At The Intersection of Racism and Policy

Provocative ideas from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jamelle Bouie on the ways in which public policy and racism are connected and mutually reinforcing.

Coates first. 

The “I’m not racist even though I’m doing something actually racist right now” rationale is linked to the notion of racism as something worthy of societal condemnation. That is a good thing. As Sugrue identifies in his book, you see a post-World-War-II consensus forming in the 1950s that racial discrimination actually is wrong.

While Bouie and others focused on another statement, I was struck by a passage I haven’t seen highlighted elsewhere:

Along with that (perhaps in the 60s) comes the idea that racism is something that “low-class” white people do. It’s not a system of laws and policies, so much as the ideology of Cletus the slack-jawed yokel. But Arnold Hirsch and Beryl Satter’s work shows the University of Chicago quietly and privately pursuing a racist strategy of “urban renewal” while publicly claiming otherwise.

None of this is new. It’s akin to proto-Confederates loudly and lustily defending slavery, daring the North to war before 1865, and then afterward claiming that the war really wasn’t about slavery. The point is to save face.

A while back I was helping a family member do some deep cleaning and we came across a box of novels, mostly bodice rippers, from the 70s and 80s and included in the box was Lonnie Coleman’s three volume Buelah Land saga.  Coleman’s saga was described as Gone With the Wind with sex and as an adolescent I found his descriptions of the endless knotting and gendering of his Southern aristocrats and their slaves entertaining.  Throughout the books, Coleman’s storytelling dismisses the systemic racism of black slavery and later Jim Crow but condemns the ideology of Cletus the slack-jawed yokel.  Coleman’s villains aren’t the slave holding influential Kendrick’s and Davises who continually benefit from slavery and Jim Crow, they’re the impoverished white farmer Bessie Marsh and the racist poor farmers and townsfolk of his fictional Highboro, GA who are every bit as economically oppressed as the black characters. 

The wealthy and influential whites who benefit from a system of racial segregation are excused since they’re racism is clothed in polite language.  The virulent racism of the good ole boys in white sheets was excused, protected, promoted, promulgated and nurtured by the more restrained racism of the policy making elite which embraced white supremacy as a fait accomplit. 

Which brings us to Coates primary conclusion:

If we accept that racism is a creation, then we must then accept that it can be destroyed. And if we accept that it can be destroyed, we must then accept that it can be destroyed by us and that it likely must be destroyed by methods kin to creation. Racism was created by policy. It will likely only be ultimately destroyed by policy.

So, to Jamelle Bouie:

Slavery (and later, Jim Crow) wasn’t built to reflect racism as much as it was built in tandem with it. And later policy, in the late 19th and 20th centuries, further entrenched white supremacist attitudes. Block black people from owning homes, and they’re forced to reside in crowded slums. Onlookers then use the reality of slums to deny homeownership to blacks, under the view that they’re unfit for suburbs.

In other words, create a prohibition preventing a marginalized group from engaging in socially sanctioned behavior—owning a home, getting married—and then blame them for the adverse consequences.

Therein lies the profound and yet simple insight.  Bigotry influences the policy and policy then reinforces the bigotry.

Not for nothing, but one of the most crucial shifts in America culture in the last century has been the awareness that bigotry is wrong.  When anti-gay politicians and activisits proclaim they don’t hate gays, they’re trying to protect themselves from charges of bigotry.  When teabaggers make patently racist statements and then try to dismiss it as a joke or defend themselves by saying “I’m not a racist . . .” it’s because they know their bigotry is not socially acceptable.  That change in attitudes could not and would not have come about were it not for the work of countless activists who have done everything in their power to change attitudes.

  1. #1 by brewski on March 14, 2013 - 1:44 pm

    What do you mean by:

    “When teabaggers make patently racist statements and then try to dismiss it as a joke or defend themselves by saying “I’m not a racist . . .” it’s because they know their bigotry is not socially acceptable.”

    Why do you not also mention the patently racist statements made by Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Robert Byrd and others? Why do you only mention fringe elements of one group when there is no evidence to suggest that those fringe elements represent that group any more than Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Robert Byrd and others represent all Democrats?

    I have lived all over the country and the most racist statements I have heard from anyone has been in Northern Democratic-dominated areas. Have you ever seen what happens when a black person tries to move into an Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia? It would make your skin crawl to hear what happens. They make white folks in Texas look like freedom marchers.

    I also listened to stories about how white flight from traditionally Democratic white neighborhoods in parts of Philadelphia, New Jersey and Boston turned into a stampede when the first black moved onto the block.

    Go to North Philly, Germantown, Camden, etc.

    Your understanding of history is selective.

    • #2 by Cliff Lyon on March 22, 2013 - 6:36 am


      There are so many things wrong with this your comment it would take years to help you understand.

      Let’s just say, it supports the very thesis of Glen’s post.

      BTW: Who told you there is no racism in New England? Every state in NE has had a Republican governor within the past 12 years.

      NJ Governor Chris Christie is a racist for example.

  2. #4 by Larry Bergan on March 15, 2013 - 6:48 pm

    I don’t think Joe Biden is racist. Something just slipped out from his past. You never hear anybody say, “Indian giver” anymore, because people realize how ridiculous the saying is, but I’m sure it sill pops up without people realizing they’re saying it. We all know by now the saying should be,”European giver”. The stupid old poem I heard in the 50’s – eene mieene mineey mo, catch a n—– by the toe – still rolls around in my head, but there’s no way I would utter it today.

    That’s progress.

    The election of Obama could have been the greatest healing opportunity in the nations history, but the tea baggers wouldn’t hear of it. Damn them!

    One of Glenden’s earlier posts was about being taught to be racist. The un-teaching is going to take some time.

  3. #5 by brewski on March 15, 2013 - 7:35 pm

    Biden is a huge racist. He keeps saying racist things all the time. Again and again. He never stops.

  4. #6 by Larry Bergan on March 15, 2013 - 7:49 pm

    I don’t know what this voluminous list of racist comments made by Joe Biden consists of, but both he and Bill Clinton knocked Mitt Romney over with a battering ram trying to get Obama reelected.

  5. #7 by brewski on March 15, 2013 - 8:13 pm

    Biden noted that Obama is “African-American who is articulate and bright and clean”. So in other words, Biden thinks other African Americans are stupid and dirty.

    “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”
    Can you imagine any Republican keeping his job after saying that?

  6. #8 by brewski on March 15, 2013 - 8:19 pm

    “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee,”
    Bill Clinton about Obama

    Bill Clinton defends the KKK:
    “He once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan, what does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollows from West Virginia. He was trying to get elected,”

    Robert Byrd:
    “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds. ”

  7. #9 by Larry Bergan on March 15, 2013 - 8:33 pm

    Concerning Robert Byrd. From Wikipedia:

    Late in his life, Byrd explicitly renounced his earlier views favoring racial segregation.[49][50] Byrd said that he regretted filibustering and voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964[51] and would change it if he had the opportunity. He said joining the KKK was “the greatest mistake I ever made.”[49] Byrd also said that his views changed dramatically after his teenage grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic accident, which put him in a deep emotional valley. “The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think,” said Byrd, adding he came to realize that black people love their children as much as he does his.[52]

    Being a republican defender, I’m sure you don’t understand what an apology is.

  8. #10 by Larry Bergan on March 15, 2013 - 8:45 pm

    Concerning Bill Clinton:

    The first comment about Obama is probably true, isn’t it?

    Does the second comment refer to Obama? Was Bill telling us that Obama was in the Klan?

    By the way, I presently serve coffee and I am not the least bit ashamed.

  9. #11 by Larry Bergan on March 15, 2013 - 8:52 pm

    I think the media read a lot more into Biden’s comment then there was. But you know what they say: if it bleeds, it leads.

    In other words: There’s money to be made by creating controversy which isn’t there.

  10. #12 by brewski on March 15, 2013 - 9:21 pm

    You are very forgiving to these blatantly racist statements by Democrats. Republicans have been kicked out of office for far less. The KKK was the enforcement arm of the Democratic Party. The Democrats gave us Jim Crow and the Democrats filibustered the Civil Rights Act. What more evidence do you need? The proof is all there in words and deeds.

  11. #13 by Larry Bergan on March 15, 2013 - 9:33 pm

    No; Robert Byrd filibustered the civil rights act and apologized for it. I guess you missed by comment at #7.

    The Dixiecrats were a real thing; 50 YEARS AGO!

    Herman Cain didn’t have a chance, and you know it!

  12. #14 by brewski on March 15, 2013 - 10:38 pm

    According to your quote above in #7, Robert Byrd took until he was 65 years old to realize that black people love their children too. 65 years old! 65 years of thinking and feeling that black people are sub-human. He loved his dogs more than he gave black people credit for loving their children. Shame on you!

  13. #15 by brewski on March 15, 2013 - 10:44 pm

    FDR was no Dixiecrat
    FDR was president for 12 years and every day of that he was Commander in Chief he had a segregated military.

  14. #16 by brewski on March 15, 2013 - 10:47 pm

    Woodrow Wilson was no Dixiecrat
    Wilson’s cabinet officials, with the president’s blessing, proceeded to establish official segregation in most federal government offices – in some departments for the first time since 1863. New facilities were designed to keep the races working there separated.
    Historian Eric Foner says, “[Wilson’s] administration imposed full racial segregation in Washington and hounded from office considerable numbers of black federal employees.” Segregation was also quickly implemented at the Post Office Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. Many African American employees were downgraded and even fired. The segregation implemented in the Department of Treasury and the Post Office Department involved not only screened-off working spaces, but separate lunchrooms and toilets.

  15. #17 by Larry Bergan on March 15, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    Well, of course Woodrow Wilson and FDR weren’t Dixiecrats. The term wasn’t invented until after they died. Although I’m beginning to think Frank Luntz may be hundreds of years old.

    Like I said; things take time.

    It took until last year to stop segregating white people from white people in the military.

  16. #18 by brewski on March 16, 2013 - 8:52 am

    Democrats have always been the segregationists. Including yankee Democrats. It’s fact.

  17. #19 by Larry Bergan on March 16, 2013 - 9:08 am

    Up is down.

    Fact is fiction.

    brewski is become real

  18. #20 by brewski on March 16, 2013 - 9:49 am

    An inconvenient Truth for you.

  19. #21 by Larry Bergan on March 16, 2013 - 9:54 am

    Inconvenient. to be sure.

    Let me adjust my pants.

  20. #22 by cav on March 16, 2013 - 10:03 am


  21. #23 by Larry Bergan on March 16, 2013 - 11:53 am

    Relax cav.

    Nothing unthwart going on here.

  22. #24 by Larry Bergan on March 16, 2013 - 12:20 pm

    Except for this. 🙁

  23. #25 by Kevin Owens on March 21, 2013 - 11:06 pm

    Everyone knows that racists are evil, and since nobody wants to appear evil, we’ve developed a very strong taboo against even talking about race honestly—that is, if you’re white.

    For example, Robert Huber recently wrote a frank article about Being White in Philadelphia, and about how whites are afraid to engage in issues of race because they quickly get called racist. Unaware of the irony, perhaps, the black mayor of Philadelphia has called for the author to be punished, noting that “the First Amendment, like other constitutional rights, is not an unfettered right.”

    Racism is seen as original sin in white people, and it’s preventing any meaningful progress in race relations. I can’t have an open and frank discussion with someone who thinks that, by being a white male, I am evil.

    • #26 by Cliff Lyon on March 22, 2013 - 4:50 am


      The assertion that “we’ve developed a very strong taboo against even talking about race honestly—that is, if you’re white” is incomplete if not dishonest.

      The author of the article clearly does not know HOW to talk about race. The premise of the article is that the worse neighborhoods are predominantly Black. The conclusion is that Black people are the cause rather than the victims.

      The problem is not that White people can’t talk about race, the problem is that SOME White people do not know HOW to talk about race.

      Mr. Huber is merely seeking validation for his racism.

    • #27 by Glenden Brown on March 22, 2013 - 1:42 pm

      Kevin –

      Someone I know once said it’s way worse to experience racism than it is to be called a racist. I believe every African American person can recount a first hand experience of encountering racism.

      In my experience speaking with persons of color an open heart and attempts at honesty go a long way toward creating a positive dialogue. Most African Americans I know want to just lead their lives without having teach white people about race.

      At the Inclusion Summit last year, the persons of color asked a powerful question of the people of European backgrounds – “What are you defending?” Again and again, in conversations about race, white people feel defensive, we feel the need to be defensive. Why? What are we defending?

      • #28 by Kenny Washington on March 22, 2013 - 8:38 pm

        I am offended at this apartheid method of speaking about people in different groups based on their skin color. Why do you find it necessary to label and categorize people as “African American” or “persons of color” or “white people” or “people of European backgrounds”. These superficial labels just serve to separate people based on the labels you give them. When will you people realize that we are all brothers and sisters in one community? This retrograde paradigm of stamping our foreheads with labels drives us back to South Africa of the 1960’s where we all had to carry “papers” which defined our race and where we were allowed to live and work.

        I hope someday you will learn to get past this.

        • #29 by Cliff on March 23, 2013 - 2:23 am

          Then you shall be offended. Selfish, ignorant whiny Republican racist


          • #30 by brewski on March 23, 2013 - 7:45 am

            You are Regressive.

  24. #31 by Cliff Lyon on March 22, 2013 - 4:55 am


    Here’s a classic example of a White person, ill-equipped to talk about race:

    “In a way, that sounds an awful lot like the Philadelphia of half a century ago. Before the race riots of that era, before Frank Rizzo, before race relations became openly tense and violent, the old rules applied. Black people knew their place. The difference now is that white people seem to know their place as well—white people stay in their little lot, too.”

    Do you see the problem with this assertion?

    The African American race problem cannot be discussed without looking at American history. Glen’s post nails it, but only if you have some familiarity and respect for the depth of the subject.

    The race problem is about class, power and privilege and oppression, institutional discrimination (Jim Crow, segregation, voter suppression), social discrimination (lack of opportunity) et. al. which has caused centuries of poverty, poor education and urbanization.

    The conservative community (Conservative Blacks too) would like to simplify the conversation by pointing to the result and validating the shallow conclusion that there is something wrong with Blacks and that it is somehow “their fault” because “slavery ended so long ago” and “Black People just need to get over it.”

    THAT ^^^ is racism born of ignorance.

  25. #32 by Larry Bergan on March 22, 2013 - 11:18 pm

    Kenny Washington is brewski. 🙁

    If you can’t win an argument, you can always change your name.

    Bad politicians don’t even do that brewski. Don’t be such a sad smear.

  26. #33 by cav on March 23, 2013 - 8:45 am

    Illusory swelling of the ranks by name proliferation, or simply running in the other parties name like the Blew-Dog democrats do, probably wouldn’t be enough to overcome the rising popularity of truth and peace.

    But, it seems we’ve somehow acquired still another level of our ‘government’ – the globalist, empire promoters. And, since they have All of the money, I guess, they win.

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