Saturday, August 01, 2015

White racism and diversity

The story by Dante Chinni from Meet the Press is from three weeks ago, The Two Big Factors That Determine Where Hate Groups Thrive 07/07/2015:

... data from the Southern Poverty Law Center suggests the nation's racial and ethnic hate groups are heavily concentrated in areas with two key factors: lower incomes and greater diversity.

Analyzing the SPLC hate group list with the demographic county types identified by the American Communities Project reveals counties that hold those common traits are the most likely to be home to those extremist groups.

The places with the highest number of SPLC hate groups per person in the American Communities Project are the counties called Evangelical Hubs, with 208,000 people per hate group, and the African American South, with 223,000 per hate group. ...

Those county types are scattered throughout the Deep South as well as Bible Belt states such as Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. ...

But they are also noteworthy for having fairly large black populations — 9 percent for the Evangelical Hubs and 40 percent in the African American South — and for having low median household incomes, both below $40,000 a year. (When you look at the population diversity of the average U.S. county, 9 percent black is on the higher end.) [my emphasis]
Several things strike me about the facts in this report. It suggests that familiarity with racial diversity in itself doesn't alone reduce white racism. And most "hate groups" are heavily influenced by white racism, with many of them having that as a major or main focus. Rightwing radicalism in the US is intimately connected with white racism, with exceptions like the New Black Panther Party being few and far between.

This is one of those stories where readers need to remember that correlation does not equal causation, and the relation between the two are complex. A "pure" mathematical measure of causation is impossible, though surveys like this are obviously important and helpful.

What concerns me is that the framing of this article could easily be taken to suggest that the greater diversity in those areas "throughout the Deep South as well as Bible Belt states such as Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri" causes the white racism that constitutes should a large role in the attraction of white people to hate groups. Lots of white people in those areas will be glad to explain to you that their white racist attitudes are the result of their really knowing black people from their close association with them.

The reality is that with the exception of Oklahoma, all the states among "the Deep South as well as Bible Belt states such as Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri" are former slave states. White people in those states will also be quick to remind people that Yankee states have racist white people, too. And yet here again we see where the real stronghold of white racism in America continues to be. White supremacy was and is deliberately cultivated and communicated across generations, from slavery to Reconstruction to segregation, to the civil rights era to now, the period Chauncey DeVega calls post-civil-rights America.

It's not diversity that generates white supremacist thinking. It's the way white supremacists interpret the experience of living with diversity that nurtures and perpetuates white racism.

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