Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Amazing Race (-Baiting)

"I think the way liberals have treated blacks like children and many of their policies have been harmful to blacks, at least they got the beneficiary group right," Coulter said. "There is the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. We don't owe the homeless. We don't owe feminists. We don't owe women who are desirous of having abortions or gays who want to get married to one another. That's what civil rights has become for much of the left."

"Immigrant rights are not civil rights?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"No," Coulter responded, "No. I think civil rights are for blacks. What have we done to the immigrants? We owe black people something. We have a legacy of slavery. Immigrants haven't even been in this country."

 Ann Coulter seems to be trying to craft, in her typical blatant and absurd way, a divide and conquer strategy between two important Democrat constituent blocs, Latinos and African-Americans.  I feel the Coulter shtick to be tiresome even on the best of days, but I find the focus underneath the stupidity to be interesting.  It seems that some elements of the Republican party are coming to terms with the fact that sooner or later, due to demographics alone, the Republican party will have to pivot away from their old strategy of using racial resentment to lure working class whites into voting for them, and will actually have to start relying on minority votes if they want to gain office.  Given the more than half-century of ugly history between the Republicans and black people, I personally believe that the Republicans will try to win the Latino vote.  However, given that their standard bearer enjoys  0% support amongst the African-American community, the Republican party has nowhere to go but up with black people.  With that said, I hardly think the rank and file Republicans are going to be endorsing reparations anytime soon, as Coulter seems to be edging towards in her above quote. 

In other recent news from the race-baiting world, it certainly seems to be getting ugly in the Elizabeth Warren/Scott Brown  race in Massachusetts.  Elizabeth Warren has apparently believed all her life that she was part Cherokee (1/32 Cherokee to be exact).  This may or may not be true. But no one has asserted that Warren herself did not believe this to be the case.  Brown, now falling rapidly in the polls, has put out negative ads disputing Warren's heritage, and claiming that Warren illegitimately used her heritage to reap benefits.  Emily has already talked about Scott Brown's staff getting caught on video using stereotypical gestures and exclamations to make fun of Elizabeth's Warren's claims about her heritage.

Bill John Baker, leader of the Cherokee Nation.  1/32 Cherokee.

But the part about the case that has held my attention has been the parsing of Warren's ancestry to prove that she is "not really" Native American, and therefore she shouldn't count it, or advertise that part of her heritage.  Blood quantum parsing in the U.S. has always interested me.  It definitely seems to be in a state of flux right now.  Traditionally for black people in America, of course there was the "one drop" rule, where if someone had any known and acknowledged black ancestry, no matter how distant, they were considered to be black.  Therefore African-Americans today freely acknowledge white and Native American ancestry, while still secure in their cultural identity as a black person.  White identity in America, in contrast, is traditionally based on blood purity.  To be considered "fully white", only white ancestry can be acknowledged.  However, an ongoing exception has always been made for white people claiming distant Native American ancestry.  They could still be considered fully white, just with an exotic background.

But in recent years, it seems that the doors to whitehood have been thrown open.  I noticed it clearly around the time Barack Obama was elected.  He self-identifies as black, while freely acknowledging his white relatives, including his mother.  This is the traditional method in America for people who are black/white biracial.  However this time around, his method of self-identification seemed to offend some people.  "Why", they wondered, "did Obama not claim he was biracial, rather than just black?  Was he in some way rejecting whiteness?"  Such questions always confused me.  In America,  a black identity in no way rests on notions of blood purity the way that whiteness does.  Due to the legacies of slavery, most African-Americans are multi-racial somewhere down the line, and for the most part, it isn't considered particularly noteworthy or exotic.  People can talk about it, or not, as they choose.

Elizabeth Warren chose to emphasize a part of her ancestry that contained stories from the family lore, which is hardly surprising.  Whether or not she is actually Native American is almost besides the point now.  What Brown seems to be playing on is the notion that Warren received benefits from claiming to be a minority, benefits that non-minorities don't receive.  So it goes to show that as much as the Republicans need to pivot sometime in the future from the politics of racial resentment, in the present, that strategy is still alive and well.


  1. First on the Coulter statement: we don't owe homeless people anything? What about homeless vets? What about mentally ill people who are homeless because of deinstitutionalization? What about homeless children? We don't owe women anything? We absolutely do: affirmative action. And it's worked very well, thank you. "What have we done to immigrants?" For one thing, not all Latinos/Hispanic people are immigrants. For another, we are a country of immigrants. It would be good to figure out a rational, knowable, useful policy on the issue. I think that choice to focus on African-Americans versus Latinos interesting, because I think Rs are more likely to get Latino/Hispanic votes than African-American ones. Also, I hate the term "blacks" used instead of "black people" or "African-Americans." I also find it interesting how she just brushes off gay rights.

    I think it's weird that we ask biracial or multiracial (because who are we kidding, we're all multiracial at this point) people to identify with one race, both in society and often on government forms. I'm pretty close to saying we need to move towards not asking that question. I think the question has extra political weight because of affirmative action, and Bubba was smart: affirmative action probably needs to transition to a socio-economic policy rather than a racial one, because then we move towards being more legally race-blind, which is where I'd like to see us, eventually. It goes to your question on Meritocracy the other day, Mandi.

    Beadgirl, when you get to reading this will you weigh in on "Latino" vs "Hispanic"? Years ago I moved to just using "Hispanic" because people told me it was more inclusive of a term, but I'm hearing "Latino" used more often now.

  2. think it's weird that we ask biracial or multiracial (because who are we kidding, we're all multiracial at this point) people to identify with one race, both in society and often on government forms.

    That's the whole thing though, we don't. We ask whites to identify solely with one race, but other minorities are free to acknowledge their other racial backgrounds, and on most government forms, it tells you to check all the races that apply. I don't think failing to ask the question about race will make the problem go away, it just makes people blind to the fact that there is a problem in the first place.

  3. 1) I make it a point to ignore everything that Coulter says, because it is always worthless.

    2) While I don't like how Brown is handling the issue, her claiming to be 1/32 Cherokee is a touchy issue, because of a long-standing practice by white people to romanticize the "noble savage" and claim that one's great-great-great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess and use that as justification to appropriate Native American cultures (in the process, jumbling them all up as if they were all the same). Moreover, degree of ancestry actually does matter for obtaining membership into a tribe.

    My senior thesis dealt with Native American cultural appropriation, and I worked on a case involving federally recognized and non-recognized tribes and who gets to represent them, so I tend to look askance at anyone claiming Native American heritage who has not actually participated in some way in the relevant culture (via learning the language, growing up with the customs or beliefs, etc.). It is also the reason why I am careful to identify myself as a white latina, because as far as I know I am descended from Spanish colonists, and I don't want to assume a heritage that is not mine.

    I should add, I know nothing about Warren or her background, and so have no idea what her Cherokee heritage means to her or her family, and whether there is anything more to it than just knowing the existence of the ancestor.

    3) The stupidity of looking at people through the lens of race, which more often than not means skin color, was hammered home to me as I tried to fill out the census form for my family -- we have four different skin tones, three different eye colors, and three different "race" identities (in different proportions, natch). Latinos have for a long time been pointing out that our identity is an ethnicity, not a race (because we come in all races and every combination at this point). I think it would be very helpful to move away from race/skin color and focus more on the cultures and ethnicities people are raised in.

    4) I bet if you ask different latinos you'll get different answers, but I was taught "hispanic" referred to someone from a Spanish speaking country (so that includes Spain) but "latino" refers to the former Spanish colonies in the Americas (P.R., Mexico, Argentina, etc). Or just to Latin America which does not always include South America. Or it includes Brazil. Or only those descended from Spanish colonists and/or indigenous tribes, and not from more recent German/Italian/Chinese/etc. immigrants to these countries. And maybe "hispanic" includes Portugal. Some prefer to identify just by the country. That clear things up? :>

  4. I forgot! Here's a really good, smart blog about appropriation of Native American cultures.

  5. I love the Native American blog. It's serious, interesting, thoughtful.

    I am still I guess going to use Hispanic then. I don't want to appear out of it, but I also don't want to be exclusionary.

    I think what Warren is saying about her heritage is that it was always mentioned, she always considered it a part of her, but it doesn't sound (from everything I have read and heard) like she has pursued the connection all that much. Harvard, I imagine, is like most schools in its desire to capitalize on any ounce of diversity it can claim. There was a great episode of Scrubs on this issue. Sigh. I miss Scrubs.

    On asking the questions about race, I guess I've always felt that the law should be race-blind, but that the problem is that there is discrimination - and how do you address discrimination and have the law be race-blind at once? So my hope has always been that we will be able to move the law towards race-blindness. Clinton's idea of substituting socio-economic status does two great things: 1) It takes away the complaint of low-income white people (and maybe, hopefully, some of the racism based on the complaint) that the law is working against them and for X race instead; and 2) It addresses real problems while reducing the extent to which affirmative action is used by people who haven't had as many hardships.

    And asking the question has more results than just showing the problem: it to some extent masks other problems and creates its own degree of racism: the FBI Crime Stats are measured by race, not socio-economic status, and that makes it look like people who aren't white are committing more crimes, rather than examining whether it's simply poorer people committing more crimes. The FBI index crimes, which are used to determine the "crime rate," have similar problems: they do not include "white collar" crimes - so the "crime rate" is measuring mostly the extent to which crimes are being committed by lower-income people - without examining why that is (because they do not track socio-economic data). If I sound like a Critical Legal Studies person, it's because I am, a bit.

    At some point - and I'm not sure what point that is, but it bears examination - we will move into a time when asking the question does more harm to our society than good. The awful race-based crap going on in this election is almost entirely about racial stereotypes about poverty and affirmative action. Largely WRONG stereotypes, but they exist, and asking the question is one of the reasons they exist.