed at Jamestown in 1619 — amply demonstrate that this view is either Pollyannaish or deeply cynical. We will never get to the point where race is irrelevant if we do not talk about the ways in which it still matters.

As for the “called-me-a-racist” charge, I go out of my way not to do that. All right, I did make an exception for Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling — I wrote that they were not “the last two racists in America” — but I think most people would agree that I was on solid ground. Their own words and actions proved the point.

In general, I try to focus on what a person does or says rather than speculate on what he or she “is.” How can I really know what’s in another person’s heart?

Is it true, as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban opined, that everyone is a little bit racist? Beats me. I know that psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists have written sheaves of peer-reviewed papers about implicit or unconscious bias, and I have no reason to doubt this research. But no generalized finding says anything definitive about a given individual.

In the end, all we can do is look at what the individual does, listen to what he or she says and then draw conclusions about those words and deeds.

I’m reminded of a tea party rally at the Capitol four years ago when Congress was about to pass the Affordable Care Act. I can’t say that the demonstrators who hissed and spat at members of the Congressional Black Caucus were racists — but I saw them committing racist acts. I can’t say that the people holding “Take Back Our Country” signs were racists — but I know this rallying cry arose after the first African American family moved into the White House.

I believe Rockefeller was justified in looking at the vehemence and implacability of Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act and asking whether the president’s race is a factor. I believe there are enough words and deeds on the record to justify Rockefeller’s subsequent comment that race “is a part of American life . . . and it’s a part — just a part — of why they oppose absolutely everything that this president does.”

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in Congress, said it was “ridiculous” to think GOP opposition to the health-care reforms had anything to do with race.

Referring to Rockefeller, Scott added: “I can’t judge another man’s heart.” On this, at least, we agree.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 26, 2014

May 27, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Knew It Was True”: Conservatives, Evil And Psychopathy; Science Makes The Link!

It’s not the least bit surprising that Rush Limbaugh is still defending Donald Sterling, spinning an elaborate conspiracy theory about how Sterling was “set up,” as Elias Isquith described here at Salon: “Whoever set this up,” Limbaugh said with understated drama, “is really good.”

He continued: “They covered every base. They’ve got the media wrapped around their little finger. I mean, when you get rid of the anthem singer — I used to be in charge of anthem singers at the Kansas City Royals. When you can get rid of (the) anthem singer, you’ve got power.”

Sure, it’s so far gone it’s silly, but defending old white guys is Limbaugh’s thing. Especially rich old white guys. And when he does it, he’s simply being a good conservative. Defending wealth, power, privilege, hierarchy — it’s just what conservatives do. Now, however, some folks — including social scientists — are beginning to ask, in effect, if they’re not actually defending, even promoting, evil as well.

Sterling’s self-immolating drama vividly illustrates what the questions involve. It’s not just that Americans — unbeknownst to Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Limbaugh — have come to an overwhelming consensus that racism itself is evil, though that’s certainly enormously important in and of itself. But there’s also the additional factor of interpersonal depravity — psychopathy, if you will, which people are increasingly coming to see as significantly overrepresented in the 1 percent.

Let’s start with what I said about Limbaugh simply being a good conservative when he rushed to Sterling’s defense. That’s not just a liberal canard. It’s not just me trying to do to Limbaugh what Limbaugh does to liberals. It’s what conservatives themselves have said repeatedly over the years. The defense of hierarchy is what conservatism is all about, as Corey Robin reminded us all with his recent book, “The Reactionary Mind.”

What’s more, the differences between how liberals and conservatives think are reflected in a range of divergent cognitive processes, as summarized in a 2003 paper by John T. Jost and three co-authors, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” a “meta-analysis” that brought together findings drawn from 88 study samples in 12 countries:

“The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty and threat,” Jost and his co-authors wrote in the abstract. These are not merely American phenomena, nor is there any reason to think they’re particularly modern.

While Jost’s paper revealed a complicated array of different factors involved, two in particular have been shown to explain the lion’s share of intergroup prejudice: right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO). John Dean’s book “Conservatives Without Conscience” focused on the combined workings of these two factors. While there is some overlap between the two, RWA is more predominant among followers, who would probably make up the main bulk of Limbaugh’s audience, while SDO is more prominent in folks like Sterling.

SDO represents a generalized tendency to support groups’ dominance, whether the groups are defined biologically (men over women, the old over the young) or culturally (race, ethnicity, religion, etc.).

There have been several successive versions of the scale used to measure SDO (SDO 6 can be found here), with slight changes in the statements used. Subjects are asked to rate their agreement or disagreement with the statements from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Statements from SDO-6 include:

  • Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups.
  • In getting what you want, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups.
  • It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others.

These are balanced with statements supporting equality, such as:

  • It would be good if groups could be equal.
  • Group equality should be our ideal.
  • All groups should be given an equal chance in life.

It’s not hard to see why SDO relates to defense of hierarchy, and can serve to support the defense of just about any privileged group. It’s not one and the same thing as conservatism, but it’s an integral part of the mix, and conservatives as a group routinely score significantly higher on SDO than liberals as a group do.

But what about the connection to evil?

A few weeks ago, I came across a reference to an unpublished conference paper, with the intriguing title, “Does endorsement of hierarchy make you evil? SDO and psychopathy.”

So I contacted the lead author, Marc Wilson, a New Zealand psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington, to ask him about his research.

First, a bit of background. Psychopathy — once thought to be an all-or-nothing condition — is now understood in a dimensional fashion (more or less) and is measured by instruments such as The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. While our understanding of psychopathy first developed largely from studying criminal populations, Hare himself has said, “I always said that if I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange,” so it’s fairly straightforward to measure and compare psychopathic tendencies and SDO. And that’s just what Wilson has done.

“The research shows that SDO and psychopathy have a reciprocal causal relationship over time — as people become more social dominant, they become more psychopathic, and vice versa,” Wilson told me. “This is based on longitudinal research that shows that, for example, increased SDO (or psychopathy) at time 1 predicts greater psychopathy (or SDO) at time 2. I’ve done this for both convenience samples (university students) and thousands of general population.”

University students get tested a lot — as Wilson indicated, they’re quite convenient. But sooner or later it’s bound to raise questions of just how well the results hold up in a larger population. So it’s significant that he’s already taken that step, and found confirmation as well.

“When SDO was originally proposed, it was argued that group dominance (as measured by SDO) is not the same thing as individual level dominance, and indeed that’s what the original research appeared to show,” he explained. “More recently there have been a few studies that have suggested SDO and psychopathy are related, and I’ve collected a lot of data now that leads me to believe they’re flip sides of the same coin — interpersonal dominance (psychopathy) on one side and group dominance (SDO) on the other.”

This is just what one might informally conclude from listening to the Donald Sterling tape. His personal abusiveness and unwarranted accusations against V. Stiviano is on one side of the coin; flip it over, and his contempt for black people is on the other. Jerk on one side, racist on the other.

“Therefore, it makes sense that environments that promote social hierarchies will also be fertile breeding grounds for individual dominance, and vice versa,” he continued. Digging down a bit into specifics was quite illuminating.

“By ‘environments’ I can imagine a few that are good candidates — financial markets for example,” Wilson said. “Indeed, some of my other work shows that people who work in commerce focused on hierarchy-enhancing wealth consolidation also tend to be more social dominant (an old finding) but also more psychopathic — indeed, people who study commerce at university are not only more psychopathic than people in other fields of study but less psychopathic commerce students are more likely to switch majors to more hierarchy-attenuating disciplines, while more psychopathic arts students (for example) are more likely to switch to commerce degrees.”

Crazy artists? Try crazy businessmen. Crazy stock-traders. That’s what Wilson’s research shows you’re far more likely to find. Not the wild-eyed kind of crazy we’ve all been led to expect, but the button-down, conservative kind we heard in the Donald Sterling tape — or that we can hear on Limbaugh’s radio show, or see on Fox News any day of the week.

 

By: Paul Rosenberg, Editor for Random Lengths News, Columnist for Al Jazeera EnglishSalon; Salon,  May 1, 2014

May 2, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chief Justice Roberts, Meet Bundy And Sterling”: An Ugly Corner Of Contemporary American Life, Invisible To The Supreme Court

It’s challenging to keep up with the latest in racist tirades, so let’s attempt a brief review. Last week, Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who became a conservative folk hero for his refusal to pay his debts to the federal government, said that he often wondered if black people fared better as slaves. Then, over the weekend, a tape of what appears to be the voice of Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, surfaced, and it featured Sterling instructing his girlfriend to avoid being photographed with black people and to refrain from bringing African-Americans to the Clippers’ basketball games.

Bundy and Sterling represent an ugly corner of contemporary American life, but it is one that is entirely invisible in recent Supreme Court rulings. In the Roberts Court, there are no Bundys and Sterlings; the real targets of the conservative majority are those who’ve spent their lives fighting the Bundys and Sterlings of the world.

Chief Justice John Roberts has made a famous utterance on the subject of race, and it’s a revealing one. The remark came in a case in which the Justices addressed perhaps the most celebrated precedent in the Court’s history: Brown v. Board of Education. In that decision, in 1954, the Justices ruled that segregated public schools were by their nature unconstitutional. In 2007, the Justices evaluated one of the many attempts that communities have made to address the legacy of legal segregation in schools. Seattle used race as one factor to determine which schools some students attended; the goal of the local initiative was integrated schools. But the Court struck down the Seattle plan as a violation of the Constitution and of Brown. Even to ameliorate segregation, the consideration of race was unconstitutional. In Roberts’ evocative phrase, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In other words, those who were trying to integrate the schools were the ones doing the “discriminating.”

The majority engaged in the same kind of blame-shifting in a recent case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. In response to an earlier Supreme Court decision permitting some forms of affirmative action at the University of Michigan’s law school, voters in the state passed a constitutional amendment barring any use of race in admissions. The question in the Schuette case was whether the Michigan amendment violated the U.S. Constitution. It was a close, difficult case, and the Court concluded, by a vote of six to two, that the answer was no; voters could ban affirmative action if they so chose.

It was as if the Justices in the majority and those in dissent were writing about different countries. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion suggested that the debate over affirmative action should and could take place in a genteel, controversy-free zone. “In the realm of policy discussions the regular give-and-take of debate ought to be a context in which rancor or discord based on race are avoided, not invited.” (Yes, it “ought” to be, it just may be that it isn’t.) Kennedy said that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution include the people’s right to “try to shape the course of their own times and the course of a nation that must strive always to make freedom ever greater and more secure.” Apparently, this noble endeavor includes banning affirmative action.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote about a country where the Bundys and Sterlings still hold considerable sway. Indeed, she went beyond the simple bigotry of the Bundys and Sterlings and found that more subtle wounds of racism still exist in this country. “Race matters,” she wrote, “because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’” Indeed, Sotomayor threw Roberts’s famous line back at him. She quoted him—“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”—and then wrote, “It is a sentiment out of touch with reality, one not required by our Constitution, and one that has properly been rejected as not sufficient to resolve cases of this nature. While the enduring hope is that race should not matter, the reality is that too often it does. Racial discrimination … is not ancient history.”

The vile words of the rancher and the basketball tycoon showed just how right Sotomayor was. Even if her colleagues insist otherwise, racial discrimination, far from being ancient history, is as fresh and new as the latest alert on your phone.

 

By: Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, April 29, 2014

April 30, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Racism, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Words, Ideas, Actions, And The Tangle Of Race”: Sometimes Language Isn’t Really The Problem

We seem to be having one of those moments when a series of controversies come in rapid succession and make everyone newly aware of the relationship between language, ideas, and actions. And naturally, it revolves around our eternal national wound of race.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to see that in a few of these controversies, we aren’t actually arguing about what words mean. This is often a focus of disagreement when somebody says something that other people take offense at; for instance, when Paul Ryan said a few weeks ago that “[w]e have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working, and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of the culture of work,” conservatives believed he was being unfairly tagged as racist for using a common phrase, while liberals objected to the connection between the word and the idea that followed. There’s nothing racist about the term “inner city” in and of itself, but when people say it they are usually referring to urban areas where black people are concentrated, and when you then describe a pathological laziness that is supposedly prevalent there, then you’ve said something problematic.

But when Cliven Bundy offered his fascinating thoughts on the state of black America, people weren’t appalled because of his use of the outdated term “Negro” in “Let me tell you another thing about the Negro.” It was what came afterward. He could have said “Let me tell you another thing about the African-American,” and it would have been just as bad, and not only because he was about to paint all members of a race with the same ugly brush. (Cliven, it’s safe to surmise, would never say “Let me tell you another thing about the white,” because the idea that all white people are the same in some fundamental way would be ridiculous to him.) To conservatives’ credit, they got this immediately and ran away from Bundy as fast as they could, even if there was still plenty to criticize about the fact that they embraced him in the first place.

And then there’s Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner who has apparently been caught on tape telling his “girlfriend” (I put that in quotes because there’s just no way to even think of a relationship between an 81-year-old billionaire and a 31-year-old model type without being seriously repulsed) that he doesn’t want her publicly associating with black people, putting pictures of her with black people, or bringing black people to his games, despite the fact that we’re talking about an NBA team here. Even weirder is that the black person in question is Magic Johnson, one of the most revered and beloved sports heroes of the last half-century or so.

A statement released by the Clippers said: “Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life.” Which is the kind of thing you say when there’s a dispute over the interpretation of a word or phrase. We all say things we don’t exactly mean sometimes, or say something in a way that can be misinterpreted. But when you go on and on about how you don’t want people to know that your “girlfriend” hangs out with black people, that’s hard to misinterpret. And so, no one is defending Sterling. Some ridiculous conservatives have tried to make the case that since he donated money to a couple of Democrats a couple of decades ago that this is yet more evidence that Democrats are The Real Racists (Michael Tomasky vivisects that here), but not even many of their compatriots are going to bother with that.

As Jay Smooth points out, it’s interesting that Sterling’s longstanding and widely known record of racist actions, like trying to keep blacks and Hispanics out of rental buildings he owns, weren’t enough to generate calls for him to get booted from the NBA, but some racists words were. Despite all our arguments about the ambiguities of language, it’s his language—or, more properly, his ideas expressed through language—that everyone can agree on. And there wasn’t a racial slur in his conversation, as though he knows which words are OK to use and which ones aren’t, but he still thinks it’s OK to express racism toward black people, so long as you just call them “black people.”

Which brings us back to Paul Ryan. McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed has a piece out today about Ryan that features this exchange:

At one point, as he tells me about his efforts during the presidential race to get the Romney campaign to spend more time in urban areas, he says, “I wanted to do these inner-city tours—” then he stops abruptly and corrects himself. “I guess we’re not supposed to use that.”

His eyes dart back and forth for a moment as he searches for words that won’t rain down more charges of racism. “These…these…”

I suggest that the term is appropriate in this context, since it is obviously intended as an innocuous description of place. He’s unconvinced, and eventually settles on a retreat to imprecision: “I mean, I wanted to take our ideas and principles everywhere, and try for everybody’s vote. I just thought, morally speaking, it was important to ask everyone for their support.”

Ryan is laboring under the misimpression that all he did wrong before was use the term “inner city,” and if he banishes that term and any other dangerous ones from his vocabulary, then everything will be cool. Sorry, Congressman—it’s not so easy.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 28, 2014

April 29, 2014 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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