Category: the politics of race

Last Call for Aging White Evangelicals

Like the biblical Samson, Trump will eventually bring the entire edifice of American conservatism crashing down around him. Some species of evangelical religion will ultimately rise from the rubble, but it will be greatly curtailed, politically irrelevant and, I pray, more recognizably Christian.

Why white people like Republicans

By Alan Bean

The American electorate is more racially divided in 2012 than at any time in the recent memory.  This encourages the simple conclusion that white Americans prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama because Mitt is white.  But a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute paints a far more complex portrait of the white American voter.

As has been widely reported, white women are about equally divided between the two candidates; it’s the men who break strongly for Romney.   In 2008, Barack Obama carried a higher percentage of the white vote (41%) than any Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976.  Moreover, working class whites give Mitt Romney a favorability rating of 45% compared to Barack Obama’s 44%; among college educated whites, both men are favored by 49% of those surveyed.  If white America throws its support behind the Republican candidate in tomorrow’s election (as they assuredly will) it has little to do with a birds-of-a-feather firing of mirror neurons.

The white electorate divides sharply along five distinct fault lines: education, gender, age, geography and religion.  The Public Religion Research Institute Survey compares the white working class to college educated whites.  College educated white voters favor Romney, but by a scant 2 points; the white working class favors Romney by 13 points (48-35).

In other words, when we are talking about “the white electorate” we are primarily talking about white working class voters.  In this election, 80% of minority votes will go to the Democrat; Romney will be the overwhelming favorite of the white working class; and white college educated voters will fall somewhere in between these extremes.  Since white middle class voters comprise 36% of the voting population, their clout is difficult to exaggerate.  White college educated voters account for 21% of the electorate, black voters, 11%, and Latino voters, 13%. (For the poll under discussion 11% of white voters are neither working class or college educated).

As we have seen, white women are far more likely to favor Obama than their brothers, boy friends and husbands; and this applies just as much to the white middle class (41%-41%) as to white college educated women.  White working class males, on the other hand, will favor Romney by 27 points (57%-28%).  It should be noted, however, that working class males making less than $30,000 divide their votes evenly between Obama and Romney while working class males who have received food stamps in the past two years, favor Obama by a margin of 48% to 36%.  The authors of the study use this data to argue that the white working class, contrary to popular opinion, do not always vote against their perceived interests. (more…)

Are Texas Democrats ready to take Latinos seriously?

Latino Symposium 009
Political consultant Chuck Rocha

By Alan Bean

With every new election cycle, the Latino share of the vote in Texas rises by about 2 percent.  If this trend continues, as it almost certainly will, Latinos will eventually dictate the shape of politics in the Lone Star State.

George W. Bush took the Latino vote seriously, both as governor and president.  When Republicans reach out to Latino voters they can snare as much as 40% of the vote, enough to win easily in deep-red Texas.  This is because the white middle class is overwhelmingly Republican; only 26% of white Texans voted for Barack Obama in 2008, (his fifth worst showing with this demographic behind Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana).

I attended the event described in this Star-Telegram article with my sociologist daughter, Lydia Bean.  The day’s most telling quote didn’t make it into the paper.  Gilberto Hinojosa, the first Latino Chair of the Texas Democratic Party, told the gathering that after Ann Richards lost the governor’s race to George W. Bush in 1994, Texas Democrats pinned the blame on the defection of conservative to moderate white voters.  In consequence, it was decided that winning these people back was the key to electoral success. (more…)

Southern Baptists poised to elect a black president; is this significant?

The Rev. Fred Luter is running unopposed for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Here, he delivers a sermon during Sunday services at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
The Rev. Fred Luter

The Southern Baptist Convention is poised to elect its first African-American president.  Is this a big deal, or a cynical ploy?

Neither, really.

As this Morning Edition article makes clear, Fred Luter isn’t just a prominent African-American preacher; he’s a transformational figure who stuck with his New Orleans congregation when the sanctuary washed away with Hurricane Katrina.  Luter is that rarest of preachers, a man who rose from the streets, understands poverty, and spikes his call to conversion with a strong dose of compassion.

In other words, the Southern Baptist Convention isn’t just placing a token black man in an honorary position to deflect attention from the denomination’s racist past; Luter rose to prominence the hard way and deserves all the accolades he is receiving.

But there is another side to the story embodied in the passionate minority report filed by Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.  McKissic is as theologically conservative as a Southern Baptist can be.  He preaches against “the gay lifestyle” with notorious gusto, but he is even more passionate about racial injustice. 

Fred Luter notwithstanding, Rev. McKissic sees little evidence that the moral fervor of the overwhelmingly white SBC “messengers” who will attend this year’s convention extends to civil rights.  

This impression was reinforced in a particularly painful way when Richard Land, head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, launched into a racially tinged radio rant that made him sound like the reincarnation of George Wallace circa 1962. 

Land lost his radio program over his diatribe (largely because his racist comments turned out to be an unacknowledged quote from an obscure right-wing zealot), but he kept his post with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  Land has apologized for dismissing prominent civil rights preachers as “race hustlers” and suggesting that Barack Obama only addressed the Trayvon Martin case in a desperate attempt to improve his standing with black voters. 

Is Richard Land truly repentant?  McKissic is hedging his bets.  And for good reason.

As law professor Michelle Alexander points out, New Jim Crow racism differs markedly from Old Jim Crow bigotry.  Richard Land has renounced his denomination’s support for Old Jim Crow segregation and the overt commitment to white supremacy that was part of that package.  But when it comes to the New Jim Crow realities associated with mass incarceration and the creation of a black male undercaste, the high-profile Baptist preacher is essentially clueless. 

As Michelle Alexander points out, you can’t understand the dynamics of the New Jim Crow unless you are willing to sympathize with the plight of poor young black men who are making all the mistakes Fred Luter made as a young man on the mean streets of New Orleans.  Luter loves these guys, even as he laments key features of their lifestyle.  So does Dwight McKissic.  White Baptists like Richard Land has come to terms with a long-dead Martin Luther King Jr., but isn’t ready to acknowledge the full human dignity of the pre-conversion Fred Luter.

For savvy black Baptists in the SBC like Dwight McKissic, that’s a big problem.

Southern Baptists See Their Future In A Black Pastor

NPR

June 19, 2012

The Southern Baptist Convention is expected to elect its first black president on Tuesday: Fred Luter, a former street preacher who turned a dying New Orleans church into a powerhouse. His election is a milestone for the 167-year-old denomination at a time when minorities make up a growing share of a shrinking membership.

Luter, who is running unopposed for president of the nation’s largest Protestant body, is a departure from his predecessors. He was the middle child of a divorced mother, and until a motorcycle accident landed him in the hospital at age 20, he had little interest in God.

Then God changed him, he told NPR earlier this year.

“I grew up in the ‘hood, and my mom worked two or three jobs. So I hung out with a lot of bad guys, did a lot of crazy things I should not have done,” Luter said. “And so, when I gave my life to the Lord and saw what God did in my life, then I wanted all those guys I ran the street with to experience what I was experiencing.”

Soon, Luter was preaching on the streets in New Orleans. In 1986, he was invited to take over Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. Under him, its congregation grew from a couple of dozen people to 7,000 — the largest Southern Baptist church in Louisiana. Then Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, destroying the sanctuary.

“It would have been easy for Fred Luter to have said, ‘I think God’s calling me elsewhere,’ ” says Russell Moore, dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “And he could have gone to a very comfortable pastorate anywhere in the country.

“And yet, he stayed,” Moore says. “And he stood with the people of New Orleans and said, ‘We’ll be back, we’ll rebuild’ — and became a spiritual anchor.”

‘The Future Of The Country Is Urban’

Luter’s decision to stay, and his personal charisma, propelled him to national prominence in the Southern Baptist Convention, says pastor David Crosby.

Crosby leads First Baptist of New Orleans, which shared its space with Luter’s congregation while they rebuilt. He adds that Luter brings something else desperately needed to this denomination, which has seen its numbers drop: He understands how to reach the only growth area of religion.

“The future of the country is urban; the future of the Southern Baptist Convention is also urban,” Crosby says. “We’ve got to learn how to operate and do our mission and thrive in the urban environment. And Fred brings that. He knows it instinctively.”

The SBC has made some progress in that area. Two decades ago, the denomination was “as white as a tractor pull,” as one critic put it. Now it’s 20 percent minority. Richard Land, who heads the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says Luter’s election shows how far the Southern Baptists have come from the days when they supported slavery.

“It’s as historic a moment as Southern Baptists have had,” Land says, “because the president of SBC is not just an honorific — it is a position of real power.”

Maybe — and maybe not, says Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of the largely African-American Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

‘A Historic Moment’

“This is a great job, but it’s somewhat symbolic and ceremonial,” he says.

McKissic says the two-year presidency is a good first step. But he says African-Americans are absent from all the real positions of power.

Some say there’s a latent racism in the denomination. And many were troubled by a recent broadcast on Land’s radio program in which he said President Obama and black leaders were using the death of Trayvon Martin for political purposes.

“This is being done to try to gin up the black vote for an African-American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election,” Land said on the air.

“It was like someone took a knife and stuck it in my heart,” McKissic says. “It validated suspicions that many black Baptists have had all along, that this is how a good number, if not the majority, of Southern Baptists felt.”

Land has apologized and asked for forgiveness.

“I don’t want anything I’ve said, or any mistakes I’ve made, to detract from — in any way — from what is going to be a truly historic moment — a historic moment in which I rejoice,” he says.

Luter has forgiven Land; he says it’s time to look forward. He notes that if he’s elected, it will be because white Baptists voted for him.

“It won’t be because of the handful of black folk that’s going to be there,” Luter says. “So, it will say something to the country and to the world — that the Southern Baptist Convention is not just talking this thing, we’re actually walking this thing.”

Anticipating a non-white America

By Alan Bean

Peter Laarman speaks what every honest historian knows to be true: America was founded by white Protestant males for white Protestant males.  The conservative movement has made modified this stance in modest ways, but the older view has never been repudiated–you just can’t talk about it in public anymore.  So what happens to these United States white folks no longer form a majority of the population?

We may be a long way from finding out.  In Texas, white folks will no longer comprise a majority of eligible voters by 2020, but since Texas Democrats refuse to celebrate their party’s diversity (for fear of offending white voters) it could be a long time before theoretical electoral advantages translate into electoral power.

Nationally, the shift will take longer still.  Laarman reminds us that white babies are now in the minority, but, at 59, I likely won’t live to see the day when the American population (cradle to grave) is less that 50% white, and I certainly won’t be around to celebrate when the majority of voters become non-white.

In states like California, Arizona and Miami, the Hispanic vote can no longer be ignored by either major party.  But money talks in politics and in 2050 the big money will still be controlled by the white tribe.  Prosperous people understand the importance of voting and can always be counted on to vote their interests. (more…)

Super PAC ad exploits white ignorance of black church

By Alan Bean

I frequently tell audiences how our family was virtually excommunicated from polite society when we questioned a corrupt drug bust in Tulia, Texas.  I write about this bewildering experience in my book, Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas.  In the eyes of respectable, church-going folk, we were just flat wrong.  From this mainstream perspective, our stand looked crazy, illogical, and possibly even demonic.

Moral perception involves a subtle interplay between personal experience and community narrative, the value-laden stories we grow up listening to.  The Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches story is a classic example of a value-laden story; so is the story of Rosa Parks, the Black seamstress who refused to give up her seat on the bus.  Community narratives are the stories that define a culture.  If you are part of the culture, you hear the stories. 

Both personal experience and community narrative vary tremendously from culture to culture.  In Black communities, for instance, children grow up hearing stories about the need to persevere in the face of prejudice and rejection.  Personal experiences are interpreted through a narrative lens fashioned by this community narrative.  “Oh, so that’s what daddy was talking about,” we tell ourselves.

In White culture, community narrative tends to validate authority figures and the social status quo.  “Police officers are there to protect you, Johnny,” White parents tell their children, “so you shouldn’t be afraid of them.  I know that gun looks scary, but he will only use it on the bad guys.”  In general, personal experience bears out this expectation.

You hear very different stories in Black and Latino communities.  Authority figures aren’t demonized in the moral narratives that circulate in minority communities, but they are viewed with a measure of suspicion.  You don’t always call the police when something bad goes down on the street; innocent people might get hurt.  And when a family member is facing trial no one expects equal justice.  Personal experience tends to validate this community narrative.

One consequence of being excommunicated from Tulia’s respectable white community was spending a lot of time with Black and Latino residents.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in Albuquerque witnessing a debate between Asa Hutchison of the Drug Enforcement Administration and New Mexico governor Garry Johnson.  We were primarily there to talk to both sides about what was happening in Tulia.

The planes hit the Twin Towers just as we were packing for our return trip and we listened to updates on public radio all the way back to Tulia.  In the van with me were several members of Tulia’s black community, most of them associated with the Church of Christ.  They were appalled by events in Manhattan, but they weren’t surprised.  In fact, they wondered why it had taken so long.  A simple phrase was repeatedly endlessly, “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

I thought of that road trip seven years later when Jeremiah’s incendiary rhetoric played a central role in the electoral campaign between John McCain and Barack Obama.  “No, no, no,” Wright roared, “Not ‘God bless America.  “God damn America.”

When I first saw the clip of Reverend Wright in full cry I was reminded of Billy Graham’s remark that if God didn’t punish America He would have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Wasn’t Jeremiah Wright saying much the same thing?

Yes and no.  When Billy Graham suggested that the wrath of God would soon fall on America he was speaking out of the moral narrative he grew up hearing in Baptist circles in North Carolina.  Like ancient Israel, America is called to be a chosen people, a city set upon a hill.  But we will only be blessed insofar as we remain faithful to our calling.  Our tolerance for lewd music, R-rated movies, gambling and general debauchery is a rejection of our Godly birthright and will inevitably lead to divine judgment.

Jeremiah Wright was thinking of a different community narrative when he delivered his infamous sermon in the wake of 9-11.  America flatters itself as a beacon of democracy, but we prop up tin pot dictators in to enhance the profits of multinational corporations even if it spells untold suffering for millions of people.  Did we think God would turn a blind eye to such cruel hypocrisy forever?

Graham and Wright applied the same Deuteronomic logic to very different facts.  One was lionized for speaking hard truths; the other was demonized as an anti-American racist.  Until you step into a Black barber shop and ask the brothers for their take. 

From the dominant White perspective (liberal and conservative) Jeremiah Wright was talking crazy.  How could anyone be so insensitive in the wake of the worst national disaster in recent memory? 

This explains why a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts plans to use the president’s historic ties to Jeremiah Wright to bring about ‘The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama’.   The assumption is that Wright’s “God Damn America” rhetoric is so extreme that White Democrats will dissociate from the president while Black America will be silenced. 

If this ad airs (and since a prototype has been leaked to the media, there is a chance it may not) Black America will not take it lying down.  Instead, attempts will be made to humanize Reverend Wright by placing his remarks in social and historical context.  

I hope the ad envisioned in the prototype never materializes; but if it does, the moral divide separating Black and White America will be more apparent than it has been since the halcyon days of the Civil Rights Movement.

Land’s apology doesn’t impress Black Southern Baptists

The Reverend Dwight McKissic

By Alan Bean

Stories can bring us together, and they can drive us apart.  Unfortunately, narratives related to racial justice almost always reveal a yawning gulf between white and minority perception.  I have never seen a single narrative separate America into polarized camps like the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman affair.

Richard Land, the head of the ethics division of the Southern Baptist convention, recently apologized for remarks about the Martin-Zimmerman case that have enraged Black Southern Baptist leaders.  The Rev. Dwight McKissic, the Arlington, Texas pastor calling for Land’s ouster, isn’t buying what he calls a “non-apology-apology“. 

  • Land hasn’t apologized for calling Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson “race hustlers” and “ambulance chasers” because they responded to requests for help from Trayvon Martin’s parents. 
  • Land hasn’t apologized for accusing President Barack Obama of ginning up support in the black electorate by commenting on the Martin case. 
  • Land hasn’t apologized for suggesting that black males deserve to be racially profiled because black men are statistically more likely to engage in acts of violence. (more…)

Richard Land’s Trayvon problem deepens

By Alan Bean

Update: Richard Land has issued an apology for the remarks referenced in this post.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land says he is the victim of a media mugging.  First the Nashville Tennessean characterized Land’s incendiary comments on his own radio show as a “rant”.  Now a Baylor-based blogger claims that the Baptist ethicist’s rant was plagiarized.

Many of the words that he uttered during his radio show were taken VERBATIM – yes, WORD-FOR-WORD – from a Washington Times column penned by conservative commentator Jeffrey Kuhner. Kuhner’s column titled “Obama foments racial division” was published on March 29.

Land has apologized for failing to give proper attribution, but continues to lash out at the liberal media.  This brief excerpt from an article in the Nashville Tennessean will tell you what the Southern Baptist spokesman is so upset about.

Some consider statements made Saturday by the convention’s top policy representative on his national radio show a setback. On Richard Land Live!,Land accused black religious leaders — whom he called “race hustlers” — and President Barack Obama of using the shooting death of an African-American teen in Florida for election-year gains.

“This will be vetted in court, not in a mob mentality that’s been juiced up by Al Sharpton, who is a provocateur and a racial ambulance chaser of the first order, and aided and abetted by Jesse Jackson,” Land said on the show.

And, on Obama’s statement that, if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old victim, Land said: “The president’s aides claim he was showing compassion for the victim’s family. In reality, he poured gasoline on the racialist fires.”

The Rev. Maxie Miller, a Florida Baptist Convention expert in African-American church planting, was incredulous when he heard about the comments.

“At no time have I been embarrassed of being a Southern Baptist or a black Southern Baptist,” Miller said. “But I’m embarrassed because of the words that man has stated.”

Richard Land claims he should be immune from charges of racial insensitivity because he had a large hand in drafting the SBC’s official apology for slavery and Jim Crow.  According to the Associated Baptist Press, the 1995 statement read in part: (more…)

Beyond the New Jim Crow?

By Alan Bean

When a book about the criminal justice system sells 175,000 books, something is afoot.  Something big.  As this article in the New York Times observes, the initial hardcover release of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness was only 3,000 copies.  That’s a realistic sales target for this kind of book. 

Nobody who has read the book is surprised to find it on the best-seller list.  Many of the facts professor Alexander cited were familiar to criminal justice reform advocates, but she writes better than most academics and her argument transcended the normal drug war critique.  This clip from the article says it best:

Today, Professor Alexander writes, nearly one-third of black men are likely to spend time in prison at some point, only to find themselves falling into permanent second-class citizenship after they get out. That is a familiar argument made by many critics of the criminal justice system, but Professor Alexander’s book goes further, asserting that the crackdown was less a response to the actual explosion of violent crime than a deliberate effort to push back the gains of the civil rights movement.

Was the drug war a response to crime (as folks like Bill Stuntz and David Kennedy argue) or was the real goal to reverse the gains of the civil rights movement?

Yes.

In a journal article called “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow“, professor James Forman Jr., son of the famed civil rights leader, makes two primary points.  First, Ms. Alexander doesn’t say enough about the relationship between urban crime and support for the drug war, and second, The New Jim Crow ignores the fact that civil rights leaders initially endorsed the idea of ramping up the drug war because drugs, and drug-related violence, was having a disastrous impact in poor black neighborhoods.

Forman makes some powerful arguments.  The war on drugs has always been a bipartisan disaster.  As Bill Stuntz suggested in his excellent The Decline of American Criminal Justice, liberal politicians had three choices when conservatives like Richard Nixon started demagoguing the drug war.  They could offer a progressive drug policy alternative, they could cede the drug issue to the conservatives, or they could out-tough the tough guys.  Democrats like Bill Clinton chose option number three and the drug war was transformed into a bipartisan bidding war. (more…)