Commentary

Choosing Hate or Love

May 30, 2017

If it feels like civilization is falling apart lately, you may be right. A new study shows that the recent presidential election has freed people up to publicly say and do some awful things that they might not have previously.

Writing in Bloomberg, author and Harvard professor Cass R. Sunstein cites a new paper from three economists, Leonardo Bursztyn of the University of Chicago, Georgy Egorov of Northwestern University and Stefano Fiorin of UCLA. The researchers asked study participants if they would contribute to a clearly xenophobic organization if given the option of anonymity. Half were told that Donald Trump was slated to win the election. The researchers found that for the group that believed that Trump was the clear winner, anonymity was no longer a necessary pre-condition for their unpopular view.

Sunstein explains how this study supports the deep anxiety some voters are feeling in the U.S. and Europe. “Many people worry that if prominent politicians signal that they dislike and fear immigrants, foreigners and people of minority religions, they will unleash people’s basest impulses and fuel violence,” he says. “In their view, social norms of civility, tolerance and respect are fragile. If national leaders such as President Donald Trump flout those norms, they might unravel.”

Again, they're not wrong. From Sunstein's analysis:

The upshot is that if Trump had not come on the scene, a lot of Americans would refuse to authorize a donation to an anti-immigrant organization unless they were promised anonymity. But with Trump as president, people feel liberated. Anonymity no longer matters, apparently because Trump’s election weakened the social norm against supporting anti-immigrant groups. It’s now OK to be known to agree “that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

This study came to mind yesterday after reports surfaced of a scuffle on the floor of the Texas State Capitol. Texas State Representative Matt Rinaldi, angry that a thousand immigrant rights supporters were in the building to protest the state’s new anti-sanctuary cities law, became embroiled in a heated exchange with his colleagues. Calling the protesters a “disgrace,” he declared, “Fuck them, I called ICE,” or U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, to have them removed. Then he threatened to “put a bullet in the head” of a Democratic colleague. Rinaldi said on his Facebook page that the threat was made in self-defense. “When I told the Democrats I called ICE, Representative Ramon Romero physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by colleagues. During that time Poncho told me that he would 'get me on the way to my car.'…I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, 'get me,' I would shoot him in self-defense.”

Regardless of where you are on immigration or Texas politics, this feels like a pretty clear unraveling of social norms.

So perhaps when Jeremy Joseph Christian, a white supremacist, boarded a Portland, Ore. light rail train on Friday night, he thought that he was going to be around like-minded people. But when powerful people send xenophobic signals, not everyone gets the same message.

Christian began hurling anti-Muslim hate speech at two young women, one wearing hijab. His threatening behavior unnerved people on the train; Christian stabbed three men who tried to calm him. Two of them, 53-year-old Ricky John Best and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, died of their wounds. All during the Memorial Day holiday, the men were remembered as heroes.

Though it’s hard not to see this horrific event as part of a larger pattern of endorsed violence, there was also another social norm at work that evening. And according to the detailed account in The Oregonian, it was wasn't based on hate.

Rachel May, a single mother of five, tried to comfort the bleeding Namkai-Meche. As he was taken away by paramedics, he had one last request. "Tell everyone on this train I love them,'' he told her.

On Point

Secretary of State declines to host Ramadan reception

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has declined to host an event commemorating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in an apparent two-decade break from tradition. According to CNN, five previous Secretaries of State, both Republican and Democratic, have hosted some sort of event, either an Iftar dinner, to break the Ramadan fast, or an Eid al-Fitr reception at the end of the holiday. "We are still exploring possible options for observance of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan," said a State Department spokesperson. The State Department has been undergoing a significant streamlining, and offices like the one responsible for religious outreach are expected to be eliminated.

CNN

Saving the NAACP from itself

The NAACP is searching for a new president, but Melissa Harris-Perry, an author and professor at Wake Forest University, says the venerable organization needs a complete overhaul. It has become an entrenched bureaucracy which is unable to meet the needs of the modern era. “Youth-led groups fighting for black lives are on the rise, while the bloody years of the N.A.A.C.P. are long over,” she says. “Installing a new president while ‘retooling’ and ‘refreshing’ will only deepen the problem.” Instead, she says, choose a person who better represents the complex needs of a community in crisis. “Is the N.A.A.C.P. ready to follow the leadership of undocumented women? Queer women? Black women? Is it ready to listen to those who have been incarcerated?”

New York Times

Report: Why some kids escape poverty and others don’t

There are a lot of stats in this piece, many of them grim. Some 1 in 10 kids, mostly black and brown, will spend most of their lives in poverty in the U.S. Sadly, only 16% of those “persistently poor” children will transition into to an economically stable adulthood. But a new report from the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty offers insights into why some kids make it, and others don’t. Some of it is behavior; the successful group was less likely to have had a teen birth and attained higher education. But most factors are beyond their control. Kids who escaped poverty were less likely to have a parent with a mental of physical disability, had a head of household who worked at least part-time and were more likely to live in less segregated cities and attend less segregated schools.

Citylab

Sportswriter fired after commenting on Takuma Sato’s Indy 500 win

The tweet probably sounded better in Terry Frei’s head, but it didn’t take long until the now former Denver Post sportswriter began to feel the heat. Here’s what he said: “Nothing specifically personal, but I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day Weekend.” His second pass at an apology attempted to link his discomfort to this father’s commendable service during World War II – while also plugging a recent book – but at that point, it was too late.

Complex

Why can’t Wonder Woman be black?

Writer Maya Rupert wonders aloud if the Wonder Woman narrative would be better served by a woman of color. Comic books already celebrate outsiders with secret powers and identities, she says, but not for everyone. Coming of age in the “race-blind” 1980s, she grappled with the idea that feminism focused on white women while pushing the needs of women of color aside. “I was allowed to prefer Wonder Woman to Superman, but I wasn’t allowed to imagine Wonder Woman as black,” she says. “Wonder Woman and I were both outsiders on two levels. Her powers set her apart from other humans, but among the other members of the Justice League, she was relegated to secretary. My race set me apart from my white classmates, but I learned at a young age that within the black community my gender marked me as inferior."

The Atlantic

The Woke Leader

Why is the evangelical community so segregated?

Large-scale evangelical institutions tend to be mostly one race, and despite earnest discussions in white evangelical circles, the reasons remain unclear. But a new study gives credence to a disturbing theory: racial gatekeeping. Race Tests: Racial Boundary Maintenance in White Evangelical Churches, published in Sociological Inquiry, suggests that it’s – “a toxic combination of unintentional and intentional behaviors that are keeping white evangelical churches mostly white.” The two researchers, one of whom is black, supplemented the study with in-person visits to churches. They discovered a widespread gatekeeping norm which ranged from persistent microagressions to outright discrimination, used to determine “whether the people of color are willing to serve the interests of whites in the space, or execute exclusionary race tests to coerce people of color into leaving the space.” This must-read analysis of the study from USC Annenberg offers other voices exploring the same topic. Here’s one from Deborah Jian Lee: “for those staying, they must contend with a dominant white theology shaped in the cauldron of privilege… It fails to recognize how unfair policies and societal structures harm the economic and social wellbeing of those subject to those systems.” 

Religion Dispatches

Where is due process for young offenders?

Prya Murad, an assistant public defender in Palm Beach County, Fla., has written an interesting and somewhat counterintuitive essay that says the informality of the juvenile justice system, which lacks formal protocols, denies young people their due process - even when the participants believe that they’re trying to protect young people. “What results is an environment where boundaries are blurred and children accused of crimes are made to believe that everyone in the courtroom is there to ‘help’ them when, in reality, defense attorneys are the only parties obligated to advocate on their behalf,” she writes.

The Marshall Project

A new public art project for New Orleans promises to turn the city into a gallery

Kara Walker, best known for her extraordinary "sphinx," A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, is set to unveil a new site-specific work as part of the contemporary art triennial Prospect New Orleans. The roster features 73 artists from around the world, and installations and experiences will be spread over 17 venues. From The New York Times:“Ms. Walker’s contribution will be at Algiers Point, where a ferry will take visitors to an installation she created for a riverboat calliope — a pipe organ evocative of old circuses and steamboats — with the MacArthur-winning jazz pianist Jason Moran.” The triennial, which coincides with the city’s 300th birthday, will be held from Nov. 18 through Feb. 25 in New Orleans.

New York Times

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