Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What Type of Racists are They? 62 Percent of White St. Louis Residents Believe that Darren Wilson was Right to Kill Michael Brown

As reported by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, new public opinion research by the Remington Research Group has revealed that 62 percent of white St. Louis county residents believe that the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot multiple times while surrendering with his hands in the air, by a white police officer named Darren Wilson, was justified.

The support by white St. Louis county residents for the killing of Michael Brown is not just a simple matter of a difference in public opinion regarding how individuals locate matters of public concern within their own cognitive schema.

Instead, their attitudes are formed in relation to a given social and historical context. Consequently, the political attitudes of Darren Wilson's white supporters reflect a society that is organized around a racial hierarchy which privileges Whiteness.

Remington’s poll is part of a larger constellation of data on white racial attitudes in response to the Ferguson incident, specifically, and the realities of white on black racism in the post civil rights era, more generally.

In August, a poll by Pew Research found that:
...the public overall is divided over whether Brown’s shooting raises important issues about race or whether the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves: 44% think the case does raise important issues about race that require discussion, while 40% say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
By about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
These results echo earlier polls that reveal how whites and people of color are starkly divided in their opinions about the permanence and power of racism in determining life chances.

As a point of comparison, at the height of the civil rights movement, a moment when Jim and Jane Crow segregation and racial terrorism were still a de facto state of affairs in much of the United States, white folks reported to Gallup and other pollsters that black people had equal opportunities in America.

White America's willful denial and delusions about the twin realities of white supremacy and white privilege are a recurring feature of American cultural and political life.

Race is operative, both on a personal and institutional level, in Darren Wilson's decision to shoot and kill Michael Brown (for example, see the over policing of black and brown communities; the historic origins of modern American police departments in the American slaveocracy; racially disparate treatment by the American "criminal justice system"; and empirical research on implicit bias by white police towards black people).

The preponderance of the social scientific evidence on American social and political life demonstrates that the standing decision rule should be that racism is almost always a variable influencing interactions across the color line, as opposed to needing some extraordinary standard of evidence to demonstrate such a basic fact.

Ultimately, because America is a racist society, the attitudes and values of its citizens, to varying degrees, will reflect that trait.

This is a macro-level claim and observation.

The masses may be asses. While the extreme political polarization of the Age of Obama has complicated the thesis, with the exception of "engaged" partisans, the American public has historically been considered "non-ideological", possessing little substantive knowledge about political matters.

Racial attitudes are an outlier.

Both white and non-white Americans hold consistent beliefs about race and public policy, racial attitudes help to structure other political attitudes and values (including partisan identification), racial attitudes are relatively stable across one's life span (with general replacement, elite cues by the media and other actors, and social movement activity helping to account for the rise of "multicultural" America), and the decades-long divides between Democrats and Republicans about questions of race, social justice, and public policy have remained relatively stable.

Moreover, the chasm in public opinion between whites and blacks regarding Ferguson, and police abuse more generally, also reflects how "old fashioned" racism, authoritarianism, and symbolic racism have combined together in modern American conservatism.

It is more likely than not, that the majority of the white respondents in the Remington survey possess some degree of either conscious or subconscious racial bias, animus, or resentment towards black and brown people.

[The power of white supremacy as a cultural force is also revealed by how 35 percent of black respondents also supported Wilson's killing of Michael Brown.

White supremacy is one of the most powerful ideologies and inventions in the modern era: people of color are not immune to it; some people of color, most notably black American conservatives, even seek out its approval.]

Drilling down, I am very curious as to the type of racists that comprise the 62 percent of white respondents in the Remington survey who support Darren Wilson's killing of Michael Brown.

While not an exhaustive list, I would argue that the 62 percent of white respondents to the Remington group survey consist of the following types.

These categories overlap and are not mutually exclusive from one another. 

Racial Contrarians. Any observations or opinions offered by a black person, individually or as a group, about racism, as it relates to the latter’s own personal life experiences, are immediately suspect. For this type of white racist, black people are viewed as inherently irrational, hyper-emotional, stupid, too sensitive, and possess a distorted view of American society because of their "obsession" with racism. The white racial contrarian views all black people's truth claims, regardless of the empirical data in support of them, as suspicious and unfounded until proven otherwise (preferably by a white person).

Old fashioned racists and those with feelings of homicidal ideation. The cowardly police officer Darren Wilson has raised more than 500,000 dollars for his defense fund. As exemplified by the comments on the websites through which those funds were donated, the people who offered monetary support to Darren Wilson consist of a good number of traditional "old fashioned" racists.

Their donations to Wilson are a type of new age lynching photography wherein they are enjoying the thrill of killing Michael Brown by proxy; this is a disturbing and frightening type of white on black homicidal ideation.

Aversive and symbolic racists. The behavior of aversive and symbolic racists constitutes what has come to be known as "modern racism". The aversive racist publicly subscribes to norms of racial egalitarianism, but in private, as well as subconsciously, possesses negative sentiments towards blacks (and other people of color, to varying degrees).

Psychologists Adam Pearson, John Dovidio, and Samuel Gaertner describe the aversive racist in the following way:
Aversive racists, in contrast, sympathize with victims of past injustice, support principles of racial equality, and genuinely regard themselves as non-prejudiced, but at the same time possess conflicting, often non-conscious, negative feelings and beliefs about Blacks that are rooted in basic psychological processes that promote racial bias...

The negative feelings that aversive racists have towards Blacks typically do not reflect open antipathy, but rather consist of more avoidant reactions of discomfort, anxiety, or fear.
Symbolic racists believe that black people violate American civic norms such as hard work, individualism, patriotism, and impulse control. Symbolic racists also possess high levels of white racial resentment towards people of color--African-Americans in particular--and are highly motivated in their political decision-making and racial attitudes by stereotypes which link black people to criminality, rape, violence, and other types of social disorder.

Symbolic racism is one of the core tenets of contemporary, post civil rights era American conservatism. It is embodied by the Southern Strategy, "birtherism", racial dog whistle politics, and the white supremacist paranoia and overt racial hostility towards President Barack Obama by the White Right and the Tea Party GOP.

As demonstrated by the Remington Group’s poll, aversive and symbolic racists support Darren Wilson because of their subconscious racial biases, identification with an ostensibly race neutral belief in the merits of "law and order", and a belief that black people are inherently criminal, dangerous, and a threat to white society.

The 62 percent of white respondents in St. Louis county who support Darren Wilson's killing of Michael Brown mirror other larger national surveys and experiments which show that white Americans support racist, and punitive punishments for black offenders--even when they have been made aware that the punishment is racially discriminatory and unfair.

For at least 300 years, America's police departments have served as the armed wing of the Racial State. In that role, they help to maintain and monitor the color line in the service of white America at the expense of blacks, Latinos, First Nations peoples, and other non-whites.

By analogy, America's wars abroad are fought by an increasingly small percentage of the population; drones are making killing a "clean" and "bloodless" affair for the American people and its leaders. 

Supporting a system of white privilege and white supremacy, America's police departments function in much the same way in how they treat black and brown communities. White America can look away and feign ignorance until events such as Ferguson momentarily force the reality of racist policing to the national front stage. But ultimately, racist police practices are perpetuated and overlooked because white society deems them a net gain and a social good because they protect "us" from "them".

The divides in public opinion regarding the events in Ferguson, the killing of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and many others by white police or white identified street vigilantes, as well as the resulting racially incendiary language online and across the Right-wing hate media, indicate that white supremacy remains a serious social problem in the United States.

Racism is not a mental illness. However, the metrics and tools that have been developed to measure it are extremely helpful in trying to understand and locate white racism within a proper social, historical, and political context.

In response to the Holocaust, Gordon Allport developed a scale for measuring racism and prejudice. 

As described by noted psychologist Alvin Poussaint:
Extreme racists' violence should be considered in the context of behavior described by Allport in The Nature of Prejudice. Allport's 5-point scale categorizes increasingly dangerous acts. It begins with verbal expression of antagonism, progresses to avoidance of members of disliked groups, then to active discrimination against them, to physical attack, and finally to extermination (lynchings, massacres, genocide). That fifth point on the scale, the acting out of extermination fantasies, is readily classifiable as delusional behavior.
The public speech acts and other behaviors by the defenders of Darren Wilson and his ilk, both online and across the public sphere, more generally, exemplify the range of behaviors identified by Allport. The White Right's response to the election of Barack Obama, twice, is also a mass display of the guidelines developed by Allport for measuring white racism as a continuum of violent acts that culminate with racially delusional behavior.

The divergences in white and black public opinion about the killing of Michael Brown reveals one of the central paradoxes of American life during post civil rights era America.

Black people as a product, consumer good, image, and embodiment of the “cool pose” are loved, emulated, and imitated. Yet, 91 percent of white Americans do not have one black person in their social network.

While the black culture industry can sell blackness to White America through rap music, sports, fashion, style, and other venues, the American media still circulates distorted, inaccurate, and deranged depictions of black humanity to a global public. The news media is especially guilty in this regard: television news programs misrepresent and exaggerate the amount of crime committed by black people while simultaneously under-reporting the amount of crime committed by whites.

It is likely that the vast majority of the 62 percent of St. Louis county respondents who support Darren Wilson, the cowardly cop who shot and killed an unarmed and surrendering black youth named Michael Brown multiple times in broad daylight, do not have personal animus towards Michael Brown the person.

However, the white respondents in that survey, as well as in others, hold bigoted, hateful, and racist ideas towards the idea of Michael Brown as a black person--and the idea of him as a black male.

America is a racially segregated society. The white collective imagination fills in the gaps in its understanding of black people as real, complex, dynamic, human beings with the fictions, fantasies, and lies they have learned from the mass media, the educational system, friends and family, churches, as well as social institutions.

The result of these processes is a white collective memory which reinforces white privilege and depicts non-whites as somehow less than and inferior relative to white people.

In this twisted worldview, it is wholly rational and reasonable for a person to believe that Darren Wilson was "within his rights" to kill Michael Brown.

White privilege distorts and ruins the ethical, moral, and cognitive processes of those who subscribe to and are invested in Whiteness. The 62 percent of white St. Louis county residents who support Darren Wilson are proof of that fact.


joe manning said...

This is a most useful dissection. I'm curious as to the percentages of the 3 categories. I'm guessing that symbolics far out number the other 2 groups, which makes them the worst offenders, as sophisticates who know better. The contrarians and the old fashions are patently despicable and the symbolics must be experiencing guilt by association with them. Racists are an endangered species and analysis such as this will surely drive them to extinction.

Buddy H said...

Racists are an endangered species...

I wish I believed that, but a quick glance at what young people are posting on my local craigslist "rants and raves" section removes all hope from my heart.

chauncey devega said...

Based on my reading, the aversive and symbolic racist is in the majority now. But, that is complicated by private versus public behavior, how folks can lie under pressures of social-desirability, and the fact that white supremacy has evolved to an American reality where there is racism without racists.

An endangered species? I would have to disagree. White supremacy is amazingly adaptive and enduring.

chauncey devega said...

Cyber-racism and what folks say behind closed doors would suggest that there isn't as much progress as one would like to believe. Moreover, the "racial progress" narrative is a potent tool in the colorblind racism toolbox.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

My pessimism and experience is that the majority are in fact old fashioned racists.

IrishUp said...

"Racists are an endangered species and analysis such as this will surely drive them to extinction"

I was raised on this fairy-tale as a kid in the 70s. And it didn't happen - we've LOST a ton of ground. What this kind of hopeful sentiment fails to take into account, is how power structures replicated and entrench themselves.

Those who are most heavily invested in the status quo, also have the most to lose (in their perception, not necessarily in truth). The successors they groom and mentor do not come from the progressive pool, but from the people who look and act and think like they do. The racist and sexist political and industrial leaders of my childhood have been replaced by the white men they groomed to take over for them.

Will it surprise you at all that Karl Rove was a Teenage Republican, campaigned for Nixon, was tight with Lee Atwater, was involved with the Watergate break in, and saved from being a part of the whole scandal by the intervention of GHW Bush, who was then Nixon's appointed Ambassador to the UN? It should not, because this is how they roll. They are like viruses - infecting healthy host cells and commandeering the mechanisms of production to self replicate.

Gable1111 said...

Racists I've known have tended to, depending on the situation, exhibit behaviors of multiple categories. For example, its been common, at least in my experience, that the averse racists also often tend to strike public poses as racial contrarians, as a way to sanitize their racism for public consumption, while imagining themselves as "good persons."

DanF said...

I don't think we've lost ground - you've just grown up and see from a different perspective. Racism is still systemic and pernicious and often deadly, but it isn't as bad as it was in the 70's and it certainly isn't the over-the-top shit we saw in the Jim Crow era. White society is defending thinner ground than in the 70's. Red-lining was common, sundown towns were still a very common thing, inter-racial marriage was still illegal in some states as late as 1967 and attitudes didn't change when the law changed. The debate has shifted. Miles to go before [we] sleep. But do not doubt there is progress.

joe manning said...

Take heart in the fact that social evolution tends toward radical inclusion.

IrishUp said...

I meant to add, DanF, that I get we are looking at the problem on slightly different planes, and I acknowledge your points.

However, having lived white, I also acknowledge I am in no position to judge how much overt, covert, and microagressive racism have changed over time. And I bet it matters a lot which time and geographic where.

I grew up in NYC neighborhoods where pretty much EVERYONE considered the police with suspicion. How White Privilege manifested was, if cops got involved and you were white, the chances were about 70-30 that the police would just beat the shit out of whomever they decided was the trouble-maker, then leave. If you were black, you'd have to be extremely lucky to avoid a beating, and getting hauled in to jail or juvvy was a good bet. Now in those same neighborhoods, Stop & Frisk plays out pretty much the same way, or so I hear from my friends who still live there. So it's tough for me to see this as progress in any meaningful way.

balitwilight said...

Blatty's novel is truly great. I read it long before seeing the film and - years later - can still recall its pervasive atmosphere of foreboding and despair, but also the unflinching resolve of the exorcists.

Engaging intellectually, day in and out, with the pervasive racism in this culture can create the same kind of despair and weariness. I really admire those like you who have the endurance and willpower to do it.
After writing my original post yesterday I watched "12 Years A Slave". Words can barely describe my feelings seeing that film and contemplating the complete unaccountability, impunity and injustice still thriving in the bright shining lies that connect us from 1841 to 2014.

chauncey devega said...

Others have made this argument too--the victories of the Civil Rights Movement involved elites doing an orderly retreat and repositioning themselves. White supremacists simply chose a different hill to fight and die for--and in many ways they won.

chauncey devega said...

Have you read the book? Much more of a gut punch. And that movie was a very sanitized version of the American slaveocracy's horrors.

balitwilight said...

Haven't read that book - but your comment (the book must have been even worse) is the first thing that came to mind after I saw the film. I've read a lot about the actual horrors of slavery, read/seen a lot of nauseating lynching documentation - so I think those may have supplemented the emotional resonance in my viewing of the film.

DanF said...

I think the power brokers use race divisions to leverage more advantageous monetary positions. The elites are less concerned with who is white or black and more concerned with how much money can they take and they are perfectly willing to use racism as a wedge. A "law and order" candidate is signaling his willingness to lock up "those" people, but his real agenda is to siphon more cash from the system for his buddies. You can't win on a platform of tax cuts for the rich, so you find ways to get white people to vote against their own self monetary interest by playing on their racism. It only has to work enough to get the majority vote. And that is what the Southern Strategy was about. Tearing the country in half and ending up with the biggest half. Same thing with abortion and religion.

Poor whites are also suffering at alarming rates - not as much, but that's only because they started from a tiny bit higher perch. I expect they'll wake up eventually, but maybe too late.

chauncey devega said...

And then who do those poor whites turn on? And who have they turned on historically?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I haven't seen the movie, but I read the book and it has some brilliant scenery and Northup's descriptions are impeccable. excellent writing there.

DanF said...

Eventually they have to turn on the rich. You can't eat racism forever. IrishUp may be right - it might be that all things considered, it sucks more now to be black than before given incarceration rates and too much lip-service and little action by liberal whites. I can see more POCs in positions of power and prestige within America than ever before - in both the public and private spheres. But I also see the destruction of unions and institutions that help the working class and know that that disproportionately affects minority communities.

joe manning said...

I overstated "racial progress." My point is that overt racists are dinosaurs and color blind racists are embarrassingly behind the learning curve.