The Ouroboros that is racial (and religious) dog whistles

Do you wonder why Obama hasn’t endorsed Biden yet? Before I answer that, lemme lay some groundwork…

As you probably remember, most of the racist attacks against President Obama weren’t directly attacks on his skin color. Racists are too milquetoast to do that. A good portion of that racism was aimed at Obama’s supposed religion, Islam. They called him a secret Muslim so much that republican candidates still thought it was a good strategy as recently as last year’s midterms.

Now, calling Obama a Muslim did a few things. First, it singled out his race, sounding the alarm that he was not white, because we think of Islam as exclusively non-white in this country. Secondly, it declared him an enemy of America, a story we have consistently told ourselves about Muslims in this country for nearly 30 years. Lastly, in doing those two things, they doubled-down on the idea that to be non-white in this country is to be an enemy of the state as well as an enemy of the (white) people. If we can learn anything from the republican response to the Obama administration, it’s that if a dog whistle hits the right pitch it can get all the dogs barking.

Believe it or not, another president went through something surprisingly similar.

It wasn’t long ago that people of Irish and Italian descent were not considered white in this country. One of the ways white people would dog whistle about the Irish and Italians was to talk about “Catholics.” John F. Kennedy was of course, of Irish descent and so his Catholicism became a major talking point against him. Many white Americans openly said that, if elected, JFK would not represent the American people so much as work as an agent of the Vatican. Really. So many people believed this that, in an era of scarce screen time, Kennedy was forced to make a televised speech addressing his Catholicism. But since the actual problem was his Irishness and not his religion, that wouldn’t be enough to persuade the (white) American people. No. In order for them to leave their prejudice outside of the ballot box, JFK would need to be vouched for.

Enter: Lyndon Baines Johnson, a definitively white senator from a former slave state, with a reputation built on segregation and racism. With LBJ as the VP, JFK would be vouched for, his Irishness put in check, and white America would be put at ease, allowing the duo into the White House.

So, if you wonder why Obama hasn’t endorsed Biden yet or why Obama tried to talk Biden out of running in 2016, you will probably find your answer in 2008. Looking back at the difficulties involved in attempting to be the first Black president, you are likely to see a similarity between him and the first “Catholic” president. If you were to look at Biden in 2008 you would likely find a definitively white senator from a former slave state with a reputation built on segregation and racism and the perfect person to vouch for Barrack Hussein Obama.

Unfortunately, that vouching goes both ways as now Biden is thought of as far more progressive than his record shows and far more contemporary than he exclusively behaves. And if that’s not enough of an Ouroboros for you, you should know that if elected, Joe Biden would be the second of only two Catholic American presidents.

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Calling All White People, Part 36: Media is complicit in white supremacy

Calling All White People, Part 36

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: The media help prop up white supremacy and racist systems, and it’s not just Fox News  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

We—and by “we” I mean we who are white more so than others—tend to put a lot of trust in the prevailing systems and structures of society in the United States. A lot of trust. Even when we say or act like we don’t. But rarely do we look critically enough at those systems and structures and the people and institutions that comprise them. Because of that we perpetuate, though both action and inaction, racism (as well as sexism, rape culture, Islamophobia and a host of other nasty things).

Media is one of those things we trust and which is a big part of the problem.

Oh, I know a lot of people say they distrust the media or look at it with a critical eye, but that’s not necessarily as true as we think. After all, we say we don’t trust politicians but many of us continue to trust that “the system” will work out and rebalance itself to remove Donald Trump specifically or reverse the darkly uber-conservative turn it’s take in recent years. Many of us still vote, and often without all that much research into candidates or issues. So too do we look to the media to tell us what’s going on, and that’s fine—just as voting is important—but we don’t look often enough or deep enough at what’s wrong in the media and, for example, how is perpetuates and props up racism—how the mainstream media is very much complicit in upholding white supremacy.

And when I say “media” in this piece, I’m mostly talking about news and analysis and not entertainment, though certainly other aspect of media like that are also complicit (look at the overwhelming focus still on white protagonists or “white saviors” in ostensibly Black-themed movies or the way non-white actors in films and shows have so many fewer prominent roles yet filmmakers will put white people in roles intended to be Asian or Indigenous).

But no, I want to focus on the news media and journalism.

Journalism touts itself on aiming for objectivity, but biases often creep in and the wording of articles and broadcasts can shift the way people see reality. The framing of situations and people can skew how people feel. The choices of who to interview or allow to comment very much influence the narrative and what people hear (or don’t) and what they believe (or don’t). And I say none of this as some person casually spouting off about something I only vaguely understand. The media business (journalism in particular) has been responsible for paying most of my bills over the years.

Look, it’s easy to point a finger at Fox News and waggle said finger judgmentally in the news network’s metaphorical face. You can say that they peddle twisted truths and outright lies. Or that they pour poison into the ears of gullible bigots and people uncomfortable with demographic shifts. Even that they are the propaganda wing of the Republican far right wing (which is increasingly the Republican mainstream). And so on and so forth.

And you’d be right. Fox News is terrible and naked in its willingness to stoke racial fears and fan the fires of bigotry, among many other awful things.

But look at the others, too. CNN recently had overt white supremacist Richard Spencer on to address whether Trump’s recent tweets attacking ‘The Squad” were racist—and CNN also had a group of white women on to defend Trump as not being racist when he obviously is and always has been demonstrably so. And lest you leap to the defense of NPR as a notable bastion of balance and perhaps liberalism, I’ve noted a steady increase in their willingness not only to give voice to the far right but not to challenge them when they blatantly deflect issues or spread lies and—more than that—an NPR executive recently indicated that we shouldn’t call the president’s tweets “racist” because that’s a label and a judgment. It’s part of the whole debate these days over the media’s insistence on using phrases like “racially charged” or something rather than “racist.” At a certain point, though, you call something what it obviously is. If it’s raining outside, your weather guy will say it’s raining, not that the air is noticeably wettened.

I mean, really? If the president had tweeted that a group of white female politicians should stop worrying their little heads about politics and get back in the kitchen would we have a problem defining that as sexism? I think not.

BGIM has had her own encounters with media framing with regard to racist incidents, just this month again in fact with a story that appeared in the Portland Press Herald. Initial handling of the article wasn’t done well, and she was subtly cast as a possible instigator in a racial incident or as someone “claiming” an incident rather than as the very clear victim, as well as having her safety and well-being compromised by the way the story focused on her and not so much on the perpetrator.

The fact is that even if we don’t regularly watch the news or don’t read the newspaper, we get a lot of our information from media—and media that is, for the most part, fairly reliable and honest. We get it from friends, from our Twitter feeds, from overhearing people talking or playing the radio. Whatever. But media forms a major foundation for how we find out what’s going on and what to think about it.

That foundation is also part of what holds up the house of white supremacy.

When one gives platforms to extremists on the racist and xenophobic side of things, whether inviting them as guests or doing puff pieces on their lives (like the New York Times profiling Nazis to give us a glimpse of their human side) or giving them actual jobs as commentators, one gives them legitimacy and power. That amplifies their voices and grants them a kind of authority, and in a world where we have problems calling racist people and things racist even when they obviously are, that’s a problem.

Because that’s how you normalize racism and white supremacy. To be fair, white supremacy has always been the baseline in the United States. But media helps prop that up and reinforce it by favoring the white voices more often and by often putting people of color in a worse light. Photos will often make white people looks better and more wholesome and Black people look sketchy or thuggish. Headlines written and quotes picked for stories will often cast people of color as troublemakers.

Most of this is done without intention to do harm. It’s not as if the entire media apparatus consciously sets out to reinforce an already white supremacist system. But like with so many things in this country, we white people don’t look at it critically enough—certainly not the way Black and Indigenous and other people of color are forced to as the system repeatedly puts them through the kinds of obstacles that white people don’t generally encounter. That is when intention ceases to matter and we need to look at the impact of what is being done so that we can stop doing it.

So, we need to stop blindly trusting or only vaguely questioning the systems in place, and that includes media. We need to hold all of these systems accountable and call them out when they fail. More to the point: Demand that they do better. The more we do, the more likely we can break up the stranglehold of white supremacy and maybe—just maybe—start building a society where people really are mostly just treated as people, regardless of the color of their skin.

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Will we settle for Trump’s world or fight for a more wonderful one?

“If you can believe it, Abraham Lincoln was treated supposedly very badly. But nobody’s been treated badly like me.” – Donald Trump (ABC NEWS, 2019)

“Life doesn’t work that way.” – Donald Trump (ABC NEWS, 2019)

“These white folk have newspapers, magazines, radios, spokesmen to get their ideas across. If they want to tell the world a lie, they can tell it so well that it becomes the truth; and if I tell them that you’re lying, they’ll tell the world even if you prove you’re telling the truth. Because it’s the kind of lie they want to hear…” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Recently the president gave 30 hours of interview access to the mainstream media. The resulting interview was chock full of Trumpian quote gold. One section of drivel that the “drive-by-media” mined for rich clickbait was Trump’s indignant confession that he would in fact accept dirt, intel, opposition research from a foreign actor or country. This admission was followed, as is customary, by plenty of outrage and disgust from the usual suspects (I think that’s us). They all focused on the first half of Trump’s verbal diarrhea—very few, if any, dug into the last line of that exchange. When asked if he would inform the FBI, when pressed about following the law, when the interviewer pointed out that Al Gore did in fact call the FBI when he was presented with “the dirt,” Mr. Trump responded:

“Give me a break; life doesn’t work that way.”

Trump acts with impunity not because all of a sudden he can but because that is who he has always been and he is that way because that is how his world has always worked. His life works that way. It is not impunity when it’s the truth. And it is the truth if your world works that way. And for once I’d like to give him credit for telling the truth.

Trump can count on several truths: the nastier he is the more his base (originally the New York print media, and now White rubes with million dollar dreams) loves and follows him. Other politicians can’t touch him—the truth is none of them can or are even willing to get down in the dirt like he is, and the truth is they also love it when he is a dick. Lastly, there is the truth that he is constantly shoving in our face every chance he gets: He IS the president, you are not, and more importantly there is nothing at all we, the losers, can do to change that. He won, we lost. He is the one in charge.

In that same ABC interview he scolded his interviewer: “I’m in charge of a very, very special gift. It’s this incredible country.”

These truths, along with the other Trump truths, when taken together, form the Teflon shell protecting that this moronic goon which he flaunts in all of our faces (yes, even you MAGA zombies out there). Coated in this Teflon (think of it as spray tanner) Trump can force himself on any situation, and force people to act in ways they would normally not behave. Kind of like rape (read: exactly like rape).

Trump has taken much from us and he will continue to take. In the process, he is depleting our morale, our energy, our ability to envision the future—and, in the end, he will have us questioning our own morals, our own red lines. And when this happens we will begin to question what is “just” and what are people “entitled to” and then we will engage in this because he will convince us that WE (you!) are the only one that matters. But it’s never been about what works for people in red states, those supposedly forgotten patriots. It’s never been about US. It is not about nationalism. It has always been about what works for Trump in order to keep his life and world intact, and if some suckers in MAGA hats get a win here and there that’s OK too!

This garbage of a human, this plague on our emotional wellbeing, this idiot con man, has proven over and over again that nothing matters except for his truth. Tax fraud (as detailed in the New York Times) = nope. Rape (literally detailed in a fucking book and a court case featuring one of his immigrant ex-wives) = nada. Lying in the face of literal evidence (responding “I did not say that” after literally being played a tape of his own voice saying his own words) = zip. The list goes on and on and these are just examples of what he did BEFORE he was in office. While in office he has doubled down and turnt it up on all three of those examples—more fraud, more rape, and of course more lying.

Keep in mind I have chosen to highlight only those three “categories of crime” if you will. I could just as easily chosen ANY other three other categories and it would be the same: Trump’s life “doesn’t work that way”

In Trump world these crimes are not crimes. He reminded us of this several times during the debates with Hillary Clinton. His actions are not crimes; they are in fact the actions of a “stable genius!”

Over the course of his life he has convinced literally millions of people that it’s OK because it IS how the world works, and he promises if you stick with him, you too can live in this world. This is the “frustrated millionaires” quote on steroids.

But I want to bring it back to OUR world. And remind us that it is not Trump we are up against in the fight for our future. It is the zealots who internalize his messages. It’s the folks who are involved in a transactional relationships with our Nazi-in-chief. It is your next-door neighbor who is starting to believe what he is hearing from his Dear Leader.

I think it’s important for us to keep in mind that many of the Trump zombies live in a world that does not value restorative practices and justice, human rights, protecting the weak, advocating for the abused—it’s about revenge and pain. Trump has somehow convinced these people that “owning the libs” is a better reward/return than having a not-boiling planet; it’s better to piss off a snowflake than having healthcare and social security.

“…He knows how to irritate people. He’s very intelligent. He knows how to get to them,” said Michelle Best, a Brandon, Fla., resident who traveled [to this] Trump rally, in a recent article. “Trump knows weaknesses, and he knows how to exploit them. Is he the nicest guy? Nice doesn’t get things done. I don’t want a nice president. I want a president that gets things done. And he’s getting things done.”

Best (oh the irony…) lives in a world where exploiting other’s weaknesses is a “good” thing. A world in which “nice” does not work.

That’s not the way my world works.

In my world people, are treated with dignity and respect. We fight for human rights. We stand up for those whose voice has been diminished. I am not interested in living in the world that Trump is trying to bring into focus. But I am worried that the onslaught is having a negative impact on my fellow social justice warriors. I am worried that the messages from Trump’s Upside Down are creeping into our normality.

Victor Small, Jr., a middle school administrator in Oakland, Calif., has been using restorative practices for several years and supports other teachers through his work with the Restorative Justice League chats. Victor says “Say you stole a car, Instead of you necessarily doing jail time, really what you would have to first do is make sure that you restore the situation to the person who you actually harmed, which would be the person whose car you stole, right? So you would have to restore that in some way. Either you’d have to get them their car back or get them a new car and apologize or something like that. Basically, the debt that you owe to society is to that person that you harmed.”

He also says “Everything that a kid does shouldn’t have to have a consequence … if a kid gets angry and says something to another kid, and that kid gets mad, do they need detention for that, or do they need to just fix the problem and not be mad at each other? Probably just fix the problem, not be mad at each other, and go on about their lives. If they didn’t do anything wrong to the class or the community and they just did something messed-up to another student, they can handle that between the two students. You could facilitate that. It teaches them, hey, you have to be accountable for your actions, because your actions do have impact on other students, without having them sit in detention, right?”

Most of the people in Trump’s Sunken Place believe that both of Small’s statements are ridiculous. In their life they have been taught that justice looks like payback and revenge. Both the student and the thief should be punished. They should be shown exactly how the world works.

I tend to work with mostly liberal folks, in what appear to be mostly liberal settings. I find that in these circles people have an easier time internalizing Small’s first statement than they do the second one. While I might get some pushback on the first statement, most people in my world will eventually agree we will get nowhere if we continue to just punish without restoring.

Here is where my worry comes into focus: when it comes to the second statement, I have heard teachers say “but something has to happen! How else will that student learn?” And then the inevitable “that’s not how the world works”

But what are we trying to teach about how the world works?

What are the connections we are trying to make? Which world do we want to live in? Either we reject the entirety of the Trumpian world view or not.

Opposing Trump is no longer the most important thing in my world. Fighting back the creeping advancing mentality that his actions are normal, while not losing our humanity, is what I am focused on. Maybe you’ve struggled with the idea of restorative justice, or immigration issues, or LGBQT rights in the past—it’s time to get yourself in order and figure out where you stand on these and the other issues that Trump is using to foment his worldview on our lives.

I hope that we can focus on maintaining a world that values truth, science, love, and redemption. I stand fast that our focus should be on solidarity, and that we invest in practices and structures that focus on raising and supporting empathetic youth.

If we do this we can change the way the world works for so many of our brothers and sisters. We can bring them out of Trump’s Sunken Place to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

Moises “Mosart” Nunez is an educator, activist, and Ph.D. dropout with a master’s degree in education. Mo’s professional focus is on issues of teen violence, at-risk-youth intervention, the social-emotional education of teens, creating inclusive school environments for students with special needs, school redesign, community engagement, and dismantling racist practices in public education. Mo currently designs and leads community engagement based anti-racism and implicit bias workshops for district and school leadership across the country. Mo has taught English, social studies, and special education across the Northeast in public schools, alternative-education programs, private independent schools, and several universities. Mo has also designed and served as director for several successful at-risk-youth programs, most notably at New Beginnings in Rochester, N.Y.—an alternative education school that focuses on educating and reintegrating recently incarcerated youth. Mo has served as administrator, program director, and program manager for several alternative education, day treatment programs, and public schools in New England and the tri-state area. Mo recently won The Phoenix magazine’s Hip Hop DJ of the Year 2018, and released an album of original music under the name “mosart212.”

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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