Back in election 2008, many people voted for Barack Obama out of a simple desire to fix the racial inequities and conflict in the United States, a problem that has plagued us for centuries and peaks, periodically, in riots like Watts (1967) and L.A. (1992).
The thinking was that if all people are finally made equal, the inequality that propelled discontent will cease. That formula has been part of the American approach to race since 1968: inequality causes conflict, so bring everyone into a first-world, middle-class lifestyle and things will be OK.
Obama appeared to bridge the worlds. He could function in the white world, but also appeal to African-Americans. Furthermore, he was our first black president. Therefore, the logic went, everyone could see that equality was reigning and we’d all be OK.
From the perspective of history, however, people tend to identify with their own ethnic, religious and cultural groups, and if given an inch, will take a mile. Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations dovetailed with Spengler and Plato who say a civilization needs to have consensus on a values system, or its political and economic forces tear it apart.
In the United States, this translates to an upsetting of the power balance. After WWII, African-Americans received increasing focus and government and social benefactors worked to end inequality; this culminated in late-1960s riots to which the solution was greater benefits and more forced integration.
The intent was to ensure that equality was enforced and therefore African-Americans would join the middle class, be just like “us” as white people saw it, and so the conflict would end. I call it the “fat and happy” theory: if everyone is bought off, they’ll all be fat and happy, and not riot and interrupt our lives with drama.
But “fat and happy” may only work when your ethnic group is the majority. If you’re a minority, you see a salient fact the majority cannot perceive: your group, and your values, are still not In Control. With Barack Obama, white folks and black folks saw a chance to put African-American values in control. But because the demands of the presidency are political and not cultural, this backfired.
The fragile balance of the 1970s — separate but equal, by other names — has been upset, and now we’re in a competition for who’s going to stay on top. Sad but true, this is the reality of multicultural societies dating back to day one of humanity: one group must be on top, and group-mixing only really occurs when the others destroy that dominant majority. The competition we see now is leading up to that conflict.
Let’s look at a smattering of helpful news items:
[Black professor Henry "Skip" Gates] had returned from a trip to China last Thursday afternoon and found the front door of his Cambridge, Mass., home stuck shut. Gates entered the back door, forced open the front door with help from a car service driver, and was on the phone with the Harvard leasing company when a white police sergeant arrived.
Gates and the sergeant gave differing accounts of what happened next…Gates was charged not with breaking and entering, but with disorderly conduct after repeatedly demanding the sergeant’s name and badge number. It doesn’t matter whether Gates was yelling, or accused Sgt. James Crowley of being racist, or that all charges were dropped Tuesday.
Earl Graves Jr., CEO of the company that publishes Black Enterprise magazine, was once stopped by police during his train commute to work, dressed in a suit and tie.
“My case took place back in 1995, and here we are 14 years later dealing with the same madness,” he said Tuesday. “Barack Obama being the president has meant absolutely nothing to white law enforcement officers. Zero. So I have zero confidence that (Gates’ case) will lead to any change whatsoever.”
We still have no statistical or factual data for what would happen if a white professor did the same thing. Most conservatives would guess the treatment would not vary; after all, even well-dressed, well-spoken men commit crimes (for most of us, distinguishing between a Harvard professor and a con man can be difficult). In their view, the cops did a rational thing — hold the person breaking and entering until his identity can be verified. Then again, most don’t live in neighborhoods where they see black people entering homes.
But to Democrats and African-Americans, the situation appears different — they see racial profiling, or the tendency of law enforcement to notice that more crimes occur in minority neighborhoods, that minorities have more convictions for crimes, and that minority gangs control more of the flow of drugs, and therefore, that they have a higher chance of conviction if they stop minorities. They see this case as clear-cut racial profiling, and think that a white man wouldn’t even be stopped for doing the same thing.
I have no idea which viewpoint is correct. What’s more important however is seeing how Gates is caught up in a war of tokens, whereby black people feel targeted by law enforcement, and white people feel defensive whenever this happens, because they don’t want law enforcement to stop looking for criminals wherever they occur. This is part of that ethnic competition I write about above.
I know how the problem of racial profiling can be avoided. In the 1950s and early 1960s, cops were mostly “beat cops” — meaning they patrolled small areas constantly. After the 1960s, our cops operated by “flexible response,” or taking calls on the radio and sending in the troops in force.
Beat cops didn’t patrol in minority neighborhoods, nor did they stop people on freeways looking for drugs. They defended the turf they came from, and let the rest take care of itself. When we changed to flexible response, and the war on drugs intensified, that’s when racial profiling became a noticed issue.
None of this really matters now. People are not concerned with how well law enforcement works; this is ethnic competition, with each side seeking privileges either by government or economic supremacy. And so to them, it doesn’t matter whether it was racial profiling or not. It’s how you want to interpret it that gets you and your people ahead in the game.
Let’s look at another ambiguous circumstance:
Immigration agents raiding homes for suspected illegal immigrants violated the U.S. Constitution by entering without proper consent and may have used racial profiling, a report analyzing arrest records found.
Latinos made up a disproportionate number of the people arrested who were not the stated targets of the raids, and many of their arrest reports gave no basis for why they were initially seized, said the report, which was based on data from raids in New York and New Jersey.
The raids are ostensibly aimed at targeted individuals who present threats either to national security or community safety, but arrests of illegal immigrants nearby, known as collateral arrests, are also made.
Remember how in high school the kids who got picked on formed a group of their own? This group was ultra-tolerant: you could be any kind of freak, or just a geek, but you were FIGHTING BACK against the majority. That’s how many white elites view the ethnic conflict issue — they perceive themselves as picked-on geeks, and so have joined in a tolerance coalition to smash the majority, and enjoy using ethnic conflict to do it.
Many of these people work in non-profits that look for statistical reasons to discount law enforcement actions against minorities, including illegal aliens.
Once again, there’s a split. Conservatives are going to say these cops went looking for bad guys, and in the process, found thousands of illegal aliens. Faced with the choice of enforcing the law or not, they chose to enforce the law and deport them.
Liberals are going to say that these raids were a pretext for rounding up illegal aliens and deporting them. Again, it’s hard to know what’s true. Believe what you’re inclined to believe, because the real story isn’t the justification of law, but the conflict of groups going on beneath it.
And a final corker of an example:
State police in riot gear rushed a downtown street to break up a standoff Tuesday between hundreds of black and white extremists who exchanged screams of “Black power!” and “White power!” during a protest over the state’s handling of the case of a black man who was run over and dragged by a vehicle.
The conflict began with a march by about 100 mostly black activists who avoided a designated “protest zone” near Paris’ courthouse and walked to the town square to chants of “Black Power!” and “No Justice, no peace!”
The rally in Paris, about 90 miles northeast of Dallas, is the third courthouse protest over the death of 24-year-old Brandon McClelland, whose mangled body was found Sept. 16 on a country road.
Prosecutors initially charged two of McClelland’s white friends with murdering him. But a special prosecutor dismissed the charges last month, citing a lack of evidence, after a truck driver came forward and said he might have accidentally run over McClelland.
Everyone remembers the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. A sometimes-itinerant fellow with an alcohol problem and very little to his name, Byrd was lured into a compromising situation by white supremacists who then murdered him in a horrible way.
Of course, there’s two sides to that story as well. These white supremacists became that way in prison, where the ethnic battle lines are so cleanly drawn that many states attempt de facto segregation to keep conflict to a minimum.
And back outside the big house, we also have two points of view. Black folks and many Democrats are going to see this case as a racial incident; Republicans and many white folks are going to see this case as an accidental vehicular homicide. Which is true?
Not surprisingly, this has resulted in an interesting trend in Obama’s poll numbers:
That was fast. The hope and optimism that washed over the country in the opening months of Barack Obama’s presidency are giving way to harsh realities.
An Associated Press-GfK Poll shows that a majority of Americans are back to thinking that the country is headed in the wrong direction after a fleeting period in which more thought it was on the right track.
And as if to explain why:
The President earns approval from 41% of white voters, 97% of black voters, and 58% of all other voters.
While up to 90% of minorities normally vote Democratic, they cannot be counted on to approve of the Democratic candidate after several months in office, and not all of them ever do. Yet his numbers are strong with one group, and falling with another. A big part of this is the sudden realization that he’s not a racial equalizer, but a racial polarizer, which plays into our fears that there’s no easy solution to race discontent in America. And the truth is equally “clear” to both sides as they now gear up for conflict.
The truth itself depends on what you believe. Or rather, which side of the conflict you’re on. Truth really doesn’t matter, only getting your group ahead. We thought Obama would end this Us-versus-Them, but it looks like by not being from either side fully, he has intensified it.