Anger and Ugly Faces of Bigotry

Millions of Americans feel disenfranchised by the political establishment numbers reflected in the populist candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders but this sense of betrayal often pours out in ugly expressions of bigotry, as Michael Winship observed.

By Michael Winship

Philadelphia, Cradle of Liberty and City of Brotherly Love, was anything but on New Year’s Day. Visiting with family, we’d all decided to meet up at the annual Mummers’ Parade.

Now, it is well established that I am an unabashed lover of parades both as spectator and participant, having marched in protests, fireman’s carnivals, sugar beet festivals, and many other events. In high school, I was even in a freelance marching band, sort of a mobile garage band with a drum major and a couple of trombones.

An historical photo of "black-face" participants in a Mummers Parade.

An historical photo of “black-face” participants in a Mummers Parade.

So I’m a fan, and I remember watching the Mummers Parade on TV when I was a kid. Seeing it live and in person, the pageantry’s even more impressive. Reminiscent of New Orleans’ fabled Mardi Gras krewes, the various “brigades” in the line of march feature elaborate costumes, floats and superb musicianship. But unlike New Orleans, the marchers are overwhelmingly white. And their comedy skills leave a lot to be desired.

The 116-year-old Philadelphia event, perhaps the oldest of its kind in the United States, is troubled “dogged by controversy,” as Angela Bronner Helm writes at The Root. “Minstrelsy has always [been] a part of the Mummer DNA, including blackface. But in 1964, under pressure from the NAACP, blackface was officially banned, yet it seems to find its way into the parade each year. This year, ‘brownface’ was the insult du jour, with Sammar Strutters’ ‘Siesta Fiesta’ revelers dressed as tacos with brown face paint, including children”

But that wasn’t all, not by a long shot (for one thing, Helm forgot to mention the sombreros and serapes). In addition to the overall public drunkenness of the rowdy young crowd on the streets (I’m no prude but this was out of control), one of the other brigades in the parade crudely mocked Caitlyn Jenner, and one member was subsequently kicked out of the group for publicly spewing anti-gay bigotry.

Philadelphia’s new progressive mayor Jim Kenney tweeted that it was “hurtful Our Trans Citizens do not deserve this type of satire/insult.” What’s more, a gay man walking his parents’ dog reportedly was assaulted by four mummers he came upon urinating in an alley.

In fairness, organizers have made some small steps toward increasing the parade’s diversity. But then there was this.

As we stood in bleachers near City Hall, demonstrators from the Black Lives Matter movement arrived on the corner, anywhere from fifty to a hundred people with signs, shouting for racial and economic justice. Police on bicycles kept them from moving into the parade. Two were arrested.

The protesters were expressing their right to speak out and to focus the rest of us on some real problems. But many of those around us exploded in rage, screaming epithets and hatred at the demonstrators. One of them, her face contorted in fury, reminded me of the infamous New Orleans “cheerleaders,” the forty or so white women who in 1960 stood outside William Frantz Elementary every morning hurling threats and invective at six-year-old Ruby Bridges as she became the school’s first black student.

It was ugly and frightening. New Year’s blood-alcohol levels certainly played a role, but sober or not, these were working class men and women in Philadelphia lashing out, just as the right would have them do, in an incoherent frenzy of indignation without reason or solution.

Racist phantoms distract from and overpower the self-interest that should have them out in the streets protesting their lack of justice, jobs and economic security just as vehemently as the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates against police killings and so many other criminal violations of basic human rights.

Those furious Philadelphians aren’t alone. A new Esquire magazine/NBC News poll finds half of all Americans angrier than a year ago. Esquire’s editors write:

“From their views on the state of the American dream (dead) and America’s role in the world (not what it used to be) to how their life is working out for them (not quite what they’d had in mind), a plurality of whites tends to view life through a veil of disappointment.

“When we cross-tabulate these feelings with reports of daily anger (which are higher among whites than nonwhites), we see the anger of perceived disenfranchisement — a sense that the majority has become a persecuted minority, the bitterness of a promise that didn’t pan out, rather than actual hardship. (If anger were tied to hardship, we’d expect to see nonwhite Americans,who report having a harder time making ends meet than whites reporting higher levels of anger. This is not the case.)”

As our presidential election year finally, officially begins, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake tells The Wall Street Journal that Americans “think the future is weak for themselves and the next generation, and they despair of politicians especially in Washington getting anything done.”

Then, pugnacious Republican pollster Frank Luntz says, “This election is about settling scores and getting even with everyone and everything” — a distressing commentary on how low our alleged democracy has sunk, and the very heart of the Trump phenomenon that appeals to the most resentful Americans. Other GOP presidential aspirants have fallen into step, hoping to catch some of that Trump “magic,” like flies to the rubbish heap.

Republicans and Democrats alike try to channel all this inchoate animosity into political support, even as they express bafflement at the widespread bitterness, but they reap what they sow, a whirlwind of their own creation, a betrayal of principle and nation crafted from years of kowtowing to big business and the very, very rich who bankroll their electoral desires. They have parlayed our ignorance, fear and basest instincts into power for themselves and their allies.

All those years neglecting the rest of us, all those jobs and factories shipped overseas, all the tax breaks and regulatory payoffs, financiers treated as indulged scofflaws, and the evisceration of housing, infrastructure and education are turning us into a nation of numbskulls. Now that’s what I call exceptionalism. Thanks.

Powerbrokers and political sycophants, from Philadelphia to Pasadena you’re marching this American parade straight into the pit. You don’t have to look beyond our borders for the enemy that will bring us down. Just into a mirror.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship.


9 comments for “Anger and Ugly Faces of Bigotry

  1. J'hon Doe II
    January 14, 2016 at 11:01

    Family Properties
    by Beryl Satter.

    The book details how restrictive covenants and the mix of redlining, blockbusting and (later) urban renewal destroyed our inner cities:

    In the 1930s, the U.S. appraisal industry opposed the “mixing” of the races, which it believed would cause “the decline of both the human race and of property values.” Appraisers ensured segregation through their property rating system. They ranked properties, blocks, and even whole neighborhoods according to a descending scheme of A (green), B (blue), C (yellow), and D (red). A ratings went to properties located in “homogenous” areas — ones that (in one appraiser’s words) lacked even “a single foreigner or Negro.” Properties located in neighborhoods containing Jewish residents were riskier; they were marked down to a B or C. If a neighborhood had black residents it was marked as D, or red, no matter what their social class or how small a percentage of the population they made up. These neighborhoods’ properties were appraised as worthless or likely to decline in value. In short, D areas were “redlined,” or marked as locations in which no loans should be made for either purchasing or upgrading properties.

    The FHA embraced these biases. It collected detailed maps of the present and likely future location of African Americans, and used them to determine which neighborhoods would be denied mortgage insurance. Since banks and savings and loan institutions often relied upon FHA rating maps when deciding where to grant their mortgages, the FHA’s appraisal policies meant that blacks were excluded by definition from most mortgage loans.

    The FHA’s Underwriting Manual also praised restrictive covenants as “the surest protection against undesirable encroachment” of “inharmonious racial groups.” The FHA did not simply recommend the use of restrictive covenants but often insisted upon them as a condition for granting mortgage insurance….the FHA effectively standardized and nationalized the hostile but locally variable racial biases of the private housing industry.

    I think a couple things are lost on most people who bemoan the condition of inner cities. First, the conditions were established by the policies set forth in the last 50-70 years. Restrictive covenants prevented blacks from moving into desirable communities; redlining by banks took away access to mortgages; urban renewal destroyed stable (if poor) communities in the name of removing blight. Second, these policies established a perverse legacy in the minds of metro area residents, so that areas that have been touched by these policies, or even touched by the people who moved to escape them, are regarded as desperate no-man’s-lands. They end up beyond the consciousness of a wide swath of a metro area and suffer as a result.

    I’m often envious of other metro areas that don’t shoulder the burden of the troubled racial legacy that so many Rust Belt cities deal with. Phoenix may have its share of problems as a metro area, but one reason it doesn’t have the same kind of racial disparities that a, say, Cleveland has is because it never put in the racial infrastructure.

    How many neighborhoods can withstand 40 years of overcrowding due to restrictive covenants, followed by 30 years of disinvestment from REDLINING and BLOCKBUSTING, 20 years of destruction through urban renewal, and a whole century of being viewed as a pariah?

  2. J'hon Doe II
    January 11, 2016 at 12:37

    FYI —

    Due to the Jim Crow laws of the South, there were many Black southern craftsmen who would travel to perform their skills. Many would go to places like New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, etc. and would out compete local white contractors who could not perform as well as they did and could not settle for their affordable pricing. It was because of this, that construction unions in the North were formed to block out Black crews from coming into communities and providing a better service for a cheaper price. Soon after the unions were formed they set in motion the Davis-Bacon Act (named for two New York congressmen). This act set up arbitrary labor wage scales so that Black craftsmen could no longer under price their white counter parts. They all had to pay a certain price, prevailing wage, at a minimum and competition became no more. With the price competition out of the way, the whites moved in through political favor and blatant racism. This would be followed with Project Labor Agreements which meant some projects would be declared “Union Only”. With the construction unions discriminating against Blacks, PLO’s [sic] would also mean “Whites Only”.

    How the GI Bill Left Out African Americans

    Veterans Day is always an occasion among progressives to talk up the GI Bill. And, indeed, that 1944 legislation was truly remarkable, helping millions of returning veterans go to college and buy homes in the great postwar suburban land rush.

    Unfortunately, we often forget the darker side of this story — which is how African-American veterans were denied many of the benefits of the GI Bill.

    Why is this part of the story important to remember? Because it helps explain the ongoing challenges of African-Americans to build wealth and achieve intergenerational mobility.

    Economic success in America is often seen as a reflection of what kind of family a person was born into, how hard they work, and what kinds of opportunites exist in the economy. Of course, though, the story goes much deeper than that. How well a person’s parents were positioned financially tends to reflect the well-being of the family they grew up in and, in turn, how their parents and grandparents did.

    In paticular, family wealth can take generations to build — and confers advantages that grow over time. If your great-grandparents bought a home, chances are that your grandparents inherited at least some wealth from them. Which maybe means that your parents didn’t have to take out loans to go to college and got a helping hand with a down payment for a house early in life in a neighborhood with top schools. Which means that you got a great public education instead of a lousy one, allowing you to get into a good college and set yourself up to confer advantages on your own kids. And so on.

    Research shows there are all sorts of positive outcomes associated with households owning assets. And for that reason, the huge racial wealth gap in America should be deeply alarming — especially given how that gap has actually grown in the past five years due to an epidemic of foreclosures in communities of color, many of which were systematically targeted by predatory lenders, including respected banks like Wells Fargo.

    There are lots of reasons that whites have so much more wealth than nonwhites. How the GI Bill played out is one of those reasons. Whites were able to use the government guaranteed housing loans that were a pillar of the bill to buy homes in the fast growing suburbs. Those homes subsequently rose greatly in value in coming decades, creating vast new household wealth for whites during the postwar era.

    But black veterans weren’t able to make use of the housing provisions of the GI Bill for the most part. Banks generally wouldn’t make loans for mortgages in black neighborhoods, and African-Americans were excluded from the suburbs by a combination of deed covenants and informal racism.

    In short, the GI Bill helped fostered a long-term boom in white wealth but did almost nothing to help blacks to build wealth. We are still living with the effects of that exclusion today — and will be for a long time to come.

    The one big upside of the GI Bill is that it did pay for many black veterans to go to college and graduate school. While these veterans were often only able to choose among overcrowded black colleges, the influx of subsidized black students forced many white universities to open their doors to nonwhites, helping begin the great integration of higher education.

    Today, the U.S. is grappling with how to help hundreds of thousands of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, a great many of whom are black and Latino. We need to remember that the choices we make today in regard to these folks will reverberate for generations to come.

  3. J'hon Doe II
    January 11, 2016 at 12:22

    Robert >> “Could they feel their government hates them and is unfairly taking sides against them? Do whites have legitimate grievances of their own and are they being ignored??”

    Slavery by Another Name:
    The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II

    Author: Douglas A. Blackmon

    The Age of Neo-Slavery

    In this groundbreaking historical expose, Douglas A. Blackmon brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history—when a cynical new form of slavery was resurrected from the ashes of the Civil War and re-imposed on hundreds of thousands of African-Americans until the dawn of World War II.

    Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations. Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude. Government officials leased falsely imprisoned blacks to small-town entrepreneurs, provincial farmers, and dozens of corporations—including U.S. Steel Corp.—looking for cheap and abundant labor. Armies of “free” black men labored without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced through beatings and physical torture to do the bidding of white masters for decades after the official abolition of American slavery.

    The neoslavery system exploited legal loopholes and federal policies which discouraged prosecution of whites for continuing to hold black workers against their wills. As it poured millions of dollars into southern government treasuries, the new slavery also became a key instrument in the terrorization of African Americans seeking full participation in the U.S. political system.

    Based on a vast record of original documents and personal narratives, SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude. It also reveals the stories of those who fought unsuccessfully against the re-emergence of human labor trafficking, the modern companies that profited most from neoslavery, and the system’s final demise in the 1940s, partly due to fears of enemy propaganda about American racial abuse at the beginning of World War II.

    SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME is a moving, sobering account of a little-known crime against African Americans, and the insidious legacy of racism that reverberates today.

  4. Eddie
    January 9, 2016 at 15:58

    The author makes the good point that many white US citizens that feel disenfranchised are angry, and they displace that anger against forces that are non-responsible or, at worst marginally involved, instead of taking appropriate action (protesting, or even just voting) against the true culprits.
    Expanding on that, I think its necessary to be aware that a democracy alone doesn’t in any way guarantee a benevolent, humanistic government as an outcome. There’s nothing that I can envision that would prevent some of the horrors of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia from occurring in a democracy like ours (?) — all it would take is enough deluded voters.

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