Opinion: Racism and Some Good News About Public Opinion

Marine Park, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Amy Vernon-Jones

Love Justice And Climate Change

On May 18, a heavily armed 18-year-old white man drove more than 3 hours from his home to a black neighborhood in Buffalo and shot and killed 10 African Americans as they were grocery shopping. This was one of the more than 200 heartbreaking, heinous mass shootings this year. This young man was fueled by racial hatred and convinced of the “Great Replacement Theory.” This totally false “theory” is racist and anti-Semitic to its core. It has recently become more mainstream on the right–with the much-watched Tucker Carlson at Fox News repeatedly evoking the specter of imminent white extinction and Republican politicians mostly refusing to disavow it, even after the Buffalo shooting.

Great Replacement Theory
The Great Replacement Theory is a racist conspiracy theory that claims that Jews and left-wing “elites” are actively and covertly seeking to replace white people in currently white-dominated countries with “inferior” populations, especially immigrants and other people of color. The perpetrators of racial violence at the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shooting and at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh were adherents of this theory. The torch-light marchers in the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2017 chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

Among political leaders it’s hard to know who really believes this harmful nonsense and who is cynically using it to gain or keep political power by whipping up the base of Republican party. In the population as a whole, its adherents are a minority, but it is sad and dangerous that distress patterns of fear and hatred have grabbed hold of the minds of so many white people.

White Supremacy
Adherence to the ideology of white supremacy has a long history in this country–from slavery and Indian removal to the present day. The Republican party today appears to be quite captured by it, or at least some variation of it.

At the core of white supremacy is the belief that white Christian men are superior and should be dominant; that they generally don’t need to concern themselves with the effects of their actions on anyone of lesser status or on anything else. This leads directly to male domination and sexism; subjugation and exploitation of Global Majority and Indigenous* people; anti-Semitism; exploitation and despoiling of the environment for profit; and oppression of LGBQT+ people. It’s all of a piece.

In this horribly distorted view, any action by government to restrict white men in their acquisition of wealth; to guarantee rights or provide services to anyone who is not straight, white and Christian; or to regulate the effect that (predominately white) corporations have on the environment in their profit-seeking, undermines the rightful dominance of white people and must be opposed at every turn. Of course, in the current era, among white supremacists there is some inclusion of women in the power structure, but even that occurs within the context of ongoing male domination.

People holding these views tend to be uncomfortable with racial diversity and feel threatened by any GMI* person who gains a position of authority and by any effort to achieve racial equity. They feel especially threatened by the fact that demographic changes in the U.S. are leading toward white people no longer being the majority of the U.S. population by about 2045. The fear and the religious self-righteousness held by many who have these views are a toxic combination that allows little space for reasonable dialogue, negotiation, or compromise with others.

Our issues are connected
When we advocate for voting rights, bold climate action, women’s or LGBQT+ rights, gun regulation, unions, housing, or universal healthcare we are challenging the whole ideological and emotional structure of white supremacy. This is one way in which all these issues are connected and one reason why we need to keep building a powerful, multi-issue, multi-racial people’s movement.

It can be discouraging to follow the news these days–whether it’s a horrific shooting of elementary school children, the undermining of democracy, the Supreme Court, or the ongoing failure to take bold climate action. However, I recommend that we remember that a majority of the people in the U.S. still have a commitment to fact-based decision-making and to equal justice. Millions of acts of caring and goodness occur in the U.S. every day.

Good News
Two-thirds of the population think climate change is a serious issue and want more government action. 90% favor background checks for gun purchases. Two-thirds do not want Roe v Wade overturned. As recently as June 2020, 76% of people in this country (including 71% of white people) said that racial and ethnic discrimination is a “big problem.” Almost two-thirds support expanding access to early voting and would prohibit partisan gerrymandering.

These figures may not translate into electoral or legislative victories in the near-term, but they do indicate an important reality about public opinion in the U.S. and clearly indicate that those of us who care about these issues are not alone. They can help us choose to be hopeful and sustain us in our efforts to create a society that works for everyone. Even if we feel discouraged, we can stand against the forces of hate and division at every opportunity. We can remember that love matters, community matters, everyone matters.

*There are many opinions about the best terms to use for people often referred to as “people of color.” The peoples of Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and those descended from them, and Indigenous people, are over eighty percent of the global population. Using the term “Global Majority and Indigenous” (GMI) for these people, acknowledges their majority status in the world and interrupts how the dominant United States and European culture assigns them a minority status. This term was developed by people who themselves identify as Global Majority and Indigenous People. I’ve decided to use it regularly in my writing and other work.

Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Amherst Community Safety Working Group and of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.

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1 thought on “Opinion: Racism and Some Good News About Public Opinion

  1. Russ, I’m very grateful for the work you do and agree with everything you wrote except one semantic quibble. So this is not a criticism as much as an opportunity to be even better. Our choice of words–the language we use–influences the way we and others think about what we say. You used the phrase “white supremacy” when you really mean white supremacism. White supremacism is the ideology of believing in white supremacy. White supremacy is the name for a belief that whites are somehow better than other kinds of people. We do not want to give them that legitimacy–just as, in most cases, too many people use the word “defense” when what they really mean is military. Outside of unique situations such as the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian military invasion, much of the time, military might is used for aggression, not defense. This is obviously true of the Russian invasion, but just as true of the US’s role in places like Iraq, Vietnam, Central America, etc. in propping up dictators (until they cross us), suppressing people’s movements for change, etc.

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