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From a whisper to a roar

Politicians and others in power no longer fear the consequences of putting their racism front and center

antonello silverini

While introducing Donald Trump at a recent rally, Illinois Rep. Mary Miller thanked him for the “historic victory for White life” represented by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Trump beamed. The crowd cheered. And while her team made a half-hearted excuse for the remark, just days later voters chose Miller in a hard-fought primary election.

Miller is far from alone in saying what used to be the quiet part out loud. So many people in power have been plainly declaring their ugliest beliefs and plans lately that it ironically has become hard to hear them all. But our collective future depends on hearing the signal in all the noise.

“When a big part of the political discourse is overtly bigoted, that really works to close doors for how inclusive and participatory our entire system of democracy can be.”

“It’s really dangerous,” says Lindsay Schubiner, momentum program director of the Western States Center where she works with communities and organizations to defend democracy. “When a big part of the political discourse is overtly bigoted, that really works to close doors for how inclusive and participatory our entire system of democracy can be.”

Right now is a critical moment for intervention, says Schubiner, because if we get organized and push back, we can significantly reduce the potential normalizing impact of these extreme statements.

Consider this startling admission from Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference, who responded to a question about whether he subscribed to the White supremacist “replacement theory” after the recent massacre of Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York:

“If you say there is a population problem in a country, but you’re killing millions of your own people through legalized abortion every year, if that were to be reduced, some of that problem is solved,” Schlapp said, making plain the way “great replacement” propaganda tries to link immigration and jobs to the issue of abortion. “You have millions of people who can take many of these jobs. How come no one brings that up? If you’re worried about this ‘replacement,’ why don’t we start there? Start with allowing our own people to live.”

Not only is he saying a hearty “hell, yeah” to a racist and antisemitic conspiracy theory that continually drives mass killings, he’s saying he supports abortion bans because he wants to force White women to have White babies to increase White power. The political right’s focus on abortion has always been tied to their racism. But they used to go to great pains to pretend otherwise. Now they’re saying it shamelessly, in front of microphones and cameras, while also crowing about their intent to implement a complete federal abortion ban in all 50 states.

Speaking of which, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy shouted this out loud to Politico in discussing the state’s high maternal mortality rate: “[A]bout a third of our population is African American; African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality. So, if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear.”

Are Black people making your state look bad by dying more frequently while trying to bring life into the world than White people? That’s just like saying, “Don’t trouble yourself with fixing the structural racism that’s killing them. Just go back to counting them as three-fifths of a person. Problem solved.”

If you’re hoping schools will teach the next generation of leaders to make better decisions, there’s bad news on that front. Just after the Roe v. Wade draft opinion was leaked this spring, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott went on conservative radio to announce his intention to use immigrant kids as a pawn to dismantle the federally protected right to public schooling in this country.

Specifically, Abbott plans to challenge the 1982 ruling Plyler v. Doe, in which the Supreme Court found that states had an obligation to educate everyone, including the children of undocumented immigrants. He said, “I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again because the expenses are extraordinary, and the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many decades ago.”

Times sure are different 40 years later. Now extremist politicians who want to dismantle public schools have Fox News to back them up, like Kenney, who said live on air that it’s “maybe a great time in our country’s history where we rethink whether or not we have public schools.”

Other GOP leaders have announced their intention to use the courts to ban gay sex, gay marriage, contraception, and even interracial marriage. In his concurrence in the decision that just overturned Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas made it plain that he’s eager to back them up on all but one of those goals – the one that would outlaw his own marriage.

When unelected extremists like Thomas have this much control over the most intimate parts of our lives, it makes you wonder about the state of our democracy. So let’s close with what some leaders are telling us about their plans for democracy itself, starting with Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, the “moderate” who trounced Trump’s hand-picked gubernatorial candidate, David Perdue, in June. How moderate is it to admit out loud you didn’t like the results of an election so you used your power to make it harder for Black and Brown people to vote?

That’s exactly what he said during the last debate of the primary race: “I was as frustrated as anyone else with the results, especially at the federal level. And we did something about it with Senate Bill 202.”

“A lot of the research coming out in information technology right now basically says that implicitly or explicitly, consciously or unconsciously, people are organizing their life choices and behaviors based on this information.”

Not blunt enough? Try Doug Mastriano, a superfan of “the big lie” who won the GOP primary to become the official candidate for Pennsylvania governor. He’s giddy with assumed power and wants everyone to know: “I get to appoint the secretary of state, who is delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs, and everything. I could decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen.”

We should all heed Maya Angelou’s advice: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

And then we need to do more than just believe because words have consequences, and they can be quite personal. Heron Greenesmith, senior research analyst for LGBTQI Justice at Political Research Associates, shares that their family is feeling the impact of overt anti-trans attacks acutely.

“My daughter has a trans sibling and a nonbinary parent,” says Greenesmith, “so for her to hear over and over that trans people don’t have the right to exist … that is going to severely impact her, make her worry about us, make her worry that people could find out that she has trans relatives and thus put herself in danger.”

Heron and their family are not alone, according to Stephanie Cook, an assistant professor at New York University and director of the Attachment and Health Disparities Research Lab in the School of Global Public Health.

“A lot of the research coming out in information technology right now basically says that implicitly or explicitly, consciously or unconsciously, people are organizing their life choices and behaviors based on this information. The extent to which that is a problem is still to be seen,” Cook says. And research shows a link between regions where people’s social media feeds are filled with race-based hate speech and the occurrence of hate crimes.

Connecting racism and bigotry in politics directly to the really dangerous events, such as the Buffalo shooting, the 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas, and the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, is a direct way to respond to such prejudice, Schubiner says.

“Pointing clearly to the ways that open bigotry conflicts with shared values,” she says, “and the possibilities for working to achieve a more participatory and more inclusive democracy in which everyone has a voice in community and in government, can also be really powerful.”

Jaclyn Friedman is the founder and executive director of EducateUS: SIECUS in Action and the author of four books, including “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape.”