Friday, October 11, 2013

Dear Chris Hayes, The Human Face of the Republican Government Shutdown Should Not Be a Black Woman

Lashante Austin is a furloughed employee who works at the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Like 800,000 federal employees, she has been without a paycheck, is behind on her bills, and struggling to survive because the Republican Party has shutdown the United States government.

Lashante Austin is the human face of the most recent crisis orchestrated by the Republican Party. MSNBC's Chris Hayes featured her on Thursday evening’s edition of "All In" as a way of reminding viewers that federal workers are not just political pawns. They are people with families, children, hopes, fears, worries, and dreams. 

Chris Hayes made a reasonable assumption in his decision to feature Lashante Austin as a guest on his show: the American people would empathize with her economic struggles and pain.

However, Hayes' logic proceeded from a flawed prior.

Lashante Austin is black and she is female. For conservatives, she is the very embodiment of why the United States government should be drowned in the bathtub like a baby. The Tea Party GOP wants to punish and hurt Lashante Austin. Why? Because her body and personhood symbolize the bogeyman talking point known as “big government”

Lashante Austin is a cue to the mythic welfare queen who helped Ronald Reagan (and others) win a presidential election. Mitt Romney deployed this narrative as well, where he suggested the Barack Obama was the “food stamp” president giving away money to lazy people of color. From the Southern Strategy in the 1960s onward, where Republican strategists under Nixon concocted a narrative that linked black people to “bad culture” and “government dependency”, the image of the black and brown female body has paid political dividends for the Right.

For example, the idea of a black female federal employee is part of a cultural imagination which includes stereotypes of lazy, inefficient, African-American employees at the DMV and post office who are “disrespectful” and lord their power over the public. 

And if the comments on MSNBC's own site and elsewhere about Lashante Austin's struggles are an indication of the broader response to her story, then she is a lightning rod for resentment against federal employees, and a deep sense that non-whites and women who work for the government are unqualified for their jobs, overpaid, and should expect to be fired.

There is a politically strategic element in how the Tea Party GOP has been able to link hostility to people of color, the poor, and their effort to destroy government and the social safety net. Rooted in the triumphs of the civil rights movement, African-Americans support a robust federal government as a means of protecting their civil liberties. People of color are also over-represented among federal employees. Consequently, the Republican assault on the federal government accomplishes multiple goals.

First, it further marginalizes people of color by forcing them out of their jobs. The Republican Party is the United States’ de facto white political interest group and organization. The Democratic Party’s base is increasingly pluralistic and racially diverse. Thus, the government shutdown disproportionately hurts people of color and weakens them both materially and politically.

Second, the Tea Party GOP, which is now a Southern political party and the contemporary descendant of the Confederacy, can link black and brown people to food stamps and other government aid as a means of ginning up white voters’ support for cutting such programs. White people in Red State America are greatly hurt by cutting those programs as well. But, the Tea Party GOP can distract their white voting base from this fact by focusing their rage and resentment towards blacks and Latinos—instead of the plutocrats and the 1 percent.

The most visible embodiment of the link between white racial animus and the notion that people of color are uniquely dependent on the federal government, an entity which the Tea Party GOP wants to destroy, is seen in the political rhetoric used by conservatives to describe black people who support the Democratic Party, as well as the idea of a responsible and robust government that supports and nurtures positive liberty and freedom. 

Conservatives and the Right-wing apparatus consistently suggest that Black Americans are stuck on a “Democratic plantation” and are uniquely “addicted” to the federal government.

Of course, such language is an abuse of history and the memories of the many millions killed by chattel slavery in the United States and the West. In the context of the government shutdown, such language is a reminder to the White Right and its supporters that black people are somehow uniquely connected to the United States government. Moreover, from this perspective, black Americans do not have full political agency and are just leeches and parasites on White America.

Government is viewed by conservatives first and foremost as an imposition on the liberties and rights and freedoms of White Americans. “States’ Rights” is shorthand for such a sentiment. Consequently, how better than to maximize the liberties and freedoms of white people than by limiting a federal government which is seen as unfairly protecting black and brown people?

Chris Hayes assumed empathy and sympathy in a society where little to none exists for people of color in general, and women of color specifically. Research in social psychology suggests that this is true, to varying degrees, among white conservatives, independents, and liberals.

For the Tea Party GOP, the hostility to Lashante Austin is especially strong, and Hayes’ efforts to put a human face—one which happens to be black and female on the government shutdown—is even more prone to backfiring because of how white racial resentment and colorblind racism holds power over conservatives and others in the post civil rights era. In all, the election of the country’s first black president has only increased racism’s hold, both overt and covert, among the White Right.

I am not arguing that we should surrender to the bigotry and use of symbolic and colorblind racism by the Tea Party GOP to mobilize its voters in support of policies which hurt the Common Good and the American people. However, we should be mindful of how the visuals and optics that are used by the media during the Tea Party GOP’s hostage taking of the United States government can either help or hurt the efforts to end this political crisis.

I have a bold suggestion. It is one that will be met with some upset and controversy. White people should be the human face of the shutdown of the United States government. When guests are needed to talk about how the Tea Party GOP is hurting the American people, there should be a white senior citizen, white soldier or veteran, white single mother, or white male government employee interviewed on television or radio.

To show the human pain of the government shutdown as profoundly impacting people of color is a deed that is unable to cross the empathy and sympathy gap which is the colorline in American society. The White Gaze has little to no use for the suffering and hurt experienced by black and brown people.

I feel Lashante Austin’s pain. Unfortunately, for others, Lashante Austin, a gainfully employed and hardworking federal employee, is just one step away from being a black welfare queen who lives by "sucking off the government tit" and “good hard-working” white people. The Republican Party has a well-tested playbook for fueling the destruction of the social safety net and the federal government, one that is in many ways dependent on mobilizing white racism and anti-black and brown bias.

Let’s put a white face on this crisis. It is easy for Republicans and the Right-wing media to spin a narrative where the shutdown is a noble act that punishes black and brown folks as part of “big government”, where they (and the poor and working classes) are ultimately just a group of “useless eaters.” The Republicans would have a much harder time of deploying such a meme if the faces of their victims were white, male, and perhaps even wrapped in the American flag. 


gysgt213 said...

I hope Chris has you on his show to debate this in person.

Marshall said...

Painful, but true

Bryan Ortez said...

Saw this BuzzFeed article with pictures of people defying the government shutdown. The effect is truly pluralistic, but you know white people aren't equated to the welfare lifestyle, so their defiance of government shutdown can be seen as acceptable. Most conservatives will say though that all of us government 'dependents' are the problem no matter our color.

Black Sci-Fi said...

What debate? CH is a well meaning liberal elite "Friend of Rachel" who couldn't possibly understand this level of the chess game he's intruded into ...on behalf of (?)POC.
Regardless of his intentions, MSNBC is a for profit business with no POC hosting a primetime slot.
Money, meet Mouth. That 2nd class status is further underscored by the "weekending" of MHP and the promotion of CH (aka: FoR) to prime time.
Ms H-P is a brilliant historian and journalist. I think she may have understood the Tea Party talking points, avoided their "propaganda" trap and approached the "pain" caused by the Republican Shutdown with a more nuanced approach.
I think MHP would have produced a townhall with all shades of Americans working in jobs we consider indespensable to our daily lives and the health and welfare of our democracy.
But, alas, we get a tonedeaf "FoR" who only underscores my complaint about white liberals for their inability to convince their own "relatives" at family Thanksgiving gatherings to join their political cause.
The paradox of the white supremacy narative awaits anyone who takes up the cause of Civil Rights.
As CDV points out, nieve colorblind political allies can hurt our casue, unintentionally. .
I applaud CH's sentiment, but..."Don't be on my side"

Roy Young said...

If the face used is white, this will only show that Obama hates white people and is deliberately hurting them with "his" shutdown. Their minds are made up, nothing will sway them. If they are hurt personally, it will be the President's fault, not the Republicans'.

chauncey devega said...

Thanks for sharing. I didn't see that.

chauncey devega said...

Sad, no?

chauncey devega said...

That is the catch. Those who hate Obama will hate him no matter what. But how do we still manage the optics and with a deftness to win over persuadeables--and notice this idea of linking blackness to poverty and the welfare queen holds for "liberals" too.

chauncey devega said...

If I am so lucky and feel ready and prepared.

chauncey devega said...

Melissa is cool folks and is a political scientist. She has been doing some really good stuff and is still getting going. To see someone make the transition to TV as quickly as she has is very impressive to be honest.

Wavenstein said...

The black nationalist in me hates to agree with this. But it's a painful truth. Painful

sam enderby said...

Chauncey, Yes she is and yet does she get to pick who her"guests" are and if she does why does she insist to invite the Koch Brother shills from "Reason" from time to time without identifying them as such? But she is a great and important presence on TV AND, also, a FofR (?)-whats wrong with that?

chauncey devega said...

This is inside baseball stuff that others can help with. I am not sure how many TV hosts on those networks have much say in the actual guests who show up. Anyone know? Maybe the super big names w. years in the game, but others?

gysgt213 said...

If are, you will do fine

docbets said...

Completely cogent argument. Well done. As a middle aged, raised by liberal Quakers person, I've been shocked by the public racism in recent years. I suspect Chris Hayes fell prey to the value of diversity and didn't apply it more judiciously. To do do, s the writer points out, is potentially of much greater service to the cause of justice than whose fair or dark face is on the TV tonight.

Great article. Thanks to its writer.

JW said...

"Second, the Tea Party GOP, which is now a Southern political party and the contemporary descendant of the Confederacy"
I'm right now I'm over at Right Wing Watch reading about the Values Voter Summit, and had a thought that brought me back to this post I read earlier today. One of the analyses of ordinary participation in the Civil War by southerners took a look at northern and southern views of religion. Northern religious people, it asserted, were more inclined to social change, and abolitionism could be promoted this way. The south, however, had a focus on personal salvation, apart from social change. If that religious viewpoint is changing, it marks a significant difference from former conservative tactics in politics. I wonder if religious fervour is going to be a dominating force in future politics. I know conservative politics are already wrapped in religiosity, but I mean in a sense that churches will become politicized in a way that they generally haven't in the south (at least since the antebellum/Civil War era). Am I over-thinking things, or is this something I'm just slow in understanding?

chauncey devega said...

Christian Dominionists are highly politicized by/in the Right. They are key to the coalition which the Tea Party GOP has become. Have you seen Jesus Camp? Very good. Kevin Phillips touches on that dynamic to in American Theocracy.

Gable1111 said...

What's happening is a continuation of the Civil War. "States rights," the interposition and nullification of the President and an entire electorate that duly elected him are all making a comeback. Just as the forces of slavery and their "noble cause" could not prevail politically via democratic processes provided by the Constitution, neither do today's cultural and political antecedents of the Confederates of yesteryear feel similarly bound in "taking their country back."

The association of blacks with the government had its roots in the Civil War and Reconstruction, when blacks were allowed to fight for the Union, and later when, with a government "guarantee" of the same rights whites took for granted (and still do) to blacks. What we're seeing today is a similar backlash, when the same political forces arranged to have the government abandon black reconstructionists to the vagaries of r

chauncey devega said...

How kind. Public racism is making a comeback despite all of the pronouncements of its death. Ironically, the election of Obama has made it more likely not less that white supremacy is being publicly embraced by a very vocal and dangerous element of the American people.

chauncey devega said...

A few in the media are calling this out. We need more voices, with an even bigger platform to stay on this issue and shame the Tea Party secesh trash back into their holes. But remember, the money is in the drama and the Tea Party brigands are mighty entertaining.

Gable1111 said...

Some, thankfully are starting to call it out, What the republicans are doing is unprecedented and so egregious that its become hard for the usual media suspects to continue to play their "both sides do it," false equivalency game reporting the story. It is being leveraged for entertainment. Watching reporting on the story on TV, there's a play-by-play, who's up and who's down aspect to it, versus a focus on the facts and the impact. Clearly, for many in the Fourth Estate, there couldn't have been a better gift than this to feed the need for ratings.

Gable1111 said...

Just watched the video; how can anyone with a heart not have sympathy for this young woman. Here, she's the epitome of the "personal responsibility" right; a hard working, self sufficient woman taking care of her family on her own, thrown out of work by hypocrites who have the nerve to cry about needing their paychecks while they deprive others of theirs to carry out an ideological and personal vendetta against the President. Were she not black, a single mother and working for the government (e.g a white man?), this is the kind of person the GOP would hold up as an example of their "values."

Put the required platitude of "we've come a long way" that's required to be trotted out in order to minimize the latest racial atrocity up against the acknowledgement that a woman like this, deserving of respect and empathy, still cannot be taken on face value for her plight, because she is black and we can really see where we are. Its not very "far" at all.

JW said...

I'll check it out. Also have you been following Warren Throckmorton's blog? He's been covering the intrusion of white supremacist groups into far-right organizations like the League of the South, and its affiliated organizations like Institute on the Constitution.

Bryan Ortez said...

"Repeated exposure to imagery of white people as racist bullies who lack empathy and are manipulative of non-whites is adopted as reality."

Apparently this isn't part of your reality, but this is an everyday interaction I have with whites in my personal world as well as my virtual world.

If you took a clear, full look at history you could plainly see that white skin does come with many privileges. Often one of those is simply being born in safe and secure living conditions with access to a quality public education.

There should be no guilt felt by white folks, especially those who out of a genuine knowledge of their own privilege and an awareness of the real and not imagined racism around them seek to spread good constructive knowledge about social inequalities that exist in American society and disproportionately impact people of color.

"whites hate themselves for their racist tendencies"

No real white racist hates themselves for their racist BS. Any white who has consciously realized they do judge others by the appearance of their skin as a learned attribute could 'hate themselves' but will be more likely to recognize how they talk and think about people of color than one who lives in adamant denial that there are even subconscious stereotypes that shape their interactions with others.

Clearly you are a pretty smart person. Holding onto this perception that blacks need to be collectively scolded for the behavior of other black people is absolutely ridiculous, especially while you simultaneously pat whites on the back for rejecting the notion that racial privilege exists and is real.

Bryan Ortez said...

"the era of useless eaters is coming to an end"

That's the problem. People declaring that other people are 'useless eaters.' That is basically you judging others. get off that

Bryan Ortez said...

League of the South and even the KKK have gone on to denounce violence to minorities. They say they just want to protect the status of white people in much the same way organizations like NAACP protect people of color. crazy

chauncey devega said...

No I haven't. I will definitely do so. I know the SPLC has documented the infiltration of the Tea Party by white militia organizations. And the doubling down on white voters strategy by the GOP is basically taken from a white supremacist website--that is another story that demands more attention too.

chauncey devega said...

White supremacy is one hell of a drug folks. Be mindful of the hustle you see here and in other online spaces--trying to use some "data" and "research" to then pivot to an old school white racist framework. Know their hustle. Study them. I will leave this comment up for study purposes.

Vic78 said...

Chris Hayes is pretty slow when it comes to politics. He said he didn't get it until he saw the Lincoln movie. So he's been studying politics with his head in his ass all these years. I guess he put it back in when the movie was over.

rikyrah said...

with you all the way with this. you are absolutely on point. and another reason why Hayes needs to go.

Learning is Eternal said...

They have no soul in regards to their own kind, even extremely less when it comes to mine. So yes, please remove that sister from all advertis-ments & false propaganda kin to this shutdown.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Would MSNBC have changed any conservatives' minds if they had invited on a male federal employee of any other ethnicity? I doubt it.

Truth said...

Wow. What a 'dis-eased'and anthrophied mind you have! You came here to post all of that dreck? Basically saying 'a whole lot of nothing' I blush with embarrassment for your stupidity.