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Bronner writes: "With the publicity surrounding the police shootings of yet another two unarmed African-Americans, Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the refusal to bring the responsible police officers to trial, and the demonstrations and rioting that have recently rocked the United States, there is a pressing need for a more robust discussion of bigotry and racism in order to place these events in context."

'Black Lives Matter.' (photo: PA)
'Black Lives Matter.' (photo: PA)

Of Anger and Bigotry

By Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News

23 December 14


ith the publicity surrounding the police shootings of yet another two unarmed African-Americans, Eric Gardner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the refusal to bring the responsible police officers to trial, and the demonstrations and rioting that have recently rocked the United States, there is a pressing need for a more robust discussion of bigotry and racism in order to place these events in context. These shootings are part of a pattern: From one to three supposedly “justifiable homicides” by police take place every day, overwhelmingly targeting people of color. Longstanding tensions exist between the police and those ghettos and neighborhoods in which minorities predominate. But the opportunity to begin such a discussion is inhibited by the adaptation of the bigot to a new society in which his prejudices are camouflaged as he turns them into reality. Uncritical defenders of the police are always quick to note that race plays no part in these events that have so infuriated particularly the black community. That is also part of a pattern and part of the prevailing culture.

Soon after Barack Obama’s electoral victory in 2008, conservatives began depicting the event as a triumph of cosmopolitan and secular intellectuals, people of color, liberal pieties, and “socialist” hopes. Grassroots organizing accompanied an agenda of legislative sabotage led by the Republican congressional hierarchy. Media demagogues stoked the flames of resentment. President Obama was mockingly called “The One” and excoriated as an Arab, an imam, even the Antichrist. Posters identified him with Hitler, placed his head on the body of a chimpanzee, implied that he was a crack addict, portrayed him with a bone through his nose, and showed the White House lawn lined with rows of watermelons. Six years later, the fury has hardly subsided: Thousands of young people check on racist websites like Stormfront every month, anti-Semitism is again becoming fashionable, Islamophobia is rampant, and conservative politicians are suing President Obama in the courts for his supposed abuse of power while their more radical supporters are labeling him a traitor. The refusal to engage the question of racial prejudice by even mainstream conservatives in explaining the ongoing humiliation and brutality directed against people of color in the United States should be seen in this light.

Most conservative advocates of “law and order” and those in the right-wing Tea Party don’t see themselves as bigots. They long to reinstate the “real” America perhaps best depicted in old television shows like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver. This completely imaginary America was orderly and prosperous. Women were happily in the kitchen; gays were in the closet; and blacks knew their place. But this world (inexplicably!) came under attack from just these (ungrateful!) groups, thereby creating resentment – especially among white males on the political right. They feel persecuted and wish to roll back time. Their counterattack is based on advocating policies that would hinder same-sex marriage, champion the insertion of “Christian” values into public life, deny funds for women’s health and abortion clinics, cut government policies targeting the inner cities, protect a new prison network inhabited largely by people of color, eliminate limits on campaign spending, and increase voting restrictions that would effectively disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged citizens. The new privatized “prison-industrial complex” is part of this political agenda.

Old-fashioned prejudice obviously still exists. But the bigot is adapting to a new world. The bigot now employs camouflage in translating his prejudices into reality. To forestall criticism, he now makes use of supposedly “color-blind” economic and anti-crime policies, liberal notions of tolerance, individualism, the entrepreneurial spirit, local government, historical traditions, patriotism, and fears of nonexistent voter fraud to maintain the integrity of the electoral process. The bigot today is often unaware either that he has prejudices or that he is indulging them.

Unfortunately, popular understandings of the bigot remain anchored in an earlier time. His critics tend to highlight the personal rather than the political, crude language and sensational acts rather than mundane legislation and complicated policy decisions. Many are unwilling to admit that bigotry has entered the mainstream. It is more comforting to associate bigotry with certain attitudes supposedly on the fringes of public life. Words wound, but the truth is that policies wound even more. Everyday citizens grow incensed when some commentator lets slip a racist or politically incorrect phrase. But they are far more tolerant when faced with policies that blatantly disadvantage or attack the bigot’s traditional targets, whose inferiority is still identified with fixed and immutable traits: gays, immigrants, people of color, and women.

Reactionary movements and conservative parties have provided a congenial home for true believers, provincial chauvinists, and elitists of an aristocratic or populist bent. Not exclusively: Liberals and socialists – though usually with a guilty conscience – have also occasionally endorsed imperialism, nationalism, racism, and the politics of bigotry. But while the connection between right-wing politics and bigotry does not hold true in every instance, it is true most of the time. It is certainly true today. Ideologues of the Tea Party provide legitimacy and refuge for advocates of intolerance while the GOP provides legitimacy and refuge for the Tea Party.

Not every bigot is a conservative and not every conservative is a bigot. Yet they converge in supporting an agenda that explicitly aims to constrict intellectual debate, social pluralism, economic equality, and democratic participation. Either the bigot or the conservative can insist that his efforts to shrink the welfare state are motivated solely by a concern with maximizing individual responsibility; either can claim that his opposition to gay rights is simply a defense of traditional values; and either can argue that increasing the barriers to voting is required to guarantee fair elections. Whatever they subjectively believe, however, their agenda objectively disadvantages gays, immigrants, women, and people of color.

Reasonable people can disagree about this or that policy as it applies to any of these groups. Any policy, progressive or not, can be criticized in good faith. But ethical suspicions arise when an entire agenda is directed against the ensemble of what President Reagan derisively termed “special interests.” No conservative political organization today has majority support from women, the gay community, or people of color. There must be a reason. It cannot simply be that the conservative “message” has not been heard; that members of these groups are overwhelmingly parasitical and awaiting their overly generous government “handouts”; or that so-called special interests are incapable of appreciating what is in their interest. A more plausible explanation, I think, is that those who are still targets of prejudice and discrimination have little reason to trust conservatism’s political advocates.

Is the conservative a bigot? It depends. Is the particular conservative intent upon defending traditions simply because they exist, supporting community values even if they are discriminatory; and treating political participation as a privilege rather than a right? Critics of the bigot should begin placing a bit less emphasis on what he says or feels than what he actually does. That conservative can always rationalize his actions – platitudes come cheap. But then perhaps, one day, he will find himself looking in the mirror and (who knows?) the bigot might just be staring back.

Stephen Eric Bronner is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. His most recent book is The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists (Yale University Press). He is also director of global relations and on the executive committee of the UNESCO Chair in Genocide Prevention for its Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights your social media marketing partner


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+23 # riverhouse 2014-12-23 18:11
The conservative reaction to the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States unleashed a bounty of racism which has grown and blossomed in the worst of Americans. We need to admit that, admit the fact of racism alive and well in the hearts and minds of too many Americans, and deal with it. Killing black boys and men by cops is not the way to deal with the blooming hostility of underclass white Americans to the reality of an African American family living in the White House.
+11 # RGV.REG 2014-12-23 22:54
I'd say that there is a bigger picture we must be watching out for.
Militarized police will be "protecting"the system from all of us... whether black, white, or any other cultured society.
It has just begun !
+13 # PABLO DIABLO 2014-12-23 18:58
THANK YOU Stephen for saying it so clearly. Last week I was in the Dallas Airport next to two fat, old, white men. One of them said,"Blacks were happy until Obama got elected and now they are agitated. By the way, did you know that Al Sharpton went into a department store and asked to see a washing machine. When he was shown all white ones by the clerk, he asked 'Where are the black ones?' . The clerk opened a machine to show him the black agitator on the inside." I can't stand Al Sharpton, he is so prejudiced, he just listens to liberal media. At least I have an open mind."
You nailed it Stephan. Again, THANK YOU
+13 # fredboy 2014-12-23 19:56
We'd best demilitarize and quickly advance police "science"--the current state of things is both dangerous and disgraceful.
+5 # reiverpacific 2014-12-23 20:04
Good article BUT, I wish the author would recognize the gaping canyon between "Conservative" and "Reactionary", who strives to resist ANY change, is fiercely anti-populist or progressive, believing that power and wealth are the hereditary privilege of the already wealthy, almost like the Monarchy that this Republic was patched together to escape.
The current crop of mean-spirited, regressive and racist , right-wing nut job politicians, their patsies, lobbyists and deluded adherents who continue to vote against their own interests, almost like the slaves which made up 3/5 of a person and a numerical credit for their masters would have been forced to vote if they could, which is what stuck you with the outdated and lop-sided electoral college system, are pure and simple Reactionaries -or Feudalists- as I choose to call them.
"If you'se White -you'se alight
if you'se Brown, stick around
-but if you're Black -o'brudda'
Git back, git back git back"!
Big Bill Broonzy -back in the 50's.
+1 # Cassandra2012 2014-12-31 13:01
Good, but the line of the Bill Bronzy Blues song is:
'If you're white, you're all right,' ...

And my uncle had a version with Leadbelly singing it so I think it is possibly older than the 50s.
+7 # banichi 2014-12-23 20:21
As I watch these trends over the last decades, I am more and more concerned that the end result of the prejudicial mindset of the police and conservatives entrenched in the power structure is going to be an explosion of rage in response to their fear of losing their own power. Such an explosion will then quite possibly serve as the trigger for more repressive tactics by the government and police. Conspiracy theorists might even say that this was (or is) the purpose all along; so far, I still think one should not ascribe malicious intent on the part of the majority when fear and stupidity are a more likely cause.

I am not saying that this is true in all cases. But it boils down to the question of whether there are enough bought-and-paid -for politicians, mainly Republicans but also Democrats, who are willing to give up their patrons' agendas in order to listen to what the citizens say. And, reflect on what the founding fathers said in the Constitution that they swore an oath to 'defend and protect.'

If what I have been reading lately is accurate, there's a majority of Republican citizens in this country who do not support what the Republicans controlling Congress say they want to do, come January.

But I am really not sure that those Congressmen and women are listening. Or want to hear it through their ideological mindset. Which says to me that the explosion is still coming.
+6 # margpark 2014-12-23 20:37
A black man in the white house has taken us to a very racist society who can't see anything but the color of your skin.
People who were living comfortably with a white man in the white house have discovered their inner racist feelings.
+6 # psadave 2014-12-24 00:26
Just a correction to the beginning of the article, Mr. Bronner states, "With the publicity surrounding the police shootings of yet another two unarmed African-America ns, Eric Gardner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri,".
Mr. Garner was killed by policemen's bare hands! Otherwise, spot on.
-5 # corals33 2014-12-24 03:00
When oh when will these distinguished writers who contribute their views on issues of the day limit their observations within the boundaries of Truth and Sincerity. The presumption that any of them add any meaningful insight to a topic by neglecting the rotten roots of a matter in the hope that the reader will be so enthralled by their "intellectualis ing" the putrid fruits thereof betrays an arrogance yet to be surpassed.Afric an-Americans had NO say in this "white" construct called "The West" and Mr.Obama has a WHITE mother, lest we forget, and should be described as such. RSN would do well to assist in raising journalistic standards for the good of all.This particular situation has its rotten roots in miseducation, lies, enslavement and other such terrors culminating in the fantasy of "white Supremacy" and "democracy" and should be approached as such.Skirting around the TRUTH with intellectual tripe is insulting to the intelligent, to say the least.
0 # corals33 2014-12-24 03:33
The U.N.,The World bank, UNESCO,and the majority of so-called international organizations are largely the products of white, anglo-saxon males. The educational system foisted on them and forced on the captive populations they brutalised into submission is at the root of countless problems throughout the ages and MUST be seen as such.To then expect intelligent people to accept this condition as a "given" from which Peace and Love can emerge without swift and severe reconstruction makes folly of any other discussion. Professors, educators, media folk and people in general please take note. The accepted narrative is no longer valid or helpful and the "white man's burden" is NOT going to be the new world order.The guardians of the christian world would also do well to reprint the Ten Commandments in BOLD and decorate their churches,univer sities,politica l and policing units, their armies, charities and global corporations,es pecially the banks and pharmaceuticals , with the words and SPIRIT of that HOLY Christian document.
+3 # Dale 2014-12-24 08:56
Well stated Eric!! Greetings from an old Rutgers colleague, Dale Johnson

The System that we endure
Disadvantages and misleads the bewildered majority,
Morally corrupts a growing minority,
Subverts the consciousness of nearly all of us.
In the political order the electoral process
Is made a farce by Big Money
And ossifies in political paralysis
As Republican Zombies greed-lock political life
And Zombyism infliltrates the minds of the loyal opposition.
Give us please
The participatory democracy of Cuba,
The honest elections of Venezula,
What we get is oligarchy,
While Big Money wages a very one-sided class war
And has been winning on all fronts.
The downtrodden youth, minorities, and women retreat.
White male voters panic as their previous class privileges are eroded,
Buy into zenophobia created in a climate of fear,
Hate and endless futile war.
Racism, patriarchy and sexism resurge,
As the founding myths of capitalism
Turn America, and most of the world with it,
Into a War of All Against All,
Wherein only the privileges of the fittest of the rich survive
In the evil of savage capitalism
In its degenerative phase.
Time and place for the shackled and drawn
To rise up!
+4 # tclose 2014-12-24 09:53
Very insightful article. Ties together many different threads of the tangled story of bigotry that underlies so much of today's political machinations.
0 # Artemis 2015-01-04 08:35
Hard to take Stephen Eric Bronner seriously when he has never asked hard questions regarding Israel's racism and oppression of Palestinians.

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