Episode 14 (Segment 1): Civil Rights on its Head

Uploaded by BlackStudiesOnline on 07.05.2012

The conservative shift in the political climate began prior to the election of Republican,
Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, but Reagan was largely able to frame this new
conservatism in a way that was appealing to the mass public. The new age of conservatism
turned the civil rights movement on its head. While many see the election of America's first
African American president, Barack Obama as sweeping away the conservativism of the 1980s
and 1990s and ushering in a new era, the Barack Obama presidency is finding it exceedingly
difficult to move the public discourse in a new direction, as we will see.
One of the ideological underpinnings of the neoconservative movement which began to take
root in the late 1970s is what is now referred to as "new racism." The six basic features
of new racism are as follows. First, there is a rejection of gross stereotypes
and blatant discrimination. Neoconservatives like Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. clearly
embraced the ideals of the old civil rights movement. In no way shape or form did they
support the segregation of the Jim Crow South. By the same token, most whites today genuinely
abhor the blatant racism of groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi white supremacists.
At the same time, many white Americans see racism only in blatant terms and tend to be
dismissive of other more subtle forms of racism. Many whites, for example, have a hard time
accepting that racial profiling does occur, and place the responsibility of African Americans
being disproportionately targeted by law-enforcement squarely on the shoulders of African Americans
who they perceive as committing the majority of crimes. They would point to statistical
information that shows that African Americans represent most drug convictions, for example
which in many ways becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if the police are
only looking for African Americans then obviously African Americans are going to represent the
majority of convictions. The second feature of new racism is normative
compliance without internalization of new behavioral norms of racial acceptance, or
political correctness. In other words, a rejection of blatant racism makes it hard for whites
to say, "I'm uncomfortable being around black people." Instead they will say things like,
"I don't see color." New racism has largely co-opted and transformed the goals of the
civil rights movement. Yet another aspect of new racism is emotional
ambivalence toward Black people and a sense that Blacks are currently violating traditional
American values. It is expressed in statements like, "Why do you insist on being called African
American? Why can't you just be an American?" The implication here is that being African
American means something different than being American. What is unspoken here that being
"American" is universally understood as synonymous with being white, and thus African Americans
feel as though they are being asked to deny who they are. Thus, many African Americans
when asked the question, "Why can't you just be American" hear that question and understand
it to mean, "Why can't you just keep me comfortable and pretend to be white."
A fourth aspect of new racism includes in direct "micro-aggressions" against Blacks
such as avoidance of face-to-face interactions. All aspects of new racism are subtle and therefore
make racism difficult to talk about, but this aspect is especially hard to talk about because
so much is unspoken. In other words, when a white woman clutches her purse as an African-American
walks into an elevator with her it's difficult to call that out as an act of racism because
one can never be sure as to the woman's intentions. Maybe her purse was slipping out of her hand
and she just needed to adjust her grip at that particular moment. There is, however,
what in the legal world is described as a preponderance of evidence that suggests that
often times acts like these are done out of fear and underlying racism.
Fifth is a sense of subjective threat from racial change, or acceptance of a zero sum
notion of power in which a gain for one group is seen as a loss for another -- - I win means
you lose. One sees this expressed a lot in discussions of college admissions in which
whites often see "their spots" quote unquote being "taken" by unqualified minority students.
It is often perceived that changing admissions criteria in such a way that seemingly objective
measures of merit such as GPA and SAT scores are minimized in favor of less racially biased
measures giving an unfair and unearned advantage to minority students. The perception of a
"meritocracy" remains even though it has been demonstrated repeatedly, for example, that
the SAT test is a better predictor of family income and is of success of first-year freshman
in college. Other measures of merit, such as personal narratives give a better overall
picture of the student and what he or she brings to the academic community. Such measures
are often looked at as non-meritocratic even though repeated studies have shown that there
is value in having a diverse academic community. In order to see the value, however one has
to remove oneself from a zero sum perception of power in favor of a perception of power
in which a gain for one is seen as a benefit to the community as a whole. Lastly, new racism
often carries individualistic conceptions of how opportunity and social stratification
operate in American society. One sees this expression of new racism in statements like,
"Why don't minorities just work harder pick themselves up by their bootstraps." Again,
using college admissions as an example there is a widely held assumption that SAT and GPA
scores are objective measures of merit. I've already discuss SAT scores, but GPA scores
carry many of the same racial biases. The use of honors classes and the extra weight
given of five points on a four-point scale means that students in schools that offer
such classes gain an advantage, and those schools happen to be in more wealthy districts.
A report issued by The Harvard Civil Rights Project observed that school integration was
at the same level in 2004 as it was in 1969. Thus, African Americans who are still segregated
in less wealthy districts are being penalized simply because their schools don't offer them
the opportunity to gain extra grade points. As a result, African Americans who might have
a 4.0 grade point average may be competing with students from other districts who have
a 4.1, 4.2, or 4.3 grade point average or four-point scale.