By Elwood Watson
There has always been a segment of Americans harboring rabid levels of hostility and hatred toward non-White Christians. These men and women were largely forced to discuss and reaffirm their racist and bigoted viewpoints with like-minded individuals. For much of our recent history, their outpourings were confined to secret conferences, white supremacist communications, obscure far-right radio programs and the darkest, racially sordid corners of the web.
However, to quote a line from the music of iconic musician Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changin’.” Such apprehension in engaging in racially inflected behavior has all but evaporated for many individuals who inhabit this political and cultural sphere. Indeed, blunt, acerbic, and outright racially arrogant antics have become the order of the day.
Take Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun, who recently stated that interracial marriage is a decision that should be left up to individual states. Realizing he actually stated his true bigoted feelings, he quickly attempted to clarify his remarks, claiming he “misunderstood” the question. No senator, you stated your viewpoint quite clearly. There was nothing ambiguous in what you said or meant.
Even more blatantly racist behavior was on display when a cauldron of Republican senators engaged in scurrilous attacks on Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley disingenuously questioned her “supposed reluctance” to prosecute child predators, while South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham dishonestly referred to the esteemed judge as “a left wing radical.”
Not to be outdone, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn asked judge Jackson “how would she define the term woman.” Ted “Cancun” Cruz, the Texas senator who likes to mix it up with big bird, charged Judge Jackson with being a “strong proponent of critical race theory.” The acidic banter went on and on. MSNBC contributor and USA Today columnist Kurt Bardella said it best: “The GOP senators took off their White hoods!”
We have also witnessed several conservative politicians flexing their political muscle at the local and state levels. They have arrogantly imposed their will by crafting and implementing draconian laws in school districts, targeting transgender youth and alternative sex curriculum being taught in public schools. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ratification of the “don’t say gay” bill is the most politically pernicious example.
Republicans have targeted race-based curricula in public schools with bills like the “stop woke act,” a law supposedly designed to prohibit kids (read white children) from being directly attacked or feeling bad about their race. More recently, these politicians have targeted higher education, disingenuously promoting red herrings such as “critical race theory,” “woke professors,” and other fallacies.
Education is not the only arena where conservatives are flexing their regressive muscles. Right-wing politicians have systematically packed local and state courts with ideologues, passing voting restriction laws in Mississippi, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Arizona, Missouri and other states. Many of these appointees are hell-bent on reconverting America into a nation more reminiscent of the Jim Crow era through voter suppression.
Far right gadfly Tucker Carlson declared, “The Biden Administration is engaged in an unrelenting stream of immigration designed to change the racial mix of the country,” Thus, deviously tapping into the deep-seated racism, xenophobia, and other insecurities of his Fox News audience, particular, older white Americans. This has certainly been psychologically and economically profitable for some opportunistic charlatans. I say some because others, sad to say, genuinely believe in the reductive rhetoric they espouse to their listeners.
The truth is that there has always been a right-wing network comprised of politicians, pundits, radio hosts, journalists, and clergy. This right-wing group has been astute to the insecurities that have rankled the psyche of their listeners, readers, voters, and congregations.
Thus, they have eagerly, and in many cases, deviously capitalized on white fragility and fear. It has become a truly alarming and perturbing state of affairs. Those of us who are committed to a progressive, inclusive society that respects the rights of all American citizens must combat and respond to such vile politics proactively and with fearless ferocity.
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.