Political Parties and Race in America

Recently (June 8, “White Fear, White Guilt, White Silence, White Paralysis”;  https://wp.me/p9wDCF-1u4), VoxFairfax offered an opinion that the root of racism in America derived from white guilt and fear leading to white silence and paralysis of leadership. While fear generally arises from external stimuli, guilt originates from an internal sense involving trespass of a moral precept, whether mistaken or not. Together, as our post diagnosed, the twins coexist to create a paralysis within political leadership at all levels, disabling attempts to execute deeper, longer-lasting racial reform, i.e., deconstructing structural racism.

But the leadership paralysis does not exist in a vacuum. It promotes an absence of will to engage change while, at the same time, it is absorbed into social and political attitudes and/or beliefs. In turn, these are the platform that deflect the sense of urgency generated by racial turmoil and protests.

A cursory review of Virginia’s history from the 1619 initiation of the slave trade in colonial America to the Commonwealth’s more recent self-examination of the symbolism of Confederate monuments exposes the breadth and depth of its racial angst–Civil War, Jim Crow, poll taxes, massive resistance, miscegenation, eugenics–these are all hallmarks of the fear, guilt, paralysis and, ultimately, resistance to systemic change.  

Following racial conflicts and trauma that have engulfed our country, there is a tendency among the polity to seek respite, to recover civic energy leading to post-traumatic inaction and, sometimes, gratitude for having survived yet another face-to-face confrontation with the nation’s self-inflicted wounds from slavery. Some laws are passed, some study commissions issue reports, some politicians are elected on a promise of reform, and we, the citizenry, return to our business.

Following racial conflicts and trauma that have engulfed our country, there is a tendency among the polity to seek respite, to recover civic energy leading to post-traumatic inaction and, sometimes, gratitude for having survived yet another face-to-face confrontation with the nation’s self-inflicted wounds from slavery. Some laws are passed, some study commissions issue reports, some politicians are elected on a promise of reform, and we, the citizenry, return to our business.

Beneath the surface, the fear and guilt continue to roil and be concealed. A Pew Research Center report (Race in America, April 2019) found that the acceptance among Americans  of racist and racially insensitive views was deemed more common by 84% of white Democrats. Among white Republicans, such acceptance was rated at 42%, one half of white Democrats. The disparity is stark and speaks to the type of political gridlock, a paralysis that precludes addressing the essence of race conflict in America.

White Republicans, white Democrats differ widely in their views of the country’s racial progress

Republicans and Democrats have vastly different views on race, as partisanship is strongly associated with racial attitudes more broadly. In fact, after controlling for other factors, partisanship has a greater association with views about the country’s racial progress than demographic factors, though being young and more educated are also significant predictors, particularly among whites.

Because whites and nonwhites often have widely different views of racial issues, and nonwhites disproportionately identify with or lean to the Democratic Party, gaps between Republicans and Democrats are often shown among whites in this report in order to account for differences in the racial composition of the two parties.

White Democrats (64%) are far more likely–at four times the rate than white Republicans (15%)–to say the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites. About half of Republicans say it’s been about right, while a sizable minority (31%) says the country has gone too far in this regard.

Eight-in-ten white Democrats–vs. 40% of white Republicans–again a two-to-one ratio, say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on black people’s position in American society today. And when it comes to views about racial discrimination, 78% of white Democrats say the bigger problem is people not seeing it where it really does exist, while a similar share of white Republicans say people seeing racial discrimination where it really does not exist is the bigger problem.

The social and political result of this disparity has hamstrung progress in the legislative process of addressing the issue of race relations and likely infects the nation’s jurisprudence as well.  Electoral contests, nationally and among governorships, tend to be marked with more subtle dog whistles.

In what form must racial bias exist to be seen? Sometimes it is crystal clear, as in the example of the Hanover, Virginia, man who drove his truck into a protest group and later acknowledged his leadership role in the state’s KKK. (https://www.richmond.com/news/local/crime/henrico-prosecutor-hanover-man-who-drove-into-protest-is-admitted-kkk-leader/article_54776922-5870-5657-8900-eb2969ae9140.html). Even the 77% of white Republicans who believe racial discrimination is seen where it does not exist cannot deny such an example.

How visible must racial discrimination have to be to be believed? In Jacksonville, Florida, a graduate of the Naval Academy serving on its alumni Board of Trustees inadvertently recorded a conversation with his wife that went viral.  (https://www.greensboro.com/news/national/former-naval-academy-trustee-apologizes-for-racial-remarks/article_6f820dee-8bca-5dce-b4c7-fe48996b212e.html). The recording captured a number of expletive-laden comments about African-Americans. Does acknowledgment of racial bias demand the type of visibility like the video of the George Floyd murder? Or the Virginia KKKer? Or the “ooops” moment viral recording, to qualify as being existential?

The political party affiliation of these two examples is irrelevant. The silent existence of racial animus, awaiting emergence in some only for a stimulus, teaches that the 400 years of the nation’s color prejudice is deeply ingrained, almost genetic. Yet, people of color have repeatedly warned of the silent signals, such as the click of the locks on auto doors when a person of color appears.

To whatever we may ascribe causes of racial views, the answer to salvation from them has been blowing in the wind for far too long.

 



Categories: Issues, Local, National, politics, State

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