Sunday, April 27, 2014

Confederate Heritage Month 2014, April 27: Definitions, definitions - and banning affirmative action

After yesterday's post that examined a case of neo-Confederate white racism but was very reserved about what could be called racism, I came across this post from Samantha Field, who describes herself as "overcoming a fundamentalist indoctrination," Christian women: feminism IS your friend, actually Defeating the Dragon 04/24/2014. She's debunking a fundamentalist's man's attack on feminism, the man in question being Matt Walsh.

And one of the things she focuses on is how narrowly Walsh defines feminism, and (of course!) does so in a propagandist way: "'feminist" is re-defined to mean – an[d] only mean– a woman who thinks there’s nothing wrong with murdering babies and 'equal' means sameness, both of which are preposterous definitions."

This particular re-definition of feminism is hardly new. Back in 1992, Pat Robertson sent out a fundraising letter opposing a push in Iowa to have women declared equal to men in the state's constitution, with a somewhat more expansive but hardly friendly definition of feminism (Robertson Letter Attacks Feminism New York Times 08/26/2014):

But Mr. Robertson's letter, distributed late last month to supporters of the evangelical organization Christian Coalition, described the proposal as part of a "feminist agenda" that "is not about equal rights for women." Claims of 'Anti-Family'

Instead, the letter said, "it is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
Defining the other side's position in unflattering terms is obviously central to almost any kind of argument. So if we look at it in those 30,000-feet-in-the-air terms, then Everybody Does It.

But the reactionary project of denying equal rights to anyone not a rich white male Christian runs counter to the democratic foundations of American government and values. So taking anti-democratic positions puts particular importance on redefining concepts like democratic equality before the law. And with law in particular, definitions matter. A lot.

Last week the Roberts Court took yet another step in removing equal protection of the law from African-Americans and other racial minorities with its decision in since Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action by Any Means Necessary (BAMN). The significance of the ruling is that it takes yet another step in blocking laws that are meant to enforced the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by preventing de facto racial discrimination. Or, put it more immediate terms, it gives the Republican Party and state legislatures it controls more latitude to promote racial discrimination.

An important part of this reasoning, which conservative Republicans have promoted for many years now, is to redefine "racial discrimination" to mean its opposite: actions taken to prevent and remedy racial discrimination. The idea is that for a federal, state or local government to take action against racial discrimination, the government would have to look at the race of the people affected by racial discrimination and looking at their race would itself be racial discrimination by the government so that is not allowed.

For anyone not worshiping at the Church of Rush Limbaugh, the goal of such a crazy definition is to prevent the government from doing anything to eliminate, mitigate or remedy overt and demonstrable racial discrimination. It makes racial discrimination in all aspects of official and social life legal, in other words.

The Roberts Court has gone a long way toward establishing that standard as their interpretation of the law of the land. The Schuette decision was yet another step in that direction.

Shanikka discusses this mind-bending redefinition of racial discrimination into its opposite in the Daily Kos post In case it wasn't clear: the Schuette decision and coming full circle on antidiscrimination law 04/27/2014. He explains how:

... decisions such as Schuette are merely the end-game of a restructuring of the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment from a law protecting the rights of black people in America (and later, others) against efforts to keep them subjugated to a law protecting the rights of white people against black people (and other people of color) seeking to obtain the actual benefits of equality.
Definitions do matter.

Shanikka also points to the FOX News version of this redefinition of racial discrimination for ordinary political discussion: "It is very similar to the currently in-vogue contention that there is no such thing as anti-black racism and American white supremacy unless it is wearing a sheet and calling black folks 'niggers' every day."

This is what struck me as odd about the analysis I discussed yesterday. The writer did a very good job of analyzing how white racism and neo-Confederacy worked in a particular Christian fundamentalist group - but seemed very reluctant to call it white racism, apparently because they weren't explicit about advocating an explicit biological or Scriptural basis for white supremacy. If you define white racism so narrowly as to exclude most actual manifestations of it, you've effectively defined it out of existence. In words, anyway.

Schuette is one of a series of Roberts Court segregationist decisions that the struggle for civil rights will have to contend with for years to come.

The Balkinization blog has just started a series of posts commenting on Bruce Ackerman's latest book on the civil rights movement. Gerard Magliocca's post Herbert Wechsler's Shadow 04/27/2014, while not specifically about the Schuette decision, addresses the previous approach the Court used and of which Schuette and other Roberts Court segregationist decisions represent a reversal of direction:

Ackerman's response [to a famous argument by Herbert Wechsler] is that the way in which Congress and the Supreme Court dismantled Jim Crow really did turn upon the facts. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act are at the core of this claim. They "self-consciously divide the world into different spheres of life: public accommodations, education, employment, housing, [and] voting. They impose different [regulatory] regimes on different on different spheres . . . [and] insist on a far more contextual understanding of the constitutional meaning of equality in different spheres of social and political life." Granted, Wechsler was not talking about legislative action in his defense of neutral principles, but Ackerman contends that these landmark statutes were an extension of the pragmatic approach taken in Brown [v. Board of Education]. "[I]n limiting its decision to education, the Court wasn't engaged in a timid evasion of some grand legal theory attacking society-wide subordination or racial classification. It was proceeding sphere by sphere in a sociological spirit, challenging constitutionalists to make the principle of equality meaningful to ordinary Americans as they engaged in critical spheres of social life." [my emphasis in bold]

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