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"Symbolic Racism" and the "US of KKK A"

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Fury and violence weren't the only tools available to whites, who wanted to keep blacks "in their place." Until the enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, most southern voting districts "employed literacy tests as a condition for entitlement to vote. The tests were employed in an explicitly racially discriminatory manner, with blacks given lower scores than whites regardless of their actual performance on the tests." [Blum, p.24]

Fortunately, the enactment of Civil Rights legislation greatly diminished the most overt forms of racism. Unfortunately, overt racism has been replaced by what scholars call "symbolic racism"- "a coherent set of beliefs including the sense that discrimination is no longer an obstacle for blacks, that their current lack of upward social mobility is caused by their unwillingness to work hard, that they demand too much of government, and that they have received more than they deserve." [Hutchings and Valentino, p. 390]

Symbolic racism, which is deeper and more widespread in the South than elsewhere in the United States, has become the bedrock upon which the Republican Party bases its "Southern strategy." Lee Atwater (who worked with both Bush's) put it this way: "You start out in 1954 by saying 'n-word, n-word, n-word.' By 1968 you can't say 'n-word' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites." [Bob Herbert, "Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant," New York Times, Oct. 6, 2005]

Thus, even if we put aside the issue of a final reckoning for past injustices, there's still the matter of the willful blind eye that symbolic racists and other ignorant Americans turn to stark evidence of present-day racism.

Present-day racism? Yes, "in June 2000, American General Life and Accident Insurance Co., one of the nation's largest life insurance companies, agreed to pay $206 million to settle allegations that it had overcharged millions of mostly poor, black customers for burial insurance because of their race." Consider that, "in November 2000, Coca-Cola agreed to pay more than $156 million to current and former employees of color alleging racial discrimination." [Blum, p. 25]

Present-day racism? As professors Maria Kyrsan and Amanda Lewis note, in "Racial Discrimination Is Alive and Well" [Challenge, May-June 2005], "No matter what the employment rate generally is, African Americans are unemployed at twice the rate of whites." [p. 38] Fine, but how does racism enter in?

First, from the findings of researchers, who sent out resumes to a wide sample of potential employers. "The resumes were identical except for the name at the top. Some had black-sounding names like Tamika or Tyrone. Others had white-sounding names. But the resumes were identical. It turned out in this well-controlled study that the person with the white-sounding name was much more likely to get a call back than the one with the African American name." [Ibid, p, 40]

Second, "Kathryn Neckerman and Joleen Kirschenman did a study where they interviewed employers in-depth. They found widespread evidence of a racial hierarchy and belief in stereotypes. These views were quite readily verbalized by employers, who admitted that they, for example, selectively recruited in some communities. They preferred to hire white ethnics or Hispanics and had negative stereotypes of black inner-city applicants in particular." [Ibid, p. 41]

Thus, it's perhaps no accident that the huge expansion of the black middle class since the 1960s is due largely to jobs obtained in the government sector.

Present-day racism? In October 2005, Van Jones wrote about the disproportionate rate of arrests and convictions of blacks and cited an analysis conducted by two researchers for Justice Department: "Two-thirds of the studies of state and local juvenile justice systems they analyzed found that there was a 'race effect' at some stage of the juvenile justice process that affected minorities for the worse." [Van Jones, "ARE Blacks A Criminal Race? Surprising Statistics," Huffington Post Oct. 5, 2005]

Using data about drug use and incarcerations from four studies written between 1999 and 2005, Jones concludes: "The Monitoring the Future Survey of high school seniors shows that white students annually use cocaine at 4.6 times the rate of African American students, use crack cocaine at 1.5 times the rate of African American students, and use heroin at the same rate of African Americans students [sic], and that white youth report annual use of marijuana at a rate 46% higher than African American youth. However, African American youth are arrested for drug offenses at about twice the rate (African American 314 per 100,000, white 175 per 1000,000) times [sic] that of whites, and African American youth represent nearly half (48%) of all youth incarcerated for drug offense in the juvenile justice system."

Such racism in America's juvenile justice system is but part of a larger pattern of racial discrimination that recently prompted the United Nation's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to urge the United States to rectify the "stark racial disparities" in criminal justice systems throughout the country. ["UN Faults US on Racism," Human Rights Watch, March 7, 2008]

Present-day racism? With reports that America's schools are experiencing a new wave of resegregation, it became national news when 16-year-old Kiri Davis recreated "the famous 1940s experiment conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark that studied the psychological effects of segregation on black children." ["What Dolls Can Tell Us About Race in America," ABC NEWS, Oct. 11, 2006]

"In Clark's test, [black] children were given a black doll and a white doll, and then asked which one they thought was better."

"Overwhelmingly, they chose the white doll."

The results from Clark's experiment led him to conclude that "prejudice, discrimination and segregation" caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred; a conclusion that influenced the Brown v. Board of Education decision to end segregation in the nation's schools. [Ibid]

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
 

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