Bigotry 101 : Why Haters Gonna Hate

White_pride_GA.JPG
Reid Freeman Jenkins

Book review: The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists
Stephen Eric  Bronner, Yale University Press, 2014.

By Michael Hirsch

Late last year in Florida, following a federal court’s overturning the state law banning same-sex marriage, footage aired on MSNBC of protesters demanding that the odious law be restored. One clip showed a dorky Walter Mitty type getting up in the face of a gay Florida couple filing marriage papers. “Two men and two women can’t marry. It’s perversion,” he shouted. “Don’t you understand that it’s perversion?”

Here in New York, more than a few of our neighbors have been willing to blame Eric Garner for his death-by-cops, allegedly deserved because he was selling loosies on a Staten Island street corner and put his hands in the air when cops sought to arrest him. In letters to the editor of the Daily News, usually the less rancid of the city’s two tabloids, there was a clear subtext that New York is full of lesser breeds whose control is the police’s job, no questions asked. Some letter writers weren’t even subtle, saying that “they” can’t control themselves or their kids, and that New York’s Finest needed respect, not second-guessing about officers’ proclivities for murder.

Where does this animus toward “the other” come from?

In The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists, Rutgers University political theorist Stephen Eric Bronner displays a keen understanding of the aggrieved if damaging psychology of the subjects of his book.

For Bronner, the bigot’s style “is not a derivative matter, but is instead part of his character. The bigot senses that modernity is undermining his belief system and his ability to make sense of himself … The bigot always directs his hatred against those who threaten (or might threaten) his privileges, his existential worth and the (imaginary) world in which he was once at home … Once the beneficiary of social privilege, the bigot now views himself as a loser … it is always about him and never about his victims.”

So bigotry for Bronner has less to do with philosophy or a studied point of view and more to do with anger at “them” getting something “they” don’t deserve because “they,” well, they ain’t “us” and “why don’t we benefit more?” Anything that smacks of redistribution, especially to people of color and even low-income whites, is proscribed.

Bronner’s emphasis on “privileges” and “victims” reveals both the book’s enormous strengths and some weaknesses. Its strengths lie in looking for a concrete explanation for bigotry that goes beyond bad attitudes of rotten people to suggest that benefits are derived from racial, ethnic and gender oppression. Its key weakness: the text doesn’t distinguish between actual privileges, which mostly relate to class, and ascribed privileges, which are social and may be no less detrimental ideologically and culturally but lie in what Marxists name “false consciousness.” There’s a relationship there — one of course informs the other, but they are not the same.

From the days of Ronald Reagan, the past 35 years have shown that a Republican program fits a bigot’s needs. However, a “blame the other, but never the rich” framework is not peculiar to the United States. Far-right nationalist and even openly fascist parties are growing throughout Europe, largely over opposition to immigrants, even as sweeping austerity policies have been key to damaging the wellbeing of millions of working people and no palpable inconvenience has been caused by migrant labor.

Instead of massing against capital and its political enablers, go blame the outsider for the lack of jobs and a perceived degrading of national culture. The racist siren song doesn’t have to deliver, but the left parties do. Since many of these have ceased to provide any sort of credible opposition to a deregulated free-market capitalism, it’s little wonder that, purely for opportunistic reasons, French Socialists and the British Labor Party are borrowing from the right’s hymnbook, echoing right-wing noises about unassimilated immigrants running amok.

Defining bigots politically as those who are often the least able to ward off the effects of economic crisis and are susceptible to blaming the narrowing of their own life chances on a despised other explains much about why the strategy has legs. As Bronner writes, “securing policies favorable to capital requires conditional support from other larger classes or disunity among those who might offer resistance to any given policies. This gives the bigot a card to play,” especially when the U.S. left and its opposite numbers in Europe find themselves struggling to offer a counter-narrative, let alone force better policies and build movements.

Bronner isn’t the first theorist to tackle the dangerous salience of racial and ethnic hatred. Wilhelm’s Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933) and Theodor Adorno, et. al.’s The Authoritarian Personality (1950) are in their own ways well-regarded classics, too. Add Bronner’s to that must-read list.

We’ve been warned.

Michael Hirsch is an editorial board member of New Politics.

This article first appeared in the July 2015 issue of The Indypendent. # 207.

 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

Feminist Working Group

December 14, 2016
· 40 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the election.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Turning Members into Leaders

December 28, 2016
· 4 rsvps

Are you starting a new group? Or have you been doing most of the work for your longtime group? Has it been hard to keep new people involved or get them to take responsibility? But suddenly everybody wants to jump in at the same time! Learn how to mentor new leaders and make sure they have all the information and tools they need to succeed.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

NOTE: This training is at 9:00pm Eastern (8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific). Please RSVP.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy.

In Leadership Development you will learn:

The proven steps to developing the leadership skills and commitment of more members:

  • identifying potential leaders
  • recognizing what each one brings to the group
  • asking people to volunteer
  • giving them specific tasks
  • supporting them in their efforts
  • creating opportunities for new leadership
  • following up.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for local leaders who will lead campaigns in their chapters.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org 607-280-7649.
  • If you think you can't do it by computer, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  • You can participate in every workshop or just attend once in a while.
  • Workshops will generally be on a weekends or evenings.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance -- by midnight Monday.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

January 19, 2017
· 24 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8:30 PM ET; 7:30 PM CT; 6:30 PM MT; 5:30 PM PT.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 9 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.