The problem with being a part-time blogger and a full-time citizen is that the news cycle sometimes moves too quickly for me to blog my interpretations in a timely fashion. The moment just passes me by. Lucky for me then that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s racism is constant so anytime I feel like posting on the psychology of racism, it is timely! In that sense, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is the ass that keeps on shitting, ain’t he?
I don’t guess I need to review the weekend of racist tweeterrhea that was overflowing the White House toilet this weekend, do I? It’s only dominated the news cycle for the past three or four days so there was no need for me to worry that this opportunity would have passed me by, too, like I had first thought over the weekend. My weekend was busy: we wrapped up the details of remodeling our Paris apartment — anyone who has ever organized contractors and tiles and cabinets and colors and styles knows just what kind of head-spinning never-ending process of details and choices that is — cleaning out the 15 years of debris that previous tenants had left in the basement storage unit of the apartment, packing for the trip to Toronto, and finally leaving the apartment in a state in which the contractor and leasing agency could easily get into it and do their respective things. After we finished all of that over the weekend, and boarded the flight on Monday and got over our jet-lag and fulfilled our social duties on Tuesday, I still have time to write a meaningful post on the psychological basis of racism and its enduring political appeal and perhaps what we can do about it.
For those of you who have just been rescued from a cave-in or come out of your weekend-long sensory deprivation tank experience or what have you, I’ll do a quick summary: with Robert Mueller’s impending testimony before two House committees, an untimely and unsightly feud between Nancy Pelosi and the Squad (the four freshman Representatives of color and femaleness) about the direction of the party and impeachment, upcoming fights over funding for the trumped up war against Iran, the on-going crisis of his making on border and growing outrage about the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and other immigrants, and any number of other issues that are likely to go against him, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber had to draw attention back to himself and away from things that he things might be harmful to him, so he wrapped his chubby stubbies around his meaty tweeter and pinched out a loaf of racism about the four American Representatives going back to their countries and other nasty racist shit. Repubes of every stripe and order slithered out from under their rocks and other sundry holes to say that that’s not racist. Kellyanne Conway topped it all off by asking a reporter asking her about it about his ethnicity so they could argue over the appropriateness of that absurdity rather than the appropriateness of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber trafficking in hate regarding four members of Congress. Ain’t America great again? Are we winning, yet?
Now that those of you who were hoping to avoid the news are now up to speed — honestly, do we even need to have the precise details anymore? Aren’t the words, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber did a racist thing this past weekend enough? Probably. It’s the same hash he’s been slinging since the Central Park Five or before, so the question that we’ll try and answer is why? Why are there racists among us? Why do racist appeals work in American politics? And, then, does knowing why there are racists among us help us respond to their racism in a way that diminishes the hate?
Theories of Racism
Everyone has their pet theory of where racism comes from with most of us having a variation of there are racists because some people are just racist assholes. There are two things that come out of this amateur armchair analysis: (1) Racism transcends culture, nationality, ethnicity, and time periods. Every people, seemingly, had racists. I’ve lived all over the world over the past twenty years or so, and racial prejudice exists in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa… everywhere. It seems like a universal. And, (2) it is difficult to determine a clear cause of or benefit from racism. Why would people bother being racist? How does it help anything?
Evolutionary Psychology & Racism
One favorite theory is that racism evolved, but it just isn’t supported by any evidence. The same is true now as it was 40,000 years ago: we benefit more from trade and exchange than we do from warfare and oppression. The population density of the savannas 40,000 years ago wasn’t sufficient to make competition for resources more beneficial than sharing resources and cooperation. The same is true now. If the wars of the twentieth century haven’t taught us anything, they shoulda taught us that. If the bankruptcy of colonialism didn’t teach us anything, it shoulda taught us that.
Terror Management Theory
Still, behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A specific behavior imparts an advantage; otherwise, there is no real reason to engage in it. One possible advantage to racism is provided by extending Terror Management Theory. TMT proposes that we defend ourselves against the anxiety produced by the realization of our own finiteness and existential crisis of the meaninglessness of our existence by developing worldviews or philosophies that promote our self-esteem, importance, and meaningfulness of our existence. TMT forms the foundation of social identity theory that suggests we base our sense of self on the group we belong to. We form in-groups and out-groups to improve our self-esteem and sense of belonging. This sense of belonging and importance protects ourselves from the existential angst of our impending inevitable death and the realization of the meaninglessness of our existence.
Racism, then, is TMT and SIT on steroids. Racists are people with such fragile egos that they not only must view themselves and their group as the best but that everyone else is less than human. A little light of recognition should be going off in your head about now: the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is a narcissistic personality disorder whose entire existence is predicated on the delusion that he is the absolute best that humanity has ever produced. It is such a fragile deluded snowflake of existence that he has no choice but to fiercely defend it against all challenges lest his narcissistic facade of perfection be deflated and he exposed.
We’ve long known that people who are afraid vote conservative. We’ve long known that people who are afraid will adopt more conservative world views and opinions. These two findings have been demonstrated in controlled lab experiments and in field experiments. TMT not only predicts this outcome, but extends the prediction: once a group’s existential anxiety about their survival is provoked, they will act to protect their group. They will reify or harden their cultural views of the world to allay their angst. It also means that they will more closely identify with their chosen in-group and oppress out-groups. In other words, they close ranks.
Not only do they close ranks, they go on the offensive. They attack those who they feel are challenging their group, their way of life, and their existence. The more threatened they feel, the greater their anxiety, the greater their attempt to assuage that anxiety.
Countering the Politics of Racism
TMT predicts that if the existential angst diminishes, the racism diminishes. Unfortunately, the existential angst of rural conservative Christians is real. The demographics of the country really are changing. The coasts and cities are growing in population and diversity swamping the political voices of the rural white America. White people really will become a minority in the US. Automation and globalization are reducing the economic opportunities of non-college educated people. These trends are all true.
Unfortunately, there is a party whose base is this declining group and instead of reaching out to other groups and finding commonalities, they’ve chosen to stoke this fear and anxiety and provoke this response. They’ve chosen to become more authoritarian and less democratic. But, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to go along with it.
The world that the Repubes promote is mutually exclusive binary choice: we either have an authoritarian fascist rule of a white minority in a pseudo-democratic state or we are over run with non-Christian non-white communist-socialist others destroying our way of life. It isn’t true. It isn’t a dichotomy. There are more possibilities than that.
We can promote those other possibilities. We can emphasize our commonalities. We can demonstrate that the needs of white conservatives can be met at the same time as those of people of color and immigrants. It isn’t going to be easy because the Repubes have a vested interest in fear mongering and a big head start like a fifty year head start.