In the Winter 1999 issue of The Public Eye Magazine, PRA printed an excerpt from Founder and President Emerita Jean Hardisty’s book Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. In it, Hardisty discussed affirmative action, providing the history of its conception along with the Right-Wing’s stance against the policy.
After the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson and his administration sought to eliminate discrimination in the hiring and promotion process by issuing Executive Order 11246, which required affirmation action from employers who had contracts with the federal government, and sanctions for the ones who didn’t. In 1972, Richard Nixon signed into law Congress’s Equal Opportunity Act, which expanded anti-discrimination protections for women and people of color. The Right, of course, cried “reverse discrimination” then, and is still finding ways to explain the “needlessness” for affirmative action now.
One of the Right’s tactics that Hardisty examined was their appropriation of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech, which conservatives still interpret as an endorsement for colorblind ideology. The right has warped MLK from a radical for justice into essentially these few words: “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” They ignore the context of this quote, which addressed King’s opposition to White power, the root cause for judgment of race in the first place. In his 1964 book, Why Can’t We Wait, however, he made it evident that race is very important because, unless people of color are provided some type of assistance, their rights will never meet with that of White people’s. King wrote:
It is obvious that if a man is entering the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.
Hardisty discussed how the right had undergone a transformation in the 1980s, which created a “new racism.” Rather than upholding Jim Crow laws and practices—something that had “declined steadily since the 1940s”—the right attempted to use policies like affirmative action against people of color, utilizing a colorblind argument. This new racism, ignoring a person’s race, and suggesting that group identifiers are “unnecessary”—that cultural backgrounds have no place in today’s society because “racism is a thing of the past”— modernized discrimination in the hiring process.
Republicans, especially White male Republicans, expect marginalized groups to be able to rise above oppression on their own accord because, in their minds, race should not affect their merit and skill.
During the 2012 presidential primaries, Republican candidates played to this colorblind strategy. Mitt Romney objected to the extension of voting rights for convicted felons, despite it being “an issue that disproportionately affects African-American and Hispanic males…[as] a direct result of…the drug wars implemented during the Reagan administration.” Newt Gingrich, when asked by Juan Williams about why Newt insisted on “talk[ing] about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” said he did not see why it was an insult to Black Americans. Rick Santorum, during one of his campaign stops, offered the statement, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” These Republicans refused to consider that institutionalized racism caused much of the disparities between White people and people of color—that somehow Black and Latino Americans were content with living off food stamps, or that they expected to be given free money, which are racist stereotypes and assumptions in and of itself.
Hardisty then went on to note the distancing of the Right from the Far Right’s White supremacy philosophy throughout the 1980s. While the Far Right—White supremacists and neo-Nazis—had no issue with openly promoting “White rights,” the Right Wing attempted to remove themselves from bigoted attitudes and activities. The New Right Republicans of the time, if discovered making racial slurs, were denounced quickly by their leaders and prompted to apologize soon afterward. This trend of immediate condemnation of racist statements made by conservatives is still present today. Some recent examples of this include:
- Don Yelton resigning from the Buncombe County Republican Party after he lambasted “lazy Black people [for wanting] the government to give them everything.” Buncombe republicans then issued a press release, explicitly referring to Yelton’s comments as offensive and not reflective of the party’s beliefs.
- Marilyn Davenport, member of the Orange County Republican Central Committee, apologizing and asking for forgiveness for sending out an email of President Obama’s face on the body of a chimpanzee. The party’s chairperson also publically reproached Davenport’s actions.
- Young Conservatives of Texas cancelling their “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game after backlash from the public. In this case, however, chairperson Lorenzo Garcia, did not apologize for their harmful “game.”
- Nevada Assemblyperson Jim Wheeler apologizing after saying he would support slavery if his constituents desired it.
- Saline County Commissioner Jim Gile apologizing for using the term “n**ger-rigging” during a commission discussion. Residents demanded that he resign from his position and State Rep. J.R. Claeys later said that Gile’s remark was unacceptable and discriminatory.
- Arkansas Tea Party Leader Inge Marler resigning after telling a racist Black welfare joke at a rally.
- The Chisago County Republican Party issuing an apology after their Facebook page posted an anti-abortion picture that used imagery of a slave auction. They removed the picture and said that the post was not representative of their party.
By protesting against the most egregious of violations within their own Party, Republicans can defend against accusations of racism against themselves. To them, eradicating affirmative action is nothing like the overt racist language of their prejudiced peers.
Affirmative action cases are being closely watched today because of how race issues in the United States have developed. The Justices appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George Bush—according to Jean Hardisty—have created a rightist tilt, and thus have halted much of the progress made by civil rights leaders. Evidence of this is found in their lack of ruling on the case at the University of Texas and their divided opinions on how to handle the case for Michigan schools.
In situations where affirmative action has already been banned, statistics show decreases in enrollment numbers of students of color, particularly for Black students. At the University of Michigan, Black student enrollment dropped 30 percent in their undergraduate and law schools after they prohibited race as a factor for consideration. After California’s passing of Proposition 209 in 1996, University of California schools found major drops as well; the percentage of first year Black students at UC Berkeley fell from 6.5 percent to under 3 percent in 10 years, and UCLA first years dropped from 7.3 percent to under 2.7 percent. The University of Florida also saw a decrease from 11.3 percent to 9.4 percent from 2000 to 2005 after the policy was changed.
Comparably, because the public-sector has historically provided fair and impartial job opportunities for women and people of color, government jobs show far more diversity than private institutions. Not only are the proportions of public-sector workers more balanced, they “face smaller wage disparities across racial lines” as well.
Hardisty noted that recipients of programs such as welfare and affirmative action are met with shaming by Right-Wing politicians. They were labeled as “‘undeserving’ individuals” who benefited “at the expense of ‘deserving’ taxpayers.” Present-day conservatives continue this victim-blaming and colorblind practice. During his 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney called the “47 percent” who were going to vote for Barack Obama entitled, that they believed the “government has a responsibility to care for them.” He continued, “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” His statements were echoed by Glenn Beck, who said on his radio show, “That is the problem with government welfare and everything else, get a damn job,” and Newt Gingrich, who said “[Republicans] believe in work and education, [liberals] believe in food stamps and dependency.”
The Right readily pretends that racial injustice does not exist, and that anyone can overcome obstacles if they simply tried hard enough, which is blatantly false.
In discussing how White the Right is, it is important to understand there are conservatives of color. Jean Hardisty discussed how they “play a politically important role in the Right’s attack on affirmative action.” By using a person of color, especially a Black person, to make their argument publicly, White conservatives can then use the “legitimacy” of that argument to back their own hostility. Denouncing affirmative action appears more authentic when a person of color says they have no need for it. White conservatives can shield themselves from the adverse reactions of people for trying to dismantle these policies.
It wasn’t hard to find examples. Just take a look at this year’s Values Voters Summit, when Dr. Ben Carson compared the Affordable Health Care Act to slavery. His talking point was immediately embraced by White conservatives such as Bill O’Brien, John Fleming, Rush Limbaugh, and more who would never have dared make such an audacious comparison on their own. His Blackness allows White republicans to say that their Black representative was the one to issue such a statement, not them. They can hide in the background—the focus on conservatives of color—while supporting the racist proclamations made by people such as Ben Carson.
When former Democrat Elbert Guillory announced why he switched to the Republican Party, calling for other Black Americans to abandon the “government plantation and the [liberal] party of disappointment,” pundits such as Glenn Beck had no issue publishing about it as if it were a step in the right direction.
Conservative activist Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, posted an article on his website that said, “Wanting a White Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American,” written by Kevin Jackson, a Black conservative. Rather than writing this piece himself, Wurzelbacher used Jackson’s article as a means to voice his own opinions without taking on full responsibility.
Some members of the Right ironically reject affirmative action while favoring racist policies such as racial profiling. Writer and columnist Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece that advised individuals to “watch out if you see young black men on the street or approaching your house or vehicle—they commit ‘an inordinate amount of violent crime.’” On the other hand, he does not favor affirmative action, offering the question, “what exactly is the justification for affirmative action’s ethnic preferences or admissions [?]”
Conservatives claim that by discussing the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, President Obama is “race baiting;” yet they are colorblind when it comes to acknowledging the racial disparities that Black Americans go through in the United States, such as New York City’s Stop and Frisk program. Colorblindness ignores the racial discrimination that people of color go through on a daily basis.
As racial justice gains more in ways of equality, the right will continue to push back against it. While it’s clear conservatives continue their firm colorblind belief that any individual, regardless of race, can earn their way into a higher institution of learning or the workforce, revealing their hypocrisy and showing the actual race issues people of color face is the only way to make progress.