Looking Squarely at Race
Terry H. Schwadron
May 17, 2022
The sad truth, as seen in recent mass shootings in Buffalo, is that the extended talk, posts and endless repetition of nationalist and racial conspiracy theories are prompting more anger and violence.
For once there was no caterwauling about multiple causes and provocations after the Buffalo supermarket shootings by a single 18-year-old with a weapon gimmicked for more automated shots and festooned with racist notes. Details of the investigation aside, the action was “pure evil,” the local sheriff declared, and it came directed out of racism towards mostly Black citizens.
It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last racially motivated killings. And it is linked with the refrain of “replacement theory” conspiracies moving from the white supremacist edges of America to its mainstream. It should be the job of our generation to meet this singular challenge for Americans to drive a stake into this increasingly dangerous racist blob.
“Those Black victims were murdered by white supremacy, which grows today in fertile soil nourished not just by fringe-dwelling racists but by politicians and other opportunists who call themselves mainstream,” writes Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist. It was a theme picked up by the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal that called out politicians and conservative media personalities for promoting the conspiratorial “white replacement theory”
Whether too gently or too late, the news media are eyeing the spread of racist conspiracy theories into our general political and public affairs conversations, finding particular home in the mouths of a growing number of Republican politicians, their campaigns, and right-leaning political commentators who recognize willing audience for blaming Jews, Blacks, Latinos, gays, immigrants — The Other — for rising anger about our changing demography.
“Replacement theory, once confined to the digital fever swamps of Reddit message boards and semi-obscure white nationalist sites, has gone mainstream. In sometimes more muted forms, the fear it crystallizes — of a future America in which white people are no longer the numerical majority — has become a potent force in conservative media and politics, where the theory has been borrowed and remixed to attract audiences, retweets and small-dollar donations,” reports The New York Times.
While Republican officeholders and commentators like Tucker Carlson of Fox denounce literal violence, they keep talking in one fashion or another about the same replacement theory references that fueled violence in Charlottesville, Va., the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, the angriest reactions to protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and a string of other violent incidents.
Columnist Robinson noted that “political leaders and commentators from far left to far right will denounce Saturday’s massacre. We will have the customary arguments about the need for sensible gun control and the need to focus on mental health. Gradually, the arguments will peter out. Nothing meaningful will change.
“What we need to talk about is how politicians and thought leaders on the right are using the vile poison of replacement theory to further their own selfish ends — garnering campaign donations and votes, boosting television ratings, achieving fame. And we need to talk about how most of this demagoguery is coming from people who should know, and probably do know, that what they are telling potential killers, such as Payton Gendron, the man in custody after the Buffalo shooting, is complete fiction.”
Joe Biden called for an end to “hate-filled domestic terrorism,” as he called it. But Joe Biden — and Democrats in general — are seen as part of the problem, not a source of cooling.
Robinson recalled that a poll this month by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that nearly half of Republicans agree at least to some extent with the proposition that there is “a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views.” He noted, “This isn’t fringe stuff anymore. It’s becoming central to the modern GOP’s worldview.”
Spread Among Republicans
However polite the wording, the idea of seeing Black Americans, Hispanic immigrants and Jews as “replacers” of white Americans, are being spoken aloud at congressional hearings, echoed in Republican campaign advertisements and embraced by a growing array of right-wing candidates and media personalities.
It’s the persistent stuff of by Republican Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz and Sen. Ron Johnson, and now former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), third-ranking Republican in the House. It’s a central message for Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who insists that Democrats are trying to import enough voters so that Republicans would never win a national election. It’s the nightly message from commentator Carlson, who makes no bones about its centrality.
The Washington Post has traced the origin of these theories 70 years ago to former Sen. Theodore G. Bilbo, a Democrat who twice had been governor of Mississippi, who attacked Italians, Jews and Blacks for “mongrelizing” the country. Bilbo saw an existential threat in the growing ranks of American-born descendants’ slaves and wanted to “ship them back.” He wrote, “The mongrel not only lacks the ability to create a civilization, but he cannot maintain a culture that he finds around him,” adding,
“a White America or a mongrel America — you must take your choice!”
What’s troubling is that the conspiracy theories and supporters are growing at the same time that we see efforts to halt monitoring of Twitter and Facebook, in the most recent examples, in the name of “free speech,” however hateful. It is coming as we are turning our back on affirmative action in hiring and admissions in the name of individualism, as we are increasingly disdainful about extending legal protections to gays and transgenders in the name of freedom of religion. It is coming — or is an outward expression — of new laws to keep white, Christian America for feeling guilty about decades of white privilege built on the effects of slavery and race-tilting policies in government, law and business.
Maybe we should just rename the underlying theme as “Critical Replacement Theory,” and Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will simply ban it because it makes some of us feel bad.
Ending racial tension is our collective responsibility. Why aren’t we doing the job or is this no longer the country we wanted?