Black Power’s Gonna Git You Sucka: Right-Wing Paranoia and the Rhetoric of Modern Racism

Prominent white conservatives are angry about racism.

Forget all that talk about a post-racial society. They know better than to believe in such a thing, and they’re hopping mad.

What is it that woke them up finally, after all these years of denial, during which they insisted that racism was a thing of the past?

Was it the research indicating that job applicants with white sounding names have a 50 percent better chance of being called back for an interview than their counterparts with black-sounding names, even when all qualifications are the same?


Was it the study that found white job applicants with criminal records have a better chance of being called back for an interview than black applicants without one, even when all the qualifications are the same?


Was it the massive nationwide study that estimated at least 1 million cases of blatant job discrimination against blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans each year, affecting roughly one-in-three job seekers of color?


Is it the fact that black males with college degrees are almost twice as likely as their white male counterparts to be out of work?


Is it the data indicating that Chinese-American professionals earn less than 60 percent as much as their white counterparts, even though the Chinese Americans, on average, have more education?


Was it the study that found the lightest-skinned immigrants to the United States make as much as 15 percent more than the darkest, even when the immigrants in question have the same level of education, experience and measured productivity?


Perhaps they finally stumbled upon the evidence suggesting millions of cases of race-based housing discrimination against people of color each year, and this is what has them so incensed?


Or maybe their anger is due to the reports of blatant racism practiced by Wells Fargo, which was deliberately roping black borrowers (to whom they referred as “mud people”) into high-cost loans, targeting them for these instruments, and even falsifying credit histories to make black applicants look like greater risks than they were, so as to justify the scam?


Was it the study demonstrating that e-mail inquiries about rental property submitted by people with white sounding names were 60 percent more likely than those with black sounding names to get a positive response from a landlord (meaning an indication that a unit was available for rent), even when the housing had been previously advertised as available?


Maybe they’re furious because of the way whites in the New Orleans area conspired after the flooding of the city to keep blacks from returning and being able to find housing on equitable terms, if at all?


Or maybe it’s because of the data from the Justice Department, to the effect that blacks are far more likely than whites to have their cars and persons searched after a traffic stop, even though whites, when searched, are more than four times as likely to have drugs or other illegal contraband on us?


Well then, perhaps it’s the recent revelations that police in New York City are blatantly profiling blacks and Latinos, stopping and frisking them in massive numbers, even though in 90 percent of all cases, the people they stop are released without any charge because they are found to have done nothing illegal?


Is the source of their anger the data showing that although whites and blacks use and sell drugs at roughly the same rates, African Americans are anywhere from 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for a drug offense, depending on the year? Or perhaps the state level data indicating that in nine states, blacks are arrested at more than seven times the rate of whites, and in Minnesota and Iowa at rates that are more than eleven times greater than white arrest rates for drugs? Or perhaps the additional data that blacks are more than 10 times as likely as whites to be sent to prison for drug offenses, despite relatively equivalent rates of drug crimes? Or the fact that a majority of persons admitted to prison for drug offenses are black, even though there are about six times more white users nationwide?


Maybe they’re beside themselves over the fact that millions of black men who are ex-felons and have paid their debt to society are permanently blocked from voting thanks to disenfranchisement laws that were devised for blatantly racist reasons? Surely they are upset that these laws have led to blacks being denied the right to vote after serving their time at a rate that is 7 times the national average?


Perhaps they’re enraged by the way white police officers conspired to murder a black man in New Orleans after Katrina, and then cover up the crime, or the way other whites formed a vigilante terror squad and went hunting for black people in the aftermath of the flooding?


Maybe it was that racist e-mail sent by the white Boston police officer to the reporter at the Boston Globe, in which he called Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates a “banana eatin’ jungle monkey?”


Then maybe it was the story about that high ranking racist in the Chicago police force who OK’d the torture of black men to extract confessions for years?


Then I bet they must have finally seen that story about the Philadelphia cop who refers to black folks as animals and niggers. That’s it, right?


Could it be that they’ve read and been moved by the dozens of studies that show the cumulative health effects of racism and discrimination on people of color, and which indicate that doctors do indeed treat patients of color differently, and worse, than their white counterparts? Or perhaps the research that finds how even black women with college degrees, decent jobs and good incomes have infant mortality rates for their children that are higher than the rates for white women who dropped out before high school? And the way that researchers believe stresses associated with racial discrimination are implicated in the worse fetal and neo-natal health of these mother’s children?


Perhaps it’s the research that shows black students being suspended and expelled from school at far higher rates than white students, even though there are no significant differences in the rates at which students of different races violate serious school rules?


Maybe it’s the research indicating that teachers set lowered expectations for children with black-sounding names, independent of observed ability, and even when compared to the child’s own siblings who have less identifiably black names. These lowered expectations, based on presumptions of lowered competence and ability then result in lower performance by the stigmatized students.


Or maybe it was that troubling story on CNN about how white children and even many children of color seem to prefer white skin, and think that children with black skin are bad, dirty, mean and ugly?


Well then it must be the blatant stuff. Maybe they finally got around to looking at those images of Tea Party protesters and other assorted conservatives coming to rallies with signs advocating the lynching of Democratic party leaders, or portraying the President as an African witch doctor? Or maybe somebody informed them of all the times that conservative and Republican Party activists have sent around blatantly racist e-mails lately, like those portraying the white house lawn covered in watermelons, or once again with the witch doctor imagery, or likening Michelle Obama to an ape, or picturing the President as a pair of “spook eyes” against a black background?


Maybe they’re angry at Tea Party leader Mark Williams for calling the President an “Indonesian Muslim” and a “welfare thug?” I mean, that’s pretty racialized rhetoric, right?


Or maybe it was the Tea Party leader in Ohio who tweeted about how he wants to shoot Hispanic immigrants, to whom he refers as “spicks?” (sic)


Well then surely it must have been the story about Tea Party candidate for Governor in New York who sent e-mails picturing the President dressed as a pimp and featuring a group of African tribesman performing a traditional dance, which he referred to as the “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal?”


Perhaps what has them angry is the statement by that Arizona Congressman, to the effect that black folks were better off under slavery than they are today?


Maybe it was because of those guys over at the popular right-wing website, who called the President’s daughter, Malia, “typical ghetto trash,” and a “whore” whose mother likes to entertain her by “making monkey sounds?”


Or perhaps they finally had enough when they heard about how Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was called a “wetback” by one of his constituents and told to go back to Mexico?


Or maybe it was that lawmaker in South Carolina who called both President Obama and Republican Gubernatorial candidate (and Indian American) Nikki Haley, “ragheads?”


Or perhaps they’re upset about how the guy who sponsored the law in Arizona, ostensibly to catch “illegal immigrants” (a law they support), turns out to be pals with neo-Nazis? Or the fact that the organization that takes credit for writing the bill has longstanding ties to blatant racists and hate groups?


Or maybe it was the story about how National Review columnist John Derbyshire told Harvard law students that black achievement lags behind white achievement because blacks are biologically inferior to whites?


Well perhaps it was that story about the motorists in Prescott, Arizona who continually shouted racial slurs at artists who were painting a mural on the walls of a school, which featured children of color who go there? And certainly they must have been upset about the fact that initially the school was actually planning to lighten the subjects’ skin color so as to appease locals and a right wing talk show host?


Or maybe they’re irate because of the report that employees of the Department of Homeland Security have posted blatantly racist comments about Latino immigrants on web boards?


Surely it must be because of the evidence that uniformed American soldiers are joining up with neo-Nazi organizations and even flaunting their membership in such groups?


It is none of this. Neither the evidence of systemic discrimination against people of color in every walk of American life, nor the repeated examples of blatant racism directed towards people of color individually moves them.

But they’re angry nonetheless about racism in America.

They’re especially angry about the tax being placed on those who use tanning salons. Because this is racist. Against white people. No, seriously.

Oh, and the President criticized a white police officer for arresting a black man for a crime that, turns out, the black man didn’t actually commit, according to state law. That Obama would do such a thing–namely, criticize an officer for making an unjustified arrest–means that white police officers are “under assault” from Obama, and that the President is trying to “destroy” the white officer, no doubt because he’s white.

Oh, and since people of color disproportionately lack health care coverage, the President’s plan for expanding coverage is obviously a racist scheme to get reparations for slavery.

Oh, and the President is deliberately trying to destroy the economy so as to pay back white people for slavery and hundreds of years of oppression.

Oh, and two black kids beat up a white kid on a bus in Belleville, Illinois–something that is obviously due to Obama being President.

Oh, and the President picked Eric Holder as Attorney General. Since Holder has said Americans have often been “cowards” when it comes to discussing race, this proves that Holder is racist against white people, even though he didn’t mention white people. He said Americans, and Americans means white people. So he’s a bigot. And so is Obama for picking him.

Oh, and the President nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. And she’s a Latina, who notes that she sees the world through the lens of her experience, and that she hopes that experience would positively inform her decision-making. And that means she’s a bigot. And the fact that Obama nominated her, as well as Eric Holder, proves that he “views white men as the problem” in America, and that the only way you can get promoted by Obama is “by hating white people.” Like Tim Geithner, who most definitely hates your honky ass.

Oh, and the President also nominated Elena Kagan, and Kagan once worked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Marshall once said the Constitution as originally conceived–which, ya know, excluded blacks from citizenship–was flawed. Imagine. And this means that Marshall was anti-white, and anyone who worked for him must be too.

Oh, and the Obama Justice Department dropped criminal voter intimidation charges against three members of the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia (while obtaining an injunction against a fourth member). So this proves the Administration is allied with the Panthers, whose Philly leader proclaims that he “hates all white people,” and Obama probably agrees with him, and is refusing to prosecute because he doesn’t care about white folks’ voting rights. In fact, the New Black Panthers are part of Obama’s “army of thugs.” Even though the same Philly leader of the group didn’t support Obama for President, and has called Obama a “puppet” and “slavemaster.” And of course, as a point of fact, the criminal charges against the other three Panthers were dropped by the Bush Department of Justice. And there have been no voters who actually claim to have been intimidated by the Panthers. And even a leading conservative Republican on the Civil Rights Commission says the incident is much ado about nothing.

Oh, and since the Justice Department is considering bringing federal charges against the white officer who killed Oscar Grant–a black man–in cold blood in Oakland last year, this proves that we’ve returned to the 1950s, only this time it’s whites who are the victims of racist oppression. Because it’s oppression to bring charges against a white cop who kills someone. Naturally.

Yes indeed, they all agree, Obama is a “reverse racist” who has a deep-seated hatred of white people, and who is like Hitler, and we know this because he’s proposing a national service corps to help work on various community problems, and this is just like the Nazi SS, well, except for the murdering part. Or if not Hitler, then at the very least he’s just like an “African colonial despot”.

And for sure, Obama is the reason race relations are so strained: not because of the ongoing discrimination against people of color, which the data indicates is commonplace, or because of the incendiary rhetoric coming from conservative commentators. But because of Barack Obama.

Race relations could never be strained by say, for instance, having a white talk show host fantasize about murdering a black congressman with a shovel.

Or by another host calling undocumented migrants from Mexico “invasive species”.

Or by spreading lies about how 5 million so-called “illegal aliens” were given subprime mortgages, as a way to blame the undocumented for the housing meltdown, even though there is no evidence whatsoever to support the fabricated claim.

Or by alleging that ACORN (a community-based organization comprised mostly of people of color) committed massive voter fraud so as to help elect Obama, even though there is no evidence that a single illegitimate vote was cast due to ACORN’s voter registration efforts, and despite the fact that when a few ACORN operatives filed phony voter registration cards, it was ACORN itself that alerted election officials to the problem

Or by a prominent conservative commentator insisting that white men are experiencing the same kind of oppression that blacks faced for years, even as that commentator has previously reminisced fondly about the days of segregation.

Or by another radio host and prominent conservative author blaming “multicultural” people for “destroying” the country, or calling Arab Muslims “non-humans,” or fantasizing about killing people in the “civil rights business.”

Or by another radio host and prominent conservative author referring to the mostly black residents of New Orleans, in the wake of Katrina as “worthless parasites” and “human parasitic garbage” because of their high rates of welfare receipt. Even though, according to Census data, there were only 4600 households in all of the city receiving cash welfare at the time of the flooding, which was less than 4 percent of all black households in the city, and whose annual benefits came to only around $2800 per year.

Or by walking around with a sign suggesting that President Obama intends to put white people into slavery.

Or by saying that President Obama only won the election because he’s black, and if he weren’t black, he’d be a tour guide in Honolulu.

Or by saying that the only reason Colin Powell endorsed Obama was as an act of racial bonding.

Or by saying that Oprah Winfrey is also successful only because she’s black.

Or by blaming the economic collapse on fair lending laws and lending to minorities, even though all the evidence suggests such laws and such loans had nothing to do with the housing or larger economic crises.

Or perhaps by having a right-wing talk show host announce a plan for conservatives to “take back the civil rights movement,” and compare himself to Martin Luther King Jr. This, even though conservatives were almost uniformly opposed to the movement and King, and even though the talk show host’s favorite authors, whose work he promotes regularly, viewed the movement as a communist conspiracy and referred to civil rights activists as animals.

Or by another conservative comparing himself to Dr. King, and speaking of how much he respects King’s legacy, even as he–the conservative–has said he believes private businesses should have the right to discriminate on the basis of race.

No, none of those things could strain race relations, or further racism.

And certainly not when compared to a tanning booth tax.

While on the face of it, these kinds of right-wing inanities may seem so absurd as to hardly merit being taken seriously, it’s important to step back and think about the internal logic of even the most outlandish claims. I mean, no one can honestly believe that health care reform is reparations. After all, what the hell kind of reparations is it where you have to get sick first in order to get paid? That’s not a good hustle. And no one can really believe that some white kid got beat up on a bus because it’s “Obama’s America,” as if the President had sent a text message to those black guys saying: HEY, YNOT BEAT SUM CRAKA ASS 4 ME, U DIG?

But the intellectual strength of the claims is not the issue. It doesn’t matter. From a political perspective, even the most insane-sounding claim about Obama’s supposed hatred for white people makes sense. It’s a perfect way to prime white racial fears and anxieties, to say, in effect, they’re coming for your money white folks, and then your children. In a nation where the population will be half people of color within 25-30 years, and where the popular culture is now thoroughly multicultural (and thus many of the icons don’t look the way they used to), and where the President doesn’t fit a lot of people’s conception of what such a person is supposed to look like, and where the economy is in the toilet for millions, playing upon white anxiety is the perfect recipe for political mobilization.

They’ve said very clearly that they want their country back. And if we who oppose the right don’t challenge these folks for the racists they are, or continue to shy away from making race an issue (as if it weren’t already), they just might get it.

Tim Wise is the author of five books and over 250 essays on race. His latest is Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010).

9 Responses to “Black Power’s Gonna Git You Sucka: Right-Wing Paranoia and the Rhetoric of Modern Racism”

  1. What exactly do white people have to fear others about? Have whites being collectively enslaved, raped, tortured, hung, their countries looted and their people murdered by Blacks? NO. Are whites so easily manipulated by their own that many don’t know right from wrong? It seems like it! If any group should be fearful of whites, it should be Blacks who although built the foundation of this country free of charge whilst enduring the daily horrors of being tortured, raped and starved, still in 2010 being treated as 3rd class citizens! Sorry but Grow up white people. The world doesn’t belong to just you! It’s ignorant to lay claim to a country that’s not yours and that you didn’t lift up a finger to build!


    Lorraine Reply:

    Hey Ira:

    Saying white people “didn’t lift up a finger to build” this country is a totally false and unfair statement, and a slap in the face to the millions of white people who have worked tough jobs in all walks of life to do exactly that. Everyone from construction workers to farm and factory workers, to teachers and business people prove you wrong.

    And what about all the white people who fought and died in the Civil War because they thought slavery and the abuse of black people was wrong? Didn’t they “lift a finger”? They gave their life! And what about all the white people who said goodbye to their families and fought in Europe and the Pacific in WWII after this country was attacked – didn’t they “lift a finger”? They gave their life!

    It’s racism to ignore the facts and accuse white people of things that aren’t true, and it’s a selfish and incorrect racist assessment to ignore all the hard, back-braking, and life-sacrificing work white people have done to build this country and stand up against injustice and invasion.

    Where do you live? Aren’t there any white people where you are, working regular jobs that prove your statements wrong? How cut off are you from reality that you would even make these ridiculous, racist statements?

    And even though America is not perfect, have you found another country where you will have a better life? Have you visited any other countries? If there’s a better deal for you out there, please, make the choice to move there, and let the rest of us know where that is – that might be the answer to many people’s problems.


    Sam Reply:

    That needed saying. That needs putting up on giant billboards right across the US.


    B Walt Reply:

    Has this happened to you personally? Was it done by me?

    Just saying “Blacks” and “Whites” is not going to solve anything.


    A Canadian Reply:

    Yes, Ira’s comment to the effect that “whites have never lifted a finger” was inappropriate and untrue, but apart from that, she did have a valid point.

    There is overwhelming evidence of systemic racism in the US committed by whites against people of color, and Tim Wise’s essay has clearly pointed it out.

    Ira is simply agreeing with Tim’s essay, except that she puts her agreement in the form of a rhetorical question ie what exactly are whites afraid of? Why this talk of racism because your President imposed a tax on tanning salons yet the same people say there is no racism when people of color bring up the subject?

    As Tim himself says, the ruling elite is simply exploiting an economic downturn to stoke white anxiety. Its a policy of divide and conquer – poor whites have much more in common with poor blacks, yet poor whites are led to believe that the Bushes and the Rumsfelds have got their back!


    B Walt Reply:

    I think in this country, all people are given equal chances. the problem is that not all people start out in equal circumstances.
    I truly believe in loving everyone, and loving them equally, but that cannot abide favoritism, whether it’s a white with privilege or a black with affirmative action.

  2. Well, this is the U.S.A., what do ya’ expect. It will take many more centuries to correct this problem. Hopefully it doesn’t come to violence to make things equal.


  3. Sorry, but we despise Obama’s white half just as much as we despise his black half.

    “Hope and Change” have destroyed the land of the free. And we’re supposed to like it?

    Please move your commie butts to Venezuela where you belong and leave America to those of us who crave liberty.


    Caleb Johnsen Reply:

    No, we never said Obama was perfect, Obama was the greatest, or anything to that effect. That has absolutely nothing to do with what is being discussed in the above article. What is being discussed here and now is the total absurdity of this supposed ‘reverse-racism movement’, a truly oxymoronic statement that under a logic driven circumstance would seem to indicate that acted against racist activities or to ‘reverse racism’ on a nation wide level, is being seen as a movement against Caucasian-Americans as a whole is completely absurd.
    Hell, I’m one of them and I know the total idiocy of that interpretation of things for a fact.

    And the idea that Obama somehow was involved directly in what has recently been termed as the Great Recession, an economic hiccup in comparison to what took place in the 1930’s but still a major event nonetheless, has given major media outlets who have been wanting a new story to better undermine the current administration just for the sake of improved ratings have now taken the opportunity to not merely pass the buck among the political parties through the presidency but have now been given a chance to pass it between racial parties as well. With that in mind it is clear that this is an event that will unfortunately lead a reduction in the attempts of minority parties of any kind that might have run for office under more opportune circumstances and even less of a chance at any of those select few that attempt to overcome this adversity at even making it to the ballot for decades to come because of a short and collective one time scare.

    I know that we have it better off than a hell of a lot of people out there, I know that for a fact. However, that is not the issue being discussed here but that of an unwarranted act on people who are not even long to be minorities in our modern culture having their situations manipulated by a group that decided they were the racial authority long ago and have used this thought process to ‘legally’ undermine not only our human rights but, as I would like to propose, the undermining of our economic and ecological environments, a claim I can only hope is not merely lost in the cloud.

    We have undermined our economy by imprisoning such an absurdly large number of people for consensual crimes that, in what is currently their inevitable secrecy and therefore total disconnectedness from an economic system that might be fueled by these activities while giving the government the chance to better monitor and regulate the means by which these various consensual activities are conducted to ensure that they do not infringe upon the rights of the citizens, would likely alleviate the strains brought upon the current administrative powers to contain these citizens in what are rapidly becoming if not already the largest jailing system in the entire world and yet it is still being pressed to the brink.

    And although I may be getting off topic I still must insist that this supposed ‘reverse-racism’, neither the most terrible interpretation of such a term by which white people are being targeted by a a world that has turned the tables on them and unfortunately not the logical or intuitive latter where racist attitudes are not endorsed and the pain and suffering brought on by any and all racist attitudes that have taken place within our joint history because we fear the onset of the first so fiercely that we can no longer permit the initiating of the latter, I can only hope that we overcome these things after humanities eventual fall and later ascendancy once again, that we LEARN something from it this time, to stop teaching people to hate each other when they might be so inclined to trust one another, to feel the pain of other after developing to the point where they realize that pain and pleasure is not only found in themselves by only noticing when they fell and then realizing that the other people fell just as hard once they pick themselves up again.

    It will only be a miracle once we let it be.

    We will only learn how to pick ourselves up after we have fallen, and we will not fall only once.


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