Racism and the Far Right: How I Know it's Racism




By Anna Bates

We live in dangerous times.  Racial tensions in America are high, as evidenced by Trayvon Martin's shooting and other incidents, and too few people seem to notice.  Xenophobics of the Far Right, exemplified by Glenn Beck, Ted Nugent, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk, occupy mainstream media daily, providing an air of legitimacy for their clearly racist views.  Obvious acts of racial violence are described as random violence, skewing the picture and disguising serious rottenness.  These things suggest to me that we are dealing with the greatest threat to American Democracy since the whiplash reaction to Radical Reconstruction in the late 1860s, which spawned the first Ku Klux Klan.   Here is how I recognize that deadly racism.

First, I read some good history books.  Historians Herbert Aptheker, Edmund Morgan and W.E.B. DuBois correctly identified racism as the cornerstone upon which the entire American economy and government were built.  This is why; although behavior may change over time, racism would be nearly impossible to root out without killing the entire organism.

I add to that history my personal experience.  I know racism because I grew up a white kid in a segregated southern town.  Conroe, Texas, an oil boom town from the 1930s, was so severely segregated that Black visitors from Alabama and Mississippi during the 1960s could not believe that local African Americans still lived in shinny shacks.  During my childhood in the 1950s and 60s, Black and white people did not interact in Conroe, except for the few African Americans who worked for white families.   We had separate churches, separate doctors, separate stores.  I remember well the "white" and "colored" water fountains, rest rooms (Men, Women, and Colored), and that if a Black person ordered something from a local restaurant, it was automatically to go.  Conroe did not desegregate its schools in the 1960s, opting instead for a token system wherein one or two African American kids attended the white local public schools.  The Black kids went to Booker T. Washington, and used hand-me-down books from the white schools.

I moved away from Conroe and its culture many years ago, and except for visits to my parents, who lived there until their deaths in 1997 and 2004, did not return.  Then, came Facebook.  Three years ago, I was delighted to hear from several of my high school classmates.  We exchanged photos, and stories about what we did after high school.  I even attended my 40th high school reunion last year.  Then, things went sour.  Anti-Obama slogans and links began to appear on my page daily, all from former classmates.  The ugliest, most racist material, the Joker faced Obama, racist Obama jokes, etc..., were daily items, not to mention pro-gun epithets and NRA propaganda.  I retaliated by posting some pro-Obama (and also pro-choice and pro-women's health care) items.  I suddenly found myself with only a couple of friends, and they only communicated to discuss nostalgic newspaper photos of how great Conroe looked during Christmas in 1961, and how they all wished it were that way now.   

FINE, I thought.  I left Conroe.  Apparently these people did not.  And, recalling the high school reunion last year, Conroe has not changed that much.  It's larger, having incorporated some outlying communities, and more people live there now.  A large Hispanic community grew from the 1970s on.  African Americans from other places moved in and blended into a now semi-cosmopolitan town.  A stranger does not notice the segregated forms that are still very obvious to me.  I know this because I drove through Dugan on the visit to my high school reunion.  I could not believe what I saw.  Many African American in Conroe still live in shacks.  And my former classmates are the reason why.

So, when I see anti-Obama posters and slogans, I recognize them for what they are.  They are evidence that racism is alive and well in America today.  The Southern Poverty Law Center confirms that hate groups are on the rise (SPLC Newsletter, 2/23/2011).  Fringe groups such as The Sovereign Citizens Movement, which declares the entire U.S. government illegitimate, are growing.  The Ku Klux Klan is rebounding.  Some of these groups rally round an idea they call Christian Identity, which claims the only real Christians are descended from white people who traveled from Israel through Ireland and then to the U.S.  My stomach gets tight thinking about it.  This all sounds so similar to the stories we heard as white children in Conroe.  The snake in the Garden of Eden was a Black man.  Cain killed Abel and the Lord turned him black.  I could go on and on.  It is all part of a bizarre and very frightening historical narrative, and the narrative is unfinished.

The ramblings of Glenn Beck, Ted Nugent and other rightist wing-nuts are well known, and it is not difficult to see racism behind their rants.  Less obvious, though, is the racism inherent in multiple "acts of random violence," such as the attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 by Jared Lee Loughner, an avowed racist.  The media emphasized Loughner's drug use and behavior changes rather than his anti-government views.  And, are not those associated with most abortion clinic bombings affiliated with one or another right-wing organizations?  This month, May 2012, five white male members of an anarchist group planned to bomb an Ohio bridge on May Day.  The motives behind all these things are divergent on the surface, but beneath them run a deep, deep tide.  The tide of American racism.

The election of Barak Obama three years ago gave me hope.  More Americans than I thought possible now respect and acknowledge Obama as their president.  Obama's attention to fairness for all Americans and his support of many efforts to improve the lives of those who have not benefitted from trickle-down economics show that he is truly a leader of the future.  Despite blizzards of resistance from the far right, he got a sweeping health care bill passed, signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and closed the Medicare "Donut Hole."  

But with these messages of hope come admonitions of future violence.  Racism, whether explicit, as in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, or implicit, as in the NRA's insistence that the Second Amendment assures their members the right to shoot anybody they don't like on sight, is alive and well in America today.  To keep hope alive, we must be vigilant of racism's ugly maneuverings.  Do not assume that right-wing slander is politics as usual.  It is not.  It is fueled by racism with a long history and deep roots.  Looking forward, we can fight for progressive policies knowing something of the strength of our opposition.


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  • Due to the current economic crisis and the gossip of a depression greater than the one of 1920. I am exploring the idea of having a small house on the land. Conroe is home to my family descendants, we have land and a family burial plot. My concern is racism and how it would affect my family. As African American's we work and long to live in peace. But I am concerned that if we moved to Conroe we would be in the middle of blatant racism. My question is does Conroe have a diverse population? Can African American families live in peace or it is a lot of racial tension?

    Posted by efb, 08/02/2015 3:48pm (3 years ago)

  • Love the article, especially the reference to Conroe. Having grown up there as well, I know first hand the politics of the day. I was 1st harassed by police while in the 4th grade for walking in a white neighborhood. The reason--"They got a call of cars being broken into." It's a pleasure to find someone from Conroe who has a different attitude.

    montage is the author of Duggan, Professor of English at Texas Southern University, M.A., and activist

    Posted by montage, 05/20/2013 11:08pm (6 years ago)

  • Homophobia is motivated by the same thought pattern as racism. "If those people have the same rights and privileges as me, where is the superiority I've been told all my live that I have?"

    Posted by Eliot Kenin, 05/16/2012 5:31pm (7 years ago)

  • Racism will end when capitalism ends. The ideology of racism, that evil pollutant, seems so genetically ingrained that white folks will have to work hard to get rid of it.

    So long as racism = super-profits, America will be for a long time its victim.

    Posted by wskarma, 05/09/2012 7:50pm (7 years ago)

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