Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Calibrating the dog whistle

Roseanne Barr went too far.  


This is delicate, dangerous ground. Flirt, don't commit.

Starbucks closed 8,000 stores on Tuesday for racial sensitivity training. They discovered what is both obvious and perilous to observe, that Americans have implicit racial bias.

Humans profile and "read" a situation based on appearance.  Clothes matter. Bearing matters. Tone of voice matters. Skin color matters. An ongoing theme of this blog is that we evaluate politicians in large part on the basis of body language and tone, not detailed donated political positions. We saw Trump looking dominant and self confident. A bully, yes, but an unapologetic one because he said he was a bully in defense of America. In the month of October, 2016, a continuing meme was that Hillary was weak, possibly sick from Parkinson's Disease, fainting and needing to be carried into vehicles. Americans voted for the strong one.


Implicit bias test. Click to take one.
We know the news stories. Starbucks employees saw two men waiting for a third, and felt nervous and called the police. Police officers interpret the actions of black men as inherently threatening and men get shot. People profile.

Harvard University has a website where people can test themselves for implicit bias, based on how quickly and reliably one associates good or bad words with white or black people.  I took the racial bias test and spent five minutes clicking on photos of black faces, white faces, words like "love" and "happiness" and words like "hate" and "disgust."  The test results: "Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for White people over Black people."

Yikes!  

Maybe the test is wrong.  I think it is wrong. I deny the results. But the test is intended to discover implicit bias, the bias that we likely don't recognize. I don't like the test results. Maybe there is something there.

George Wallace in 1963 knew what to say to his Alabama voters. "In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."  He was speaking of segregation of whites and blacks. It was popular with white Alabamans, but over the next decade he changed his focus.  He began talking about crime. He spoke of urban problems. His 1963 language would be utterly unacceptable now. People would recognize it as racist.
Click: CNN, April 20, 2018

Trump said a version of "segregation now" when he siad the US should implement a total ban on Muslims coming to America. Not of terrorists. Not of criminals.  Of Muslims.

That got him pushback from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, but his base voters appear to have been comfortable with it.  Muslims are scary per se. Ban them as a group.

This is not just campaign talk for short term political purposes.  Trump still defends it. "There's nothing to apologize for" he said in April of this year.

America has learned something about where the boundaries are. Advocating exclusion of Muslims is acceptable. Advocating seregation of blacks from whites in America is not.

Donald Trump is widely described as careless, but he picks his targets carefully. Donald Trump does not attack black people per se.  He attacks people who happen to be black and who are doing something he can criticize.  NFL players protesting. Black parents of a basketball player. A "wacky" congresswoman with bright hats. Black people protesting police shootings.  There is a difference between criticizing the behavior and the race. He lets audiences draw implications. His hands are clean.

He spoke generally about Mexico sending its rapists here--"and a few, I assume, are good people,"-- but his messaging has generally evolved from his opening campaign statement. Mexico, he said, will pay for the wall.  Mexico has gotten the better of the NAFTA deal.  Mexicans cannot be fair judges. We should have immigrants from Norway, he said, not "shit-hole countries."  People get it.  But currently Trump has focuses on behavior, not classes of people, pointing to MS-13 gang members, saying they are "animals. He was indignant that people said he implied all Mexicans are animals. Only MS-13. MS-13 is a risk from all of Mexicans, but they aren't all MS-13.  There is a difference.

Trump knows where the lines are. One can imply what one cannot say.

Roseanne Barr messed up, and she knows it. In an evening of unfortunate tweeting she stated Chelsea Clinton was married to the nephew of George Soros (she isn't), that George Soros was a Nazi collaborator (he was 14 in 1945) and then that Valerie Jarrett looked like a cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and an ape. (Jarrett isn't Muslim.)

Trump has shown that broad brush attacks on Muslims is acceptable. Likening a black person to the mixed child of apes was too much.  That crossed the line.

Trump was silent on her show being cancelled. He could have defended her, but did not. Neither Fox News nor Breitbart defend her. Fox alludes to the potential hypocrisy, citing other comments made by Steve Colbert, Bill Mahar, and others, but did not try to minimize or justify what Barr said . Likening a black woman to an ape is the "third rail," Fox media analyst Howard Kurtz admitted.
Click: NPR report

America is experiencing renewed consciousness of our racial presumptions. Trump won election in part by appealing to racial resentments and anxiety over the threats to "normal" Americans, i.e. white Christians men and families.  A majority of white people tell pollsters that whites face more discrimination than do people of color, and answering that way was strong indication of support for Trump.

Trump showed it was safe to admit to prejudice against Muslims, but prejudice of blacks needs to be handled obliquely.

Roseanne Barr was too blunt.

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