The Rising Tide of Anti-Black Racism


This image was distributed by a Republican organization in San Bernardino, California during the 2008 Presidential election.

Thomas Edsall has a fascinating column in today’s New York Times on the persistence of racial resentment in the Obama-era. For those not familiar with the term, “racial resentment” is defined as the convergence of anti-black sentiments with traditional American views on hard work and individualism.

It’s measured using questions that focus on race and effort. People who answer in the affirmative to questions like this—“Irish, Italian, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors”—and in the negative to questions like this—“Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class”—are assigned a high place on the resentment scale.

Edsall runs though recent research from a variety of sources to show the extent to which President Obama’s term has coincided with a sharp increase in the proportion of Americans who express anti-black attitudes. In one survey, for example, “The percentage of voters with explicit anti-black attitudes rose from 47.6 in 2008 and 47.3 percent in 2010 to 50.9 percent in 2012.” This wasn’t a uniform change—not only were Republicans more likely to express anti-black attitudes, but people who identified themselves as Republicans in 2012 expressed such attitudes more often than their counterparts of 2008:

In 2008, Pasek and his collaborators note, the proportion of people expressing anti-Black attitudes was 31 percent among Democrats, 49 percent among independents, and 71 percent among Republicans. By 2012, the numbers had gone up. “The proportion of people expressing anti-Black attitudes,” they write, “was 32 percent among Democrats, 48 percent among independents, and 79 percent among Republicans.”

Edsall sees this as a crucial through-line in the ongoing story of GOP extremism. Growing racial resentment has deepened the conservatism of right-wing Republicans, and contributed to their total rejection of President Obama and the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012.

It’s worth noting the real disputes over the racial resentment scale. Over the years, a growing group of political scientists have questioned the actual influence of ideology on anti-black attitudes. Racial resentment is seen as a form of “new prejudice”: It’s not racism as much as it is an outgrowth of traditional ideas about individualism, hard work, and equality of treatment. “Everyone can succeed if they try, and those who don’t succeed, just aren’t trying—there’s no use in crying ‘racism,’ it’s an excuse.” In this narrative, opposition to race-conscious policies has less to do with outright animus, and more with a belief in equal opportunity and a desire to treat people fairly.

But the divide between racism and ideology isn’t so neat—as has been true throughout American history, beliefs about race are hard to separate from political ideology. To wit, a recent study from Oberlin political scientist Christopher DeSante found that when you put blacks and whites in direct competition for scarce resources, “racial prejudice interacts with American norms of hard work to amplify white racial privilege.”

In DeSante’s experiment, participants are asked to allocate $1,500 in welfare benefits to two applicants. All applicants are women and divided into two categories, “poor or excellent” work ethic. Two of the applicants had stereotypically “white” names—“Laurie and Emily”—and two have comparable black names, “Latoya and Keisha.” Participants could also distribute benefits to a deficit-reduction fund. The hypothesis is straightforward: If racial resentment is more principle than prejudice, then high scorers will give more money to deficit reduction, with the fewest benefits going to applicants with poor work ethic, regardless of race.

Overall, those with the most racial resentment were the least likely to spend benefits on welfare. But this varied with the race of the applicants. When faced with two black applicants, the racially resentful gave far less than when faced with two white ones. “As whites become more racially resentful,” writes DeSante, “they are less willing to spend money on welfare, but are always willing to spend more on applicants with white names.”

Put another way, the “neutral” American principles of hard work, individualism, and equal treatment tend to benefit whites in fights over how to distribute government aid. But it’s not that whites are seen as more deserving of aid as much as it is that race colors perceptions of hard work and laziness—“whites gain more for the same level of effort and blacks are punished more severely for the same level of ‘laziness.’” When all things were equal, DeSante found, white applicants were worth $100 more than their black counterparts, and blacks with “poor” work ethic lost four times as much than whites with a similar rating.

It should be said that it’s unfair to tar all conservatives—or even most—as somehow driven by racial animus. As I’ve stated before, race shapes right-wing opposition to Obama, but doesn’t define it. Still, these results signal that outright racism might have more to do with opposition to Obama than we think. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

White supremacy was the explicit governing ideology of this country for most of its history. It guided our ideas about democracy, and it informed our views on the role of government. So much of American public policy was designed to improve economic mobility for whites, and limit it for blacks. They were kept out of decent schools, decent jobs, and decent housing. The goal of segregation, as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in a recent post, was to render blacks a permanent underclass. It was a success.

Are Republicans racist? No. Does racism play a big part in opposition to Obama and welfare state? Absolutely. To think otherwise, given our history, is a little insane.


The rise of explicit racism in the last 4 years has been striking and unexpected. It seemed at least that the last decades of 20th century had put a system of social taboos in place. Nope.

But equally striking, and even more unexpected, has been the fading of minority concerns from the public discourse. Even as the wealth of the black population collapsed, even as it experienced full-on depression while everybody else was wading through varying degrees of recession, even as the gains of the last 1/2 century were erased with little hope of recovery, they largely slipped from view, and in particular the gravity of their situation was rarely discussed. A most odd consequence of the election of Obama, apparently.

Why would you say it is unexpected when Obama has purposefully tried to divide the country. He has knowingly pitted one race against the other. He has been rather effective in creating class warfare. He has even pitted the sexes, and various religions and or non-religions against each other.

I have to admit, it's odd to read this article and NOT see what is glaringly obvious: That 79% of Republicans expect citizens to act according to their own self-interest regardless of race, and not in spite of it. Added to that, we see that an increased number of Democrats and Independents actually grew to believe over the same period of time (by the example they perceived, I expect) that black Americans actually DO require separate rules and treatment in order to cling to the bottom rung of societies ladder. This article appears to say that Republicans believe in fairness and equality, while Democrats disproportionately believe that government needs to hold their thumb on the scale in order for black Americans to have an equal playing field.

Im sorry thats nonsense modern republicans are essentially libertarian light ...they at best dont think intervention is necessary or think employers should be able to do as they please and that somehow a person will be able to overcome arbitrary obstacles that have been placed in their path...and you are overlooking the fact that these obstacles do exist and that they are wrong in addition to being well wrong

Most of this Anti-Black movement has always been in America, and since President Obama became president its gotten even worse. Notice in the article the races you named that can make it here in America are white (just from differant countries). People of color is what white people are afraid of because of this fear that they are trying to take this country from them, and their population is getting smaller while the people of color are getting larger, why all the while whites worldwide are out numbered. And by making a black president of America does not change the minds of people who have always had racial hatred of people of color. And by saying racism is now an excuse blacks use to justified your own fears is something you must face within yourselves, and the real fear is losing CONTROL.

The racist red necks are popping up all over.
This is showing the racism that has been "just below the surface".
Now that the blacks and Hispanics are becoming the majority in many states, the racist are loosing it. (California, the whites will officially become a minority "less than 50%" in mid 2013, Texas will be the same late 2013 or early 2014. Many of the "southern states" will not be far behind.

The whites in the south cannot take it, and are again becoming openly racist.

One could argue that the welfare state in itself is racist. In terms of the African-American community, it has done more to slow black progress than the white sheets ever could imagine. It has had a major hand in the destruction of the two parent household, particularly in blue state inner cities. Greater than 70% of lack kids are born to single mothers and an alarming rise in welfare dependency shouldnt just be something that conservatives find shocking.

The greatest tragedy of the welfare state is that for those who are seduced into long term dependence on government assistance, all sense of self-determination is destroyed. And the gift of self-determination is the greatest blessing of liberty.

Progressive Democrats control each and every majority black district in this nation. This includes the local government and in particular the public schools. Before you go pointing your fingers at the "racism" among conservatives, maybe progressives should ask themselves if turning a blind eye to the negative consequences of our welfare state and continue to push the status quo might in fact be a greater evil than intolerance.

No matter how veiled in pseudo-psychology, this mantra that if you don't like Obama or agree with his policies you are a racist, is wearing a little thin. Actually I think the media continually bringing it up foments racism.

During the heyday of the Tea Party, it was interesting to see how active supporters responded to opinion polls.

Despite the image of them as libertarians, their responses to social questions were generally the same as those of conservative evangelicals, although they were slightly more tolerant towards gays and drugs.

Where there was a marked difference was in attitudes towards the poor and towards African-Americans. They were far more hostile than the conservative evangelicals.

--- "this mantra that if you don't like Obama or agree with his policies you are a racist,"---

How would one account for the finding that, shortly before the last election, only 27% of self-described Republicans felt confident that Obama was born in the United States?

One may disagree with Obama for all sorts of reasons, but believing that he is not, or may not be, a legitimate native-born President surely has something to do with racism. The evidence that he was born in Hawai'i is overwhelming. There is no shortage of state legislators who encourage this opinion.

One might couple this with the constant drumbeat of accusations that he supports the Muslim Brotherhood, or that he himself is actually a Muslim.

In Mississippi, 52% of Republicans are confident that Obama is a Muslim, and only 12% of them believe he is a Christian, and only 14% in Alabama do. A quarter of them said they believe "mixed" marriages, such as that of Obama's parents, should be illegal.

Does that suggest a strong element of racism among Republican voters?

Does that have any connection to the persistent outcry about policies that are falsely attributed to him, or to the package of policies labelled "Obamacare" despite there being strong support for each individual part of the health reform?

Racism in this country is steadily growing and since the election and reelection of Barrack Obama is has gotten worse. Although it is widely believed that Republicans are the most racist this is simply generalization of an entire party. As an American who happens to be Black, I have experienced racism from liberals on a level that is astounding because my opinions differ. Furthermore, regardless of whether people believe he is anything other than an American it is their opinion much of this of course is due to ignorance and racism. The fact is racism in America while undercover for the most part has matured into full on in your face and many Blacks are now seeing it in the job market regardless of education on a massive scale and nothing can or will be done about it. Blacks are being turned into a permanent underclass and it is based on racism, ignorance of many in the Black community and the inability to recognize that many of us blindly follow the liberal party who has done nothing more than encourage a welfare state to keep the Black community at the bottom. They have done such a good job at this that if you are Black and your opinion differs from the liberal beliefs you are immediately considered an Uncle Tom or some other name that is degrading. Finally, the press is allowed to question the President regardless of his color but the liberals turn it into a racist mantra in order to back the media off. All of this plays a significant part in the continued and growing ignorance and racism towards Blacks and we are suffering and falling prey to it. This is probably not going to change even as the landscape of America changes as these racist beliefs influence other groups who are more than willing to join in on the dislike of Blacks. We as a people have always struggled and we will continue to do so regardless of how the world sees us. The fact is until things are really equal we will continue to be the underclass and we may never see equality.

---- "One could argue that the welfare state in itself is racist. In terms of the African-American community, it has done more to slow black progress than the white sheets ever could imagine. It has had a major hand in the destruction of the two parent household, particularly in blue state inner cities." ----

Here we have an example of black Americans being used as a surrogate for the unmentionable group, the long-term poor.

The transgenerational white poor, a larger group than the black poor, are not much considered. It is the way that black Americans are used as the group believed to be sucking up such benefits as Medicaid -- actually it's the disabled and the elderly impoverished by living in nursing homes --

The partial welfare state in the US has always been racist. It has always discriminated against black Americans.

We could go back to the creation of Social Security, which excluded farm workers and domestic servants, mainly the province of black Americans before and after the abolition of slavery.

We could go back to the GI Bill, undoubtedly one of the great pieces of welfare provision, which was administered by branches of the American Legion in deeply racist ways. White Americans were helped with mortgages, out of the inner city and onto the ladder of capital accumulation. Black Americans were not helped but rather prevented from this, with no mortgages offered, with redlining by banks, by restrictive covenants in new housing develoments such as Levittowns, and even by city statutes that created racial zoning in places such as Baltimore.

White Americans were helped to go to good universities to train as lawyers, doctors, accountants and engineers, all growth areas in the post-war economy. Black Americans were not admitted to universities, even in the North, and had to go South to black colleges, initially equipped only to train them as teachers and ministers, to work in the schools and churches of the South, impoverished and segregated as so many remain to this day.

The returning black GIs who had not finished high school, often having left school to help the family income, were set to learning the kinds of semi-skilled work that would never provide a way out of the ranks of the working poor. Their white equivalents, by contrast, were set to learning skilled trades, which black Americans were assumed incapable of learning. Moreover, their upward mobility was not considered desirable by American Legion branches. After all, it was falsely believed that they had not fought bravely and they returned, even while still in uniform, to exactly the Jim Crow world that they had left, in the North as in the South.

This is hardly surprising. After all, Jewish students could only get into medical colleges, law schools and Ivy League universities in very small numbers. Brandeis University was created to address this problem. Jews were also covered by zoning in Baltimore and restrictive covenants in Levittowns. Jews were still refused admittance to the better hotels in such resorts as Palm Beach. They had to set up their own country clubs in cities such as Chicago, where they were refused admission to the North Shore Club.

This affirmative action for whites stifled the emerging black middle class and created inner city ghettoes of unhealthy housing and poor services. To this day, poor education restricts most black school leavers to insecure manual work, with little or no health benefits, and the attitudes of teachers lead to even middle class black school students underperforming. A survey which demonstrated this latter phenomenon recently shocked the liberal teachers of California.

It is argued that black single mothers create welfare dependence. It is the other way round. Access to public housing and food stamps is almost only available to single mothers and the disabled. The children receive Medicaid or SCHIPs, the coverage of which is severely limited by the availablity of doctors who will take such patients and by the limits on care imposed by the states. The children get visibly 2nd-rate school lunches. How anything else can be paid for is a mystery. Unemployment benefits have a time limit, unlike equivalents in other wealthy countries.

Even to receive the benefits to which they are entitled requires negotiating a nightmare world of bureaucracy and formfilling, and there are little or no provisions to help black families manage. Moreover, there is no attempt by the state to locate the vast numbers known not to be in receipt of their benefits. And on, and on.

Those who believe that the welfare state is destroying the African-American communities have a point, but not the point that they think they have. It is the wretched inadequacy of the system that is destroying them.

The reason it is so inadequate, even in what is currently supposed to be available, is simply prejudice. There is a lack of social solidarity in this country, as an aftermath of the overt discrimination and aggressively negative attitudes of the past. This destroys poor white families too, even though their members are more often offered escape routes.

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