Posts Tagged As: Racism

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Jim Burroway

November 21st, 2016


I know I’ve told you about my great-grandmother Easter. She lived a block away from where I grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio. She was born in 1898 in the hollows of Kentucky, and I used to go to her house and ask her to tell me stories about “the olden days.” She was as good as any library to me and I loved spending time with her.

And I know I’ve also told you this story about the time I asked her what the word “hick” meant. I must have heard it somewhere. Maybe I heard it from her. I don’t remember. But I remembered that she answered by describing people who grew up in the hollows of Kentucky, much like she had, but who had never left those hollows and knew nothing about the world around them. They may have thought they knew about the wider world — nobody think’s they’re particularly ignorant, especially now that we had radio, television, movies and newspapers — but, as she said, unless you actually go out into the world, there are things you will never know. Hicks, she said, are people who never left their homes and knew nothing about the world outside of their tiny communities.

And then she stopped and thought about it a bit, and added, “You can find them back in the hollows, but you can also find them in some mighty fancy places. You can even find them in New York City.”

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about that lately. Two weeks after Donald Trump’s surprise election, I’ve been seeing various posts pop up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds and in following some of the discussions taking place in private email listservs of progressive activists. And their simplistic explanations for what went wrong in the election tell me that they are hicks, at least as Easter defined them. But since the word “hick” conjures a very particular pejorative image, I’ll discard it and coin another one that I think is more accurate: Blue Bubble Democrats.

Portsmouth, Ohio

Portsmouth, Ohio, my home town. This is the remnants of the coke plant. (Coke is an industrial fuel made from coal.) It was replaced with a Wal-Mart.

To be clear, you don’t actually have to be in a geographic blue bubble to be a Blue Bubble Democrat. You can easily do this by building your bubble through social media, carefully culled friends, and the particular neighborhoods you chose to call home. And also to be clear, there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s not a moral failing. In fact, it’s perfectly natural. We all do it. I’m in a rather nice blue bubble myself right here in blood red Arizona. But I’ve long recognized that this bubble exists and I’ve worked hard to stepped out of it, and I think I’ve recognized some disturbing trends that I think an awful lot of Blue Bubble Democrats have been ignoring for far too long.

So who are these Blue Bubble Democrats? Well, you can know them by their reaction to this month’s general election. They are the ones who, outraged over the abandonment of the Democratic party by blue collar Americans, are condemning and dismissing them as horribly racist, hopelessly xenophobic and congenitally homophobic. Their solution seems to be, as far as I can tell, to yell at those workers, demand that they stop voting against their interests, check their white privilege, and just generally get over themselves.

Coal Grove, Ohio

An abandoned school in Coal Grove, Ohio, near my home town.

And don’t get me wrong: many blue collar/white middle class Americans are racists. Maybe very many them are. I’d be perfectly stupid to argue otherwise. But let’s be honest here: not all of them are. Not even close. And think about it: those who are would never have voted for a Democrat even if Jesus Christ himself were the nominee. They certainly wouldn’t have voted for a Black man in 2008, and they wouldn’t have voted for a man they branded a Black Muslim Kenyan in 2012. These aren’t the voters who swung this election. They were already in the bag for Trump, just like they were there for Romney, McCain, Bush, and so forth all the way back to Nixon’s “southern strategy” which, truth be told, held an awful lot of appeal outside the South.

Racism was the most visible part of Trump’s campaign. It was visible because it was so shocking, and we reacted strongly (and rightly) to that shock. Neo-nazis, White nationalists and Klanners have openly rejoiced over having “one of our own” running for President. And Trump’s playing to the more sinister impulses of hatred has emboldened them, and more than a few others, to unleash a wave of attacks both before and especially immediately after the election, as we’ve documented here at BTB. We’re all rightly alarmed by it, and we will continue to call it out, as we should.

But while focusing all our outrage in that, we should have been also paying attention to the twin ravages of long term economic crisis and ballooning heroin epidemic in Middle America. In fact, that epidemic should have been our canary in the proverbial coal mines. Instead we just said we’d shut them all down.

And so millions of other blue collar, white working class Americans — who voted for a Black man, and who returned to vote for that Black Muslim Kenyan, turned to Trump. If you’re going to say their vote was all about racism, then you’re going to have to explain why they waited so long to act on it.

Waverly, Ohio

Downtown Waverly, Ohio, also near my home town.

Before I leave the subject of racism (and Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, and so forth), I do think it’s fair to ask how they could have excused Trump’s racism. Shouldn’t that have been a disqualifying factor in and of itself? My answer is yes, obviously. I voted for Clinton even though I strongly felt that she was, without a doubt, the single most flawed candidate the Democratic Party’s establishment could have put forward. (I also didn’t support Sanders either. I was beyond dismayed.) I’ll rant more about Clinton later, maybe, but getting back to that question: yes, I think Trump’s racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia — the list goes on far too long — should have been disqualifying on its face.

Youngstown, Ohio

Youngstown, Ohio. Detroit gets the attention. This is Ohio’s Detroit.

But I have the luxury of setting those priorities. Many of those who supported Obama but went with Trump didn’t feel they could do that. For decades, they had been telling Democrats that they have been facing an unrelenting economic crisis, in many places for decades without letup. To compound that misery, many of those once-prosperous communities along America’s rust belt are now being consumed by a disastrous opioid and heroin epidemic that is, each year, setting new records for killing their kids. Kirk Noden describes their reaction:

Deindustrialization was a traumatic experience for white working-class people. Yet we act surprised when this constituency exhibits post-traumatic-stress disorder. And it is we who perpetrate the myth that they are voting “against their interests,” despite all the facts on the ground indicating that for them it makes no difference which party is in power. They have lived through 40 years of decline.

Mingo Junction, Ohio

Mingo Junction, Ohio, where Appalachia meets the rust belt.

Progressives like to talk about the “erasure” of long-suffering groups from public discourse. There’s trans-erasure, bi-erasure, Latinx-erasure, and so forth. But I haven’t seen anyone talk about another erasure that’s been taking place. Blue collar middle-class Americans had been the bedrock of the Democratic party since the days of FDR. The Democratic party, which had once been the workers’ party, has studiously set about erasing this core constituency from among its ranks as soon as Bill Clinton entered office and his fellow New Democrats and their “third way” took over the party. Former MSNBC host Krystal Ball illustrates the problem: “There was an incredibly revealing moment at the DNC. In an effort to rev up the crowd one of the speakers called out: ‘Who in this room works with their hands?’ Silence.”

Democrats who have been active participants in the erasure of one of their core constituencies cannot be allowed to escape their responsibility for helping to bring about Trump’s victory. Ball, who now lives in Kentucky, has diagnosed the problem quite succinctly:

They said they were facing an economic apocalypse, we offered “retraining” and complained about their white privilege. Is it any wonder we lost? One after another, the dispatches came back from the provinces. The coal mines are gone, the steel mills are closed, the drugs are rampant, the towns are decimated and everywhere you look depression, despair, fear. In the face of Trump’s willingness to boldly proclaim without facts or evidence that he would bring the good times back, we offered a tepid gallows logic. Well, those jobs are actually gone for good, we knowingly told them. And we offered a fantastical non-solution. We will retrain you for good jobs! Never mind that these “good jobs” didn’t exist in East Kentucky or Cleveland. And as a final insult, we lectured a struggling people watching their kids die of drug overdoses about their white privilege. Can you blame them for calling bullshit?

… The arrogance of thinking that somehow we could ignore most of the country and still hold a claim on the nation’s highest office is breathtaking. Demographics are not destiny. Candidates do matter. And it is still the economy, stupid.

Lorain, Ohio

Lorain, Ohio

So to those who cling to the idea that racism and the other -isms and -phobias were the reason voters turned to Trump, I challenge them to undergo this simple experiment. Grab one of those county-by-county maps showing the red expanse and the blue bubbles. Drive out from those bubbles (if that’s where you happen to live, or get away from whatever bubble you’ve made for yourself). Get in the car and go out into the red. Go to a bright red county seat and get out of the car. Get off of Facebook and take your earbuds out. Look around. And tell me: what do you see?

Closed storefronts. Abandoned houses and empty lots where whole neighborhoods once stood. Crumbling factory buildings, boarded up schools that were once the pride of the community. Look around. You have to ask yourself, what are these people clinging to?

Lorain, Ohio, when it was great.

Lorain, Ohio, when it was great.

Well it turns out that many of those who live in these communities have been looking around and asking the same question. They saw their broken communities, abandoned by the very party that had once been their champion, and heard Trump say he was going to make America great again. Clinton countered that America was already great. They looked around again and said, no, it doesn’t look so great to me.

And then they voted.

Over the course of the next several posts on this subject, we’ll be taking a tour of some of those places that had turned out for Obama but voted for Trump.

Trump Selects Alt-Right Nationalist As “Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor”

Jim Burroway

November 14th, 2016

Steve BannonDonald Trump has named Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign chief and former editor of the extremist website Breitbart News, to be his “chief strategist and senior counselor.” It’s just one more example of the normalization of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism taking place in this country that leading news outlets are covering this announcement by highlighting Trump’s naming of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff (oh, and Bannon will play some kind of a “major role“), even though, as the Guardian correctly notes, “The statement announcing Trump’s decision named Bannon first, despite the vague title of his role.”

Brietbart News is famous for its deplorably racist, anti-Semitic, trans- and homophobic and xenophobic headlines. The liberal Media Matters has a pretty good collection of headlines published during Bannon’s tenure: “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew”, “Trannies 49XS Higher HIV Rate”, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”, “Huma Abedin ‘Most Likely A Saudi Spy’ With ‘Deep, Inarguable Connections’ to ‘Global Terrorist Entity'”, “Lesbian Bridezillas Bully Bridal Shop Owner Over Religious Beliefs”, “Young Muslins In the West Are A Ticking Time bomb”, “6 Reasons Pamela Geller’s Muhammad Cartoon Contest Is Not different From Selma.” Also: “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage.” That was two weeks after the Mother Emanuel massacre in Charleston, SC. The New York Daily News obtained court documents from Bannon’s 2007 divorce that gives some insight into how Bannon thinks:

Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 court declaration that Bannon didn’t want their twin daughters attending the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because many Jewish students were enrolled at the elite institution.

“The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Piccard said in her statement signed on June 27, 2007.

“He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews,” Piccard wrote.

“I told him that there are children who are Jewish at (a competing school), and he asked me what the percentage was. I told him that I didn’t know because it wasn’t an issue for me as I am not raising the girls to be either anti-Semitic or prejudiced against anyone,” she wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt responded to Bannon’s appointment: It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.'” John Weaver, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s top strategist, tweeted, “The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America.” Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “The appointment of Stephen Bannon as a top Trump administration strategist sends the disturbing message that anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and White nationalist ideology will be welcome in the White House.”

Priebus, for his part, has been dutifully making the rounds of cable news shows this morning defending Trump’s choice for consigliere.

He was a force for good on the campaign. He’s very wise and smart. He’s gone to the London School of Economics, Harvard Business School. People don’t know that he was a ten-year naval officer at very high levels, advising admirals in the navy,” said Priebus on Fox News. “I have not seen any of these things that people are crying out about.”

Because, you know being a Harvard grad magically inoculates you against all that, doesn’t it?

WITNESS: Texas State University Campus Sees Flyers Calling For “Arrest and Torture” of “Deviant University Leaders”

Jim Burroway

November 11th, 2016

TSU Flyer

Second page of the flyer. Click to enlarge

Second page of the flyer. Click the image to enlarge. You can also see an image of the flyer’s third page here.

A flyer is circulating around Texas State University at San Marcos calling for tar-and-feather vigilante squads to “arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this Diversity Garbage.” According to Austin’s KXAN:

The next page of the flyer begins with “Diversity?” The writer calls for predators, like snakes and piranhas, to be placed in the Rio Grande River to stop illegal immigrants. The message goes on to say “why not re-purpose our nuclear site radiation trash into the Mexican facing side of the wall to at least sterilize all those who try to dig under or climb over.”

Students are asked in the flyer to clog school toilets to send a message to university leaders. “Here’s what I think of your ‘diversity’ ideology —- overflowing all over your floor,” states the flyer.

The last page delves further into the writer’s problem with diversity claiming it is a code word for “white genocide.” The message concludes saying “diversity is just another way of wanting someone else to give you something you don’t deserve — in this case by the color of your skin you are ‘entitled.’”

University police are investigating. A University spokesperson confirmed to the San Antonio Express that the flyers were ere hung up in “several” campus facilities and have been removed.

TSU president Denise M. Trauth issued a statement calling for “constructive dialogue” to “better understand that which causes divisions among us.”

TSU is located about halfway between Austin and San Antonio. Students had been protesting Trump’s election in a free speech zone on campus.

WITNESS: Michigan Junior High Students Formed “Wall” To Block Minorities

Jim Burroway

November 11th, 2016

dewittjrhighStudents in DeWitt Junior High School, just north of Lansing, Michigan, formed a human wall to block minority students from getting to their destinations on Wednesday morning following the election:

DeWitt resident Corina Gonzalez told the State Journal that Maliah Gonzalez, her seventh-grade daughter, was targeted in the third incident.

“She attempted to get to her locker, and there were some boys blocking the locker,” she said. “And they were chanting things such as ‘Donald Trump for president; let’s build the wall; let’s make America great again; you need to go back to Mexico.'”

Corina Gonzalez said her daughter, who is Mexican-American, was with two or three Latino friends when the incident happened.

According to MLive:

Gonzalez says she met with school officials twice on Wednesday to discuss the incident involving her daughter, but is not happy with how the district has handled its investigation.

“You can never take back what’s been done to her. You can’t take back that she’s endured racism at the age of 12,” Gonzalez said.

During the meetings, Gonzalez says school officials confirmed they have identified some of the people who made racist comments to other students, but would not share with her what disciplinary actions have been taken.

Another parent of an Asian-America student reported that her daughter had been told that she should be deported. That parent told MLive that she hadn’t come come forward about her daughter’s experience because she didn’t think the school district would handle the situation properly. DeWitt Public Schools Superintendent John Deiter responded yesterday evening with a statement: “We plan to address them very specifically, and we will also address them broadly to prevent further incidents and to make sure that all of our students feel safe and accepted at school.”

Follow Up on Brett Vanasdlen

Timothy Kincaid

July 16th, 2009

brettvanasdlen.jpgDuring the attention given to the debate in Congress over the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill, I was reminded of the story of Brett Vanasdlen, the young man in Champaign, Illinois, who was charged with a hate crime in 2008.

We reported the story, but we didn’t fully follow up. Here’s where we left it:

  • Stephen Velasquez was walking with friends at 1:00 am. Another young man, Brett Vanasdlen, saw him and made a bigoted remark.
  • According to Velasquez, he responded, “How ignorant was that?” and kept walking. According to Vanasdlen, Velasquez grabbed him and started screaming, “What did you say” in his face.
  • In both stories, Vanasdlen threw Velasquez to the ground where he was knocked out, suffered head trauma, and was taken to the hospital.
  • Vanasdlen was arrested and charged with a hate crime.
  • Vanasdlen’s mother appealed to Anti-Semite Ted Pike and former KKK leader David Dukes for support and they ran her version of events on Dukes’ white supremacist website. Peter LaBarbera picked up the story from them (changing Pike to a “pro-family activist”) and sold it to conservative circles. The story spread as an example of how a conservative Christian “strapping, clean-cut, All-American looking young man” was victimized by a homosexual with brown skin through the use of hate crimes legislation.

White supremacists and anti-Semites throughout the country began including Vanasdlen as an example of the current indignities suffered by the “white race”. Anti-gay religious groups used it as an example of why gay people should not be protected by hate crimes.

Peter LaBarbera was probably most vocal about this story. And he was quite critical of the skepticism expressed by those of us who doubted Vanasdlen’s saintliness.

We\’ll see how this story plays out as Tim, ExGayWatch, BTB, Pam and the rest of the “queer” spin machine so eagerly paint a false picture of young Brett as a violent “gay basher” to further their misguided crusade.

Peter pledged to one and all that “AFTAH will be following this case closely.”

So today I turned to LaBarbera’s site to see whatever happened to Brett Vanasdlen and his campaign to clear his name. But I found nothing. No mention at all of the outcome.

So what happened? Did the courts clear him? Did witnesses come forward to declare that the “strapping, clean-cut, All-American looking young man” had actually been the victim and brown homosexual Velasquez was the “the real aggressor“?

Well, no.

On September 9, 2008 Brett Vanasdlen pled guilty to battery and the hate crime charge was dropped.

Defendant ordered to pay restitution in the amount to be determined at a later date.
Sentence: 09/08/2008
Sentence: Fines and/or Cost/Penalties and Fees
Sentence: Court Supervision 24Mos Supervised Court Service
Sentence: Anti-Crime Assessment Fee
Sentence: Public Service 200Hrs Supervised Court Service
Sentence: Substance Abuse Treatment/Evaluation 60Days
Sentence: Partner Abuse Intervention Program 60Days
Sentence: Count(s) dismissed.

I guess it’s no wonder that LaBarbera kept silent about the resolution to this case. Martyrs are much less effective when they plead guilty.


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