Bigotry 101 : Why Haters Gonna Hate

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.


LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 67 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel,
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt,, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 30 rsvps

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 also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

What Is DSA? Training Call

April 05, 2017
· 12 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 30 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 elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 37 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: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 10 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. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.