It must be election season.
That’s the time when Black Americans - often joined by some other unfortunate group (Hispanics, immigrants, gay people, trans people) - are made into the boogeyman, threatening white Americans with unimaginable horrors like diversity, inclusion, equity or, worse, AP African American studies.
Beating up on Black people to rile up white voters is a tried and true practice in American politics because it...works.
White voters make up the lion’s share of voters in this country, and that’s especially so in the Republican Party. The foundational elements of the modern Republican Party are opposition to desegregation and civil rights.
How Republican Party went from from opposing Slavery to supporting Segregation
Yes, the Republican Party started as one that grudgingly and then robustly advanced slavery’s abolition. But, by the 1940s, its power had shriveled.
In 1949, Republicans held only 171 of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Soon, though, Republicans would ride a wave of rage to political dominance.
Southern white voters from the South, furious that Democrats were making them go to school, eat and work jobs with Black people, bolted the party and - presto! - the modern Republican Party was born.
While white Republicans were the primary beneficiaries of this transformation, other politicians also took note of the power that could be gained in tarring Black people.
Consider the 1958 gubernatorial election in Alabama.
How George Wallace Became a Bigot
Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House. “Volare” by Domenico Vodugno and “Have Faith” by Gene Allison were on top of the music charts. And George Wallace was running for governor of Alabama - with the endorsement of the NAACP.
No, I didn’t stutter. George Wallace, who would come to be among the most notorious bigots in the nation’s history, was running for governor of Alabama with the backing of an organization founded to advance the interests of colored people.Only Wallace wasn’t yet the block-the-school-house-door, fire-breathing, segregation now-segregation forever Wallace he would come to be in later years.That took a painful Democratic Party primary fight with John Malcolm Patterson, who came to their scrap with the far more valuable endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. So, in one corner, you have Patterson, backed by the KKK. And in another, Wallace, backed by the NAACP.Patterson beat Wallace, leaving a lasting imprint on the hate-monger-in-training.
Wallace would later offer an aide, Seymore Trammell, his own analysis of the race.“Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race?” he asked, according to accounts given by Trammell. “I was out-niggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now: I will never be out-niggered again.”
There is some dispute as to whether Wallace said “out-niggered” or “out-segged,” which would have been a reference to the South’s adherence to segregation of the races. But, no matter the precise wording, Wallace understood why he had lost, as he later explained.“You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened,” he said. “And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”Wallace learned that lesson well.Four years after his 1958 defeat, Wallace won the race for governor. In his inaugural speech, literally written by a Klansman, Wallace drawled his way to infamy with these words: “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”Wallace himself never joined the Republican Party, but his power was always tied to demonizing Black people to energize white voters.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party, having lost its Black support to Democrats willing to back desegregation and civil rights, became heavily reliant upon white voter support.Candidates for the party’s presidential election have long known their first order of business is to secure the votes of as many white Americans as possible. And a fast and easy way to do that is to other-ize Black people, to tell white voters their problems are the result of those “other” people who don’t share your values, your work ethic, your culture.
Now It’s Woke’s Turn
Left unsaid is that those other people don’t share your skin color. Going that far is verboten - not because it’s repugnant and immoral but because it could alienate those white voters who would like to pretend they didn’t hear the racist dog whistle. So...”woke” becomes the perfect 21st Century euphemism for all things Black and/or LGBTQ. African American studies, on exactly no one’s political radar before the run-up to the 2024 presidential election, is now a national crisis. And LGTBQ people are problems, too, lying in wait to corrupt erstwhile straight, white children.There is much political gain in the pain of Black and LGTBQ people.Even a cursory examination of recent political history suggests that pain pays off for the careful Republican presidential aspirant. Richard Nixon, whose record would likely get him censored by today’s GOP, ran as a “law and order” presidential candidate in 1968 at a time when many white voters saw Black Americans as lawless and inherently violent.
Will Horton Helped George H.W Bush Win
Nixon won the nomination and the presidency. Ronald Reagan, pursuing the presidency 1980, told an audience in Neshoba County, Mississippi - not far from where three Freedom Riders had been killed 16 years before - that he believed in “state’s rights.” That term, then and now, serves as a rallying cry for those who believe states should be free to govern as they see fit, even if that means not moving against discrimination. Reagan soared to the presidency.George H.W. Bush made great use of “Willie” Horton, a Black convict who, furloughed during the administration of Bush’s opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, raped a white woman. There are fewer boogeymen - real or imagined - more powerful in the minds of some than a Black man who menaces a white woman. H.W. obliterated Dukakis.Bush’s son, George W. Bush, announced his administration’s opposition to admissions affirmative action at the University of Michigan and railed against what he called the school’s “quota system.” In politics, opposing quotas is a sure-fire way to convince white people you share their disgust that opportunities they would have had went to some other undefined (but quite likely Black) person. W. later won re-election.
Donald Trump Has used every page of the racist playbook
Donald Trump’s use of race...? The list is too long.The playbook for GOP candidates couldn’t be more clear. Get white voters angry. Get them scared. Get them to vote. Get elected.Black people have long been useful in that quest. Now, LGTBQ people are, too.The bills backed by announced or soon-to-be announced presidential candidates seeking to outlaw diversity and inclusion, barring African American studies or critical race theory and making sure drag queens can’t read books to children...none of them should be a shock.At least they shouldn’t be for anyone who learned what Wallace did all of those years ago.
Seymore Trammell recalled Wallace saying, “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race? ... I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.”
Wayne Washington is a former White House correspondent and a Journalist based in Florida