By Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
A wide majority of U.S. voters say black Americans who can’t get ahead should blame themselves for their troubles instead of racial discrimination.
That’s one of the more startling findings from a recent Pew Research Center effort to bunch voters into categories of likeminded people. The study came out a few days before the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, a landmark law that was supposed to bring about real equality.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that majority were right? Sadly, prejudice is alive and well — even if getting caught saying racist things harms your public image.
Just ask Cliven Bundy. He’s the rancher who became a right-wing celebrity when militiamen joined him in an armed standoff with Nevada authorities over his refusal to pay grazing fees for letting his cattle roam on federally owned land.
In late April, Bundy’s status as a GOP heartthrob abruptly ended after he rambled about African Americans in an interview, asking: “Are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”
Days later, Donald Sterling got his 15 minutes of shame.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” the married billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team mumbled to a woman widely described as his girlfriend. “Do you have to?”
Now it’s John Huppenthal’s turn. As Arizona’s top education official, he calls the shots on many school policies in a 1-million-student system that’s more than 40 percent Latino.
When Huppenthal was recently outed as an anonymous and prolific commenter on websites, it turns out the Arizona Republican had made this startling declaration: “No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv, no spanish newspapers. This is America, speak English.”
The revelation of his insulting words about the poor and communities of color brought new attention to a Bundyesque exchange Huppenthal had on camera four years ago.
In that on-camera interview, he called Thomas Jefferson’s slave ownership “no problem” and not contradictory with “the freedoms that have enabled all the prosperity that’s created the culture that we have in America.”
Huppenthal broke down in tears at his own press conference after his previously unknown remarks came to light. But so far he’s resisting calls to resign and stop running for reelection.
This is about more than privileged white men who say stupid things. Discrimination isn’t just a mindset.
Being black or brown in America is bad for your health. African-American and Latina women die from breast cancer at a higher rate than whites, even though white women are more likely to get the disease.
With higher poverty rates and less health care coverage, diagnosis and treatment don’t meet the same standards.
And access to voting booths is again becoming more separate and unequal. Many conservative-controlled state governments are making it harder for poor people in general and communities of color in particular to vote.
One standard trick is requiring a state-issued photo ID. That’s no sweat for drivers, but about one in 10 eligible voters don’t have a valid document of the kind these laws require. With African Americans and Latinos more likely than whites to lack qualifying IDs, the impact on their ability to vote is outsized.
Voting rights advocates are filing lawsuits that challenge this wave of voter suppression. A federal judge rejected Wisconsin’s voter ID measure on the grounds that it would suppress legitimate votes. At some point, a case from North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, or another state will make it to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, people in nearly half the country will have a harder time voting in November than they did four years ago during the last mid-term elections, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
The crass comments Bundy, Sterling, and Huppenthal made expose the bigoted logic that’s both behind this wave of legislation and continuing to harm people of color in countless ways.