The Blog

It's The Skin Color, Stupid

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

You want a campaign slogan for 2016?

Race. Infecting American Life Since 1492.

You don't like the choices? Trump or Hillary? You, and everyone before you, brought us to this point. For whites, it's High Noon in Mayberry. For people of color, it's high time for change.

The rabid fear of others is an American institution. We see it so much it's commonplace. We forget about it. It's hardwired to the very essence of our economy, our way of life.

Since the 1400s, xenophobia the fear of others has driven North American socioeconomics.

Racism, and its more toxic and silent offspring, racial resentment, are the tools of social control. We talk proudly about defeating fascism in Europe, but we are consumed by a disease that is so profound, so hardwired into all of our DNA, that, to overcome it, requires turning the mirror on ourselves and really seeing how it is a part of everyone's life in America.

White power has its roots the white seafaring peoples of Europe. British. Dutch. Portuguese. Spanish. Their ability to leverage their weapons, and ability to travel to bring back far-flung resources gave them power. It was far cheaper to force people, at the point of a gun, to mine and harvest and crate and load, than it was to pay them for their labors. It spawned the hubris of "empire," and created both social and economic dislocations that sent white Europeans, British and Spanish, in search of "opportunity" to North America.

The whites who settled North America, often of this or that religious politically abused religious sect, quickly became the abusers. They subjugated or exterminated the native populations that were difficult to control. They brought in cheap labor, both voluntary and involuntary, to build and maintain economic power.

  • The white indentured servant was quickly replaced by the cheaper and more permanent slave as the backbone of the American agricultural economy.
  • When the Civil War ended slavery, the white power structure invented a raft of legal walls, Jim Crow, to keep African-Americans in subjugation.
  • Economic refugees of countries which Northern European white Americans saw as "inferior" the Germans, Italians, Irish, Poles, Swedes, Slavs, of the industrial era migrations, were resisted and then marginalized and vilified by white American citizens;
  • Low-paid Asians were brought in to build railroads and cities and work the farms in the West
  • When the existing base of people of color improved their lot in life through hard-fought improvements in education, housing, and civil rights, Latinos were brought in, legally and illegally, from North, Central, and South America, to do the underpaid, back-breaking work and low-desirable jobs that the generations of immigrants before them had largely vacated.

The American Dream, that oft-touted myth of equality for all, a society where hard work, not family trees, determined success, included people of color, of gender, not by design, but by the force of will of all of these suppressed peoples to be included in American life.

Liberalism, fueled by all of those European industrial migrants who inserted themselves forcefully into American culture, and who were legitimized by "media," the 20th century's new playing field of radio and film empires started by entrepreneurial immigrants and their descendents, sought some socio-political equality.

The Great Depression threw the white power structure off its solid financial feet, and in came liberalism and the New Deal. Unions and laws that prevented the exploitation of workers. Suffrage that opened the door to the gender revolution. Civil rights legislation that gave people of color the hope of social justice and equality.

The media, largely run by immigrants or first generation Americans, preached liberal ideas of equality. David beat Goliath regularly from Chaplin's "little tramp" character, and comedians like the Marx Brothers, who stuck it to the white elites, to the 1960s and 1970s where Sidney Poitier came to dinner, and blue collar white Archie Bunker found his passive racist WASP superiority under attack by a racially and socially changing America.

At the same time, though, from WWII to the 1970s, the calculus of race and racial resentment changed too. The fear of Fascism in the war, and the huge propaganda machine used to keep Americans working at full tilt to defeat it, was migrated by the white right.

Revolutions in Russia and China demonstrated that it was possible that the large mass of workers which white America had imported to great financial gain could further turn on them, and unseat them. The propaganda machine was turned against external Communism, in Russia and China, and then, during the 1950's, against the unions and the Hollywood media that preached a color-blind, gender-equal America.

Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunts and Barry Goldwater's GOP run for president were both heavily based in white racist control, and in stoking racial resentment, the true "wall" that white America built to protect its privilege and power.

White elites generally focused on political control, but it didn't work though. The growing ranks of minorities, and greater political gains for them, increasingly was making the ballot box a poor place to make a stand.

Post-war Republican politicians until Ronald Reagan operated within the New Deal. lke was focused on building American infrastructure, reducing Cold War tensions, and resolving the Korean conflict. Richard Nixon was far more interested on global engagement in the Middle East and Asia than domestic sociopolitical control at home.

It was not until their run of Ronald Reagan that the more extremist elements of the white right invested heavily in re-engineering American politics in the latter part of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries to either control or block the liberalization of American society, in the face of the growing numbers of people of color and immigrants whose growing legal standing under the Constitution reduced their ability to be controlled and contained.

The arrival of Barack Hussein Obama as the first African-American President of the United States was a wake up call not just for the wealthy elites, but for racial resenters.

As Pew reported, more than 100 million guns were sold since the first African-American president, Barack Obama took office.

In fact, our insane cultural stance on guns and the Second Amendment, with mass shootings happening multiple times every year, as Fusion noted in an amazing article, is all about race. "Put simply, America's gun problem is a white supremacy problem in disguise." Consider the facts:

  • Of the more than 300 million guns owned in the United States.
  • 41% of guns are owned by whites, 87% of which are held in rural and suburban neighborhoods with about half held by people who identify as Republican or socially conservative.
  • The National Review reports that for whites, 77% of gun deaths are suicides, the vast majority of gun deaths. For blacks, 82% are homicides in a population that has some of the lowest gun ownership rates per capita (19%) in American society.
  • The huge amount of concentrated urban violence in cities like Chicago or Detroit or New York or Los Angeles has never been solved by law enforcement because it is a symptom of generational economic suppression of the population, the Washington Post notes.

That violence and dysfunction is also stoked by our media and games. We are what we watch. So what has American media served up?

  • Until WWII, the Western pit white American "good guys" against the "savage" native Americans and the outsider immigrants trying to compete for their piece of the pie with whites.
  • Films, TV and radio from the 1920's to the 1960's depicted a poor mom in the kitchen, and a rich one in fabulous gowns with a black mammy cracking jokes about the crackers in the rich homes. Ma and Pa Kettle were poor and proud with a billion kids but not ambitious. Prosperity was platinum blondes sipping cocktails with stylish white men all affecting English accents and living oversized lives that few Americans really experienced.
  • The anti-Communist era brought xenophobia to the screen in a wide variety of movies that used everything from alien and giant lizard invasions to spy flicks to films like the Manchurian Candidate about mind control. The others were out to get us, and they were coming.
  • News operated by neutral to progressive owners was neutralized by the rise of right wing acquisitions of media by Rupert Murdoch, or the political conversion of owners like CBS' Sumner Redstone. Out were the Murrows, Cronkites and Rathers. In were the Rush Limbaughs on reactionary radio, Fox News and MSNBC's turn towards packaging propaganda and commentary.

Think about what you watch and take for granted:

  • Thousands of films filled with alien attacks threatening us with extinction
  • Cop and Gangster films, from the Italian mafia to the Cali Cartels all feature scary "others" brandishing guns, selling drugs and all things illicit to get rich quick, and threatening the peace and stability of white America. Movies glorify gun-toting minorities even though minorities own fewer than 19% of the weapons in the United States.
  • The X-Men are the minorities in threat of extinction for being "different."
  • 73% of American-made movies feature white actors and plotlines that favor white culture, but only 46% of America, and only 16% of the world population is white. Even though the white population is a world minority, it projects its power as a majority.
  • Video games filled with gun toting people of color, from jihadi Arabs to the minority crime figures of Grand Theft Auto, to the array of characters of various shape and form who all code to "evil other."

We can see race on the news in the obvious as the unveiled separatism and racial hatreds of Trump's friends in the alt-Right movement, but it is much more subtle in the nice suburban white lady in Chicago who clutches her purse a little tigher in the supermarket line when a black man is standing behind her waiting in line with his groceries, or the guy who makes jokes about the fact that a black man won't move in next door to him because the white guy has big dogs.

The combat zones of control in 2016 America are the police, and the federal government's role in interpreting whether the Constitution is used progressively or regressively.

The mistreatment of African-Americans at the hands of the police isn't new. The increasing blow-back of it, from an America that is now, by birth a minority-majority, is.

Police have been trained to serve and protect the white power structure first and foremost. Numerous national studies synthesized into a Vanity Fair article found that:

  • A black person, black males in particular, is three times more likely to be stopped by police
  • The pressure on police of "high crime" neighborhoods have nothing to do with the conduct of police at the vast majority of stops of citizens;
  • That people of color are more than three times likely to have invasive searches done of their person and/or vehicles, more than three times likely to be shot by police
  • Only a bit more than 1/4 of the time will the police actually find any contraband in their stops or short detentions of people of color for minor causes.

Social justice for people of color is a growing movement with a face that, with each police shooting, alleged or proven, is galvanizing the coalition minority-majority into action.

Government was built to be the regulator of these social forces. Then the Far Right put its political fist into the gauge, and sand into the gears of our government. The alt-Right that backstops Trump is pro-white, anti-Constitution, and leans heavily fascist. Never before have the racial resenters, the quiet white power, found themselves lining up behind the uglier, baldfaced white power movement, until Trump became the GOP nominee.

They don't want racial, gender or social progress, but they know that if they have the power to slow it down, this election, with a Supreme Court appointment on the line, is their Alamo.

In truth, the Federal government, from Lincoln to Obama, has, guilty as charged, the federal government of the United States, in particular, has been the single political entity in America to stand up for equality and civil rights of all of its citizens. In the name of true democracy, imperfectly to be sure, it has:

  • Ended centuries of slavery.
  • Ended Jim Crow and enforced the right of minorities to vote;
  • Passed sweeping civil rights legislation to live up to its credo for all people;
  • Desegregated the schools;
  • Ended segregation in public places, restaurants, and shops
  • Established workplace equality rules;
  • Created a social safety net for all to live better in their elder years;
  • Legislated against housing discrimination and red-lining;
  • Strived to improve educational opportunity for children of color;
  • Helped feed poor children of any race and struggled to improve education and opportunity;
  • Provided the potential for affordable health care to bring millions the opportunity to maintain the lives, liberty and happiness.

When the federal government tried to keep the water and the air clear, and make banks and Wall Street investors accountable for their excess negatively impacting the lives of millions of Americans in Republican laissez-faire capitalist catastrophes like the Great Depression or the Great Recession, it ran afoul of the billionaire class.

Race is the most powerful motivator in American political history. More than the economy. More than defense. Fear by whites of being overtaken internally is the driving force of history, the economy, and even our foreign policy.

Which is why, of the 41-43% of voters currently supporting Trump, 90% of them are white males.

Hillary Clinton touches off the gender rail of American white male power. There is also the millions of dollars spent by the right and our government in fruitless witch hunts, from Whitewater to Benghazi. She represents everything that white America fears: The erosion of power, the inclusion of people of color and of spectral gender at equal standing to themselves.

The coding, from Trump's racial birther rants, to the talk about ending "political correctness" to their orgiastic ritual of screaming for an impossible Wall to somehow protect them from a minority America that is already here, are how the Republican party has collapsed into a seething heap of white racial fear and social anxiety.

If James Carville, Bill Clinton's masterful campaign manager, was Hilary Clinton's top political campaign advisor, the sign over his desk for this election would be:

"It's the skin color, stupid."

Unless Mrs. Clinton can own it, channel it, and motivate enough minority and progressive white voters, fear may "Trump" progress for another four years.