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Racism That Once Was, Is No More

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Lyndon Baines Johnson, thirty-sixth President of the United States

Sixty years ago next month, Senate Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois rallied his Republican colleagues to break the Southern Democrats’ filibuster and enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With a nod to Victor Hugo, Dirksen said: “Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.”

Open racism is simply not allowed

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 refreshed the promise of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution nearly 100 years before. The legislation reflected a strong national consensus against racism and ended the “Jim Crow” era of institutionalized segregation.

Where are we today, two full generations later? The kind of open racism that was once so prevalent in America is no more, although the legacy of past racism remains part of our conscious present, evoking discomfort, wariness, guilt, posturing, and disagreement.

Chicago-based M3 Strategies conducted a poll of likely voters in Illinois last month that revealed a paradox in perceptions about race and racism in America today: How can a nation, state, or local area be considered racist if everyone living there thinks racism is bad?

A majority of the poll’s respondents said that America (53%), Chicago’s suburbs (53%), and rural Illinois (57%) are racist, while a near-majority (45%) said the same about Chicago itself. Three-fourths of Joe Biden voters believe America is racist, compared to only 17% of Donald Trump voters. There was a huge gender gap as well, as two-thirds of women believe America is racist, while 39% of men share that belief.

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Resolving accusation against self-insight

On the other hand, only 7% of respondents say they themselves are racist – and most of them are younger voters: 19% of 18-30 year-olds say that they are racist, compared to 8% of those 31-45 and only 4% of those over 46. Are younger people really more racist than their elders? This is counter-intuitive. What seems probable is that those who responded affirmatively to the question have simply absorbed the Critical Race Theory dogma that truly “anti-racist” people confess their racism.

Still, almost everyone denies being racist, but about half the respondents say someone else is a racist: our nation, state, or city. How do we explain this paradox? Here are three hypotheses:

  • People lie; how many racists admit they are? If this is so, at least lying racists know it’s wrong to be racist, which suggests they know their racism is shameful.
  • Very few people are actually racist, but they believe (incorrectly) that other people are. There’s confirmation bias with respect to racism: we see what we already believe, but it’s easy to be wrong about what others feel inside.
  • Very few people are racist and they know there aren’t many racists anymore, but they call the nation racist to show they are virtuously vigilant against racism.

This last possibility is a variation on what economists call the “Snob Effect.” Voters disparage others in order to distinguish themselves from the pack and show that they are the better sort of person.

For advantage

Why would people behave like this? The consensus against racism is so strong and deep in America that being perceived as “racist” is a social and professional catastrophe. It’s the worst sin. So they throw unnamed others under the racism bus to avoid sounding naïve while disassociating themselves personally with the stain.

That’s why playing the race card works in America. For example, 68% of participants said that they would change their support for a program or policy if an expert determined it to be racist, including 82% of Biden voters and 86% of voters aged 18-30.

Race remains an incredibly potent political tool because the consensus against racism is so strong. This is why Democrats keep the card handy – call it “Weekend at Bernie’s” activism: keeping hate alive to drive a political agenda.

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But there’s plenty of skepticism about playing the race card, too: 62% of the respondents believe that the term “racist” is overused and that many things labeled as racist are not actually racist.

Is DEI the new racism

Which brings us to the poll participants’ views with respect to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs:

  • Three-in-10 respondents say DEI programs are necessary to remedy institutional racism and subjugation of black people, including 49% of Biden voters.
  • Nearly one-fourth of those polled (23%) say DEI programs do not really tilt the playing field, but are useful for promoting a more harmonious workplace, including 28% of Biden voters and 10% of Trump voters; and
  • One-third say DEI programs are racist and institutionalize anti-white, anti-Asian, and anti-American ideologies and should be abolished, including 76% of Trump voters.

There is no consensus about whether DEI is a remedy for racism or a new way of perpetuating it. The differences over DEI are sharp and stark – and partisan.

Nonetheless, the consensus against racism that gave birth to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 remains strong two generations later; we are systemically against racism, not systemically racist. While surely racial hate still lurks in shadowy corners of America, the divide today is between those who cling to our racist past for its political potency and those who want to let the old hate die to expand opportunity for all without limiting it for some.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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National Committeeman (Illinois) at | + posts

Richard Porter is the National Committeeman from Illinois on the Republican National Committee.

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