Monday, November 06, 2006

Fronting for the man

Ward Connerly, the black man from California who has made a career out of promoting racially divisive measures that all, strangely enough, happen to find favor with white conservatives, has finally made clear that there's literally no one whose support he won't welcome.

Connerly's latest effort is another anti-affirmative action measure, this time in Michigan. It's attracted the approval of such right-wing luminaries as George Will and Rich Lowry. But no one in Michigan supports it, including the Republican nominees for public office there, because it's a measure whose negative impacts on African Americans are so unmistakable and so obviously intended. Moreover, it's also obvious to everyone that the history of the impacts of these measures definitively hurts both the universities affected and the states that pass them.

So Connerly has become so desperate for endorsements that he's now welcoming support from the Ku Klux Klan:
Ward Connerly, the California man leading a ballot measure to end most affirmative action in Michigan, accepts Ku Klux Klan support for his position in a video clip posted this week on the Internet.

Connerly on Friday defended his remark in a statement, saying he accepts support for banning affirmative action wherever he finds it.

He said he does not support hateful activities.

His precise words, defending the Klan support:
"If the Ku Klux Klan thinks that equality is right, God bless them. Thank them for finally reaching the point where logic and reason are being applied instead of hate."

Ironically, when Connerly's opponents in California in 1996 ran ads that included images of the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, he called that an "act of pathetic desperation."

The Klan isn't the only white supremacist group endorsing the Michigan initiative. So is the Council of Conservative Citizens:
Last month, the Grand Rapids Press reported about a photo showing Connerly shaking hands with John Raterink, chairman of the Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens, which is considered a white separatist group.

Connerly said he didn't know Raterink's background when the picture was taken.

"I have nothing but contempt for separatist groups based on race that have done so much to hurt black people throughout American history. Proposal 2 is about equality and fairness, not separation and preferences," he said in his statement.

Let's cut, momentarily, through Connerly's bullshit: The Ku Klux Klan's entire reason for existence is inequality. The only reason that it, and fellow organizations like the CofCC, have signed onto Connerly's anti-affirmative action initiative is because they can see, quite correctly, that the real-world outcome of the proposal is create barriers to achievement for young blacks. That's something they very much support and approve.

Rich Lowry's smoke-blowing notwithstanding, Connerly's efforts a decade ago in California, where he successfully promoted the anti-affirmative-action Proposition 209, have reaped truly bitter fruit for that state, as Ellis Cose at Newsweek reported just this week. In a separate piece examining the Michigan fight, Cose notes:
This is not to say Proposition 209 had no effect. In two areas—minority enrollment in the state's top public universities and contracts awarded to women and minorities—the vote was a watershed event. In 1998, the University of California, Berkeley, admitted less than half the number of blacks it had the previous year and nearly half the number of Latinos. At UCLA, the numbers of incoming "underrepresented" minorities also dropped precipitously. At the law schools, the falloff was startling. In 1997, Berkeley's law school enrolled only one black first-year student out of a total of 268. UCLA did not fare much better.

This summer, UCLA projected its lowest black enrollment (96 prospective students out of nearly 5,000 freshmen) in more than three decades. Partly in response, UCLA's academic senate approved a "holistic" admissions process, meaning the university would focus on the whole student—not just the academics—and hope for a more diverse student body.

A quote from the full report is fairly representative of this plays out in the classroom:
Goodwin Liu, assistant professor of law, observed, "At Boalt, you can't escape the obvious result [of Proposition 209]; and the most obvious result is just the tremendous dearth of black students. ... Staring out at a hundred-person Constitutional law class, and you have maybe one, two or three black students. ... It's odd to teach Constitutional law, so much of it informed by race, in a setting like that."

The experience of Washington state, where we passed a Prop. 209 clone called Initiative 200 back in 1998, has been nearly identical, as Mark Trahant detailed in a recent column:
Washington's experience with I-200 shows similar trends. A draft report by the Higher Education Coordinating Board shows that African Americans, Hispanic and American Indian students "were not participating -- nor were they achieving academically -- at rates comparable to statewide averages."

There is lower than average participation at the undergraduate and graduate levels -- and American Indian, Hispanic and African Americans are more likely to become "early leavers," attending school for a short time and not returning within two years. And, the number of minority faculty members remains even smaller than the pool of students.

While I-200 was enacted, more than half of all American Indians who graduated from high school were college bound. Today the number is 38 percent -- and showing a downward trend.

It's clear that the arguments for I-200 were wrong. Higher education is becoming less representative of the state -- and our economic future.

When voters looked at this issue eight years ago, the discourse was framed about fairness. That might have been the right argument then -- but it's exactly wrong now.

The issue is now one of economic security -- not for minority students -- but for every American.

Of course, one of the biggest cheerleaders for I-200 in this state back in 1998 was the woman who at the time was our own version of Ward Connerly: Michelle Malkin, who back then was a Seattle Times columnist (and one of dubious quality at that). And as I've pointed out a few times, Malkin has displayed not only a lack of compunction about associating with white nationalist organizations, she's proven positively gifted at transmitting their foul ideas and kooky conspiracy theories into the mainstream of public discourse.

Put another way:
In sum, the entire arc of Malkin's career has been predicated on one primary accomplishment: she can get away with publishing racially charged nonsense that, if written by a white person, would raise immediate questions of racism. Because Malkin is Asian American, she gets a pass. Talk about playing the race card. Malkin's only real talent, it seems, is providing bigots with prepackaged excuses for their bigotry.

Malkin and Connerly are not exactly alone at this. I've already noted the way that certain black activists have been allowing themselves to front the efforts of white nationalists to create a wedge between blacks and Latinos on the immigration front. A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report provides the fuller details of how this comes about:
In recent months, Anderson and a smattering of other African-American anti-immigration activists, most notably longtime Los Angeles homeless activist Ted Hayes (see interviews with both men), have become the front men for a campaign orchestrated and funded by white anti-immigration leaders. The campaign aims to convert black Americans to their cause, and simultaneously to provide groups like the Minuteman Project and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) with cover against accusations of racism.

Beyond putting a black face in the spotlight as often as possible at rallies and conventions like Unite to Fight, this effort also consists of the new FAIR front group, Choose Black America -- a supposedly nationwide coalition of black business and community leaders spreading the message that "mass illegal immigration has been the single greatest impediment to black advancement in this country over the past 25 years."

"The danger here is [black activists] being co-opted by a group who may not have the African-American community's best interests in mind," says Shayla Nunnally, a black professor at the University of Connecticut and co-author of a Duke University study on Latino immigrants' attitudes towards blacks. "It goes back to minorities fighting minorities, while fighting the overall oppression isn't being addressed."

More to the point, these men are all too happy to let themselves be used as front men for white racists who are eager to promote their own claim to not being racists:
It's white folks who have paraded Anderson all over the country in the past year, financing his appearances at the Unite to Fight convention in Las Vegas, a Minuteman Project summit in Arlington Heights, Ill., and a Capitol Hill rally where Anderson warmed up the crowd for anti-immigration hard-liner and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), among other events. When officials at white-dominated FAIR needed black figureheads for their front group, they knew Anderson was their man. He signed on as a founding member of Choose Black America (CBA), along with 10 other activists, academics, clergymen, and entrepreneurs.

The formation of CBA was announced at a FAIR-sponsored press conference last May at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. To date, that press conference is the only verifiable action CBA has taken. It otherwise seems to exist only as a website and a public relations gambit.

"The African Americans they brought there were just to put a black face on their position," says Hutchinson, who, unlike Anderson and Hayes, declined an offer to join CBA. "These blacks had no other further use. [FAIR] got what they wanted, so why would they have meetings [of the CBA]? Why would they create an organization? These individuals are so loosely affiliated, what kind of organization are you going to form out of that?"

Also, when Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist kicked off his group's cross-country caravan to Washington, D.C., last May 3, he picked Leimert Park, a mostly black Los Angeles neighborhood, as the caravan's rallying point. Gilchrist brought out the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, African-American head of the right-wing, Christian fundamentalist Brotherhood Organization for a New Destiny, along with Ted Hayes, the black homeless advocate, to back him up.

The rally was supposed to be an invitation to Minuteman discipleship, but it didn't end in benediction. Faced by dozens of African-Americans calling Gilchrist a racist and labeling his black associates as "Sambos," Gilchrist dropped the friendly face. "Minutemen, stand your ground," he barked. Then, referring to a man leading chants against his followers, Gilchrist added, "If it's war he wants, then let it begin here," according to the Los Angeles Times.

"We confronted them and chased them out of our community with that racist nonsense," says Najee Ali, president of the Islamic H.O.P.E. civil rights organization in Los Angeles. "We wanted to let them know that they are not welcome in our community and we were offended they chose that as their departure point."

As a white man involved in the work of combating white supremacist beliefs and organizations, I find people like this fascinating: minorities whose belief in their own exceptionalism allows them to identify more with white exceptionalists than with minority communitarians.

They remind me very much of the people that James Loewen describes in his remarkable work Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (for my money, the most significant book on race written in the past decade). These were the "exceptions" to the so-called "sundown" laws that existed in thousands of American towns (most of them outside the South, and particularly prevalent in the Midwest and Northeast) forbidding blacks to remain within town borders after sundown. Many "sundown towns" had one or two black residents, usually servants of local wealthy landowners, or people in subservient positions (hotel workers, nurses, janitors, shoeshiners) who had longtime resident status.

How did they manage it? As Loewen tells it, there were several survival strategies involved, including an emphasis on their eccentricity and individuality, which played to the way whites often responded to the cognitive dissonance of knowing blacks who were fine, upstanding, individuals, in contrast with prevailing stereotypes depicting them as lascivious criminals and rapists. That is, they made exceptions for them. Loewen cites an interview with a woman Klan member from Indiana:
"You get several of them together and they become niggers. Individually, they're fine people."

There was also a tendency to play to white stereotypes about negroes. All of this was designed to encourage whites to identify them as being on their side:
Overt identification with the white community was another survival tactic. Such blacks became "Tonto figures" -- taking pains to associate with the "white side," differentiated from the hordes of blacks outside the city limits. White workers in Austin, Minnesota, repeatedly expelled African Americans, and Austin became a sundown town, but like many others, it allowed one African American to stay -- the shoeshine "boy." Union member John Winkola tells about him:

And I'll tell you a good one: So one time we had Frank -- I forget his last name -- he was shining shoes in the barbershop and then afterwards he bell-hopped for the bus in town here, and everybody liked him ... He'd never go in the packing house because he knew he couldn't, he didn't want to go there.

So one day I was walking along ... and here came a couple of niggers, and they stood there by the bridge facing the packing house, and ... [Frank] says, "Y'know, John," he says, "when the damn niggers start comin' into this town, I'm gonna get the hell outta here." And he was black! He was black! He didn't want them to come into town either ... But we never had no trouble with Frank at all.

Indeed they didn't; Frank knew with which side of the color line he had to identify if he was to remain in Austin.

... Kathleen Blee, author of Women of the Klan, collected a good example from an Indiana woman in the 1980s: "We didn't hate the niggers. We had the Wills family that lived right here in [this] township. And they were like pet coons to us. I went to school with them." Often they got known by nicknames, such as "Snowball" for the only African American in West Bend, Wisconsin, or "Nigger Slim" for the father of the only black family in Salem, Illinois.

... The Austin, Minnesota, story shows another ideological payoff that allowing one household to stay when all others are driven out can have for whites, as they can claim not to be racist: "We're not against all African Americans after all -- look at Frank!" More accurately, whites can claim to be appropriately racist. The problem lies with those other African Americans -- "the damn niggers." Even Frank -- "and he was black" -- agrees. Thus instead of allowing their positive feelings about George Washington Maddox or Elizabeth Davis to prompt some questioning of their exclusionary policies, whites in Medford, Oregon, and Casey, Illinois, merely emphasized how exceptional these individuals were. In turn, this allowed whites to affirm once more how inferior other African Americans were, in their eyes.

Things, fortunately, have changed quite a bit since all this was true, though we continue to deal with the legacy of these times. Today, minorities who identify with anti-minority interests -- particularly the anti-multiculturalists of the paleoconservative right -- (and this certainly includes gay Republicans) no longer are doing so as a survival technique. Rather, it's a technique that creates all kinds of opportunities, both financial and otherwise.

Of course, it's a pretty limited club. But once you're in, it's possible to go quite a long ways as a white-nationalist minority. Just ask Ward and Michelle.

And when the Klan pats you on the back, you can pretend that they've somehow changed their very nature and become interested in equality. Why, David Duke couldn't have phrased it any better.

-- Dave

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