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.

 

Lessons in Organizing from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

January 17, 2017
· 51 rsvps

Join DSA Vice-Chair Chris Riddiough to explore what we can learn from the work of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1969-77), the largest of the socialist feminist women’s unions of the 1970s, which had a rock band, a graphics collective, the underground abortion collective JANE, and numerous other projects. Check out their website and join the discussion via internet connection.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 41 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. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 10 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

February 15, 2017
· 42 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 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 1 rsvp

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But check out their short the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 2 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.