Sunday, January 18, 2015

Contextualizing Bill O'Reilly's Racist #Ferguson Rhetoric | Russel Simmons v. Bill O'Reilly (Video)

The following is an excerpt from our forthcoming dissertation on The Culture Industry, Hip Hop, and White Racism. For further reading check out 


Intentional Reframing Racism in Politics: Goldwater & Nixon

To legitimize overt racist beliefs, whites need “proof” that blacks are responsible for their own inequality and mistreatment. In order to moralize the immoral beliefs, behaviors, and institutions of slavery and Jim Crow, whites invented scientific (biological), liberal (economic), and cultural explanations and justifications of black inferiority and white superiority. Justifications of white supremacy and black inferiority are part of the composition of the white racial framing of society.
"Historically, most whites have not been content to exploit African Americans and other Americans of color and then to just admit candidly that such action is crass exploitation for their own individual or group advantage. Instead, white Americans have developed a strong racial frame that interprets and defends white privileges and advantaged conditions as meritorious and accents white virtues as well as the alleged inferiority and deficiencies of those people of color who are oppressed (Feagin 2010:25)."

When certain justifications (biological inferiority during slavery and Jim Crow) no longer fit the changing moral and cultural climate of post-Civil Rights America, white Americans invented new justifications for racist behavior rhetoric, behavior, attitudes, and institutions based on neoliberal (individualism and market fundamentalism) and cultural (white cultural superiority and black cultural deficiency) explanations of inequality. In many ways, this new symbolic or color-blind form of racism could be interpreted as covert – in that broad statements about black biological inferiority became “politically incorrect” – but the continued existence of overt individual racism and systemic racism remained in tact, as key Reagan political advisor Lee Atwater explained the new Republican rhetorical strategy:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, state’s rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites [1]."
Fearful of losing their privileged position in the workforce and the potential increase in black political power[2], whites began to associate federal government (“public”) action with black Americans and as against white interests[3]. Whites reacted to what they believed to be “‘dangerous encroachments’ by a federal government seeking to enforce civil rights laws in housing, employment, and voting,”[4] by creating “exclusively or or predominantly white suburbs.” In opposition to the public policies of the federal government, they asserted their “individual rights” to select neighbors, employees, classmates, and to do what want with property[5]. Adopting color-blind rhetoric, whites convinced federal courts and officials that school privatization and suburbanization strategies were “not motivated by white racist inclinations,” but rather, “other factors such as economic issues, affluence, and new metropolitan sprawl.”[6]

Nixon's Appeal to the White Fear of a Black Planet


Nixon appealed to white voters, especially working class and middle class whites, by using phrases like “silent majority,” “forgotten Americans,” and “middle America.” In Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” the Republican Party determined it no longer needed “urban negroes” but could win national elections by successfully focusing on white southern and border state and suburban voters[7].

Since the 1970s, Republican politicians have continued to employ racially coded language in campaign promises to establish “law and order” and “get tough on crime.” Rhetoric about “big government”, “states rights,” “free market”[8], “lower taxes”, and “privatization” equated the national government and public programs with blacks and galvanized white support for decreased funding for public welfare programs, increased funding for prisons and policing, tax breaks for segregated private schools[9], broad privatization initiatives, and mobilized white voters[10].

The Cultural Deficiency Thesis: The Lineage of Bill O'Reilly

Accepting the notion that discrimination is no longer a serious problem, whites frequently suggest “that the 1960s civil rights laws and policies have taken care of most racial discrimination,” thus, continuing racial inequality is explained and justified as a result of “weaknesses in the culture and communities of black Americans, rather than from weaknesses in dominant, white-controlled institutions.”[12]

While traditional racial stereotyping typically branded black Americans as naturally or biologically inferior, the contemporary cultural superiority perspective generally rejects biological notions and accents certain cultural dimensions and values that account, in the white view, for why black Americans have not done as well as white Americans in society. This cultural-deficiency perspective views white Americans as having better values (e.g., a good work ethic), families, and communities than black Americans[13].

Accenting the cultural superiority of white Americans and deficiencies of black Americans throughout the 1980s, the framing of blacks as criminal, dangerous, violent, lazy, and immoral was prevalent in the news media and political rhetoric. Aids, crack, welfare, teenage pregnancy, the war on drugs, and the war on gangs were emphasized when addressing the “problems” in post-civil rights black communities. The cultural superiority of white Americans was emphasized in the rhetoric of family values, the moral majority, and open minded, fair, virtuous, and hard-working Americans. 

From this perspective, government policies such as affirmative action are unnecessary because “there are few racial barriers left in society.” Consequently, white can blame blacks themselves for any barriers to achievement, equality, and prosperity that remain in society[14].

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[1] Feagin 2012, 99
[2] “Significant too in the adverse reaction was then, as now, a deep and abiding concern with losing the status and privileges of being white. The possibility or reality of significant government civil rights enforcement in workplaces, public accommodations, and other settings brought much white fear of losing significant racial advantages.” Feagin 2012, 76
“Yet, this privileged position for ordinary whites began to break down by the 1960s, as black workers of color and other workers pressed for better job opportunities and workplace climates. Many whites felt they were losing their job advantage ‘labor aristocracy’ position, an attitude which often fueled their increasing support for the Republican party, then and later on.” Feagin 2012, 76, 77
[3] “Indeed, since the 1960s an anti-federal-government perspective has been central to much of the conservative movement’s political and racial framing. Because the federal government under Johnson had moved to end Jim Crow, pass civil rights laws, and institute some affirmative action regulations, many whites came to associate, more than in the past, much federal government (‘public’) action with black Americans and, in their view, as action against white interests. In this era it was indeed African Americans who aggressively pressed for the federal government to protect their civil rights and expand their freedom.” Feagin 2012, 77
[4] Feagin 2012, 78
“Most importantly, they insisted on their ‘right’ to get away from what they viewed as ‘dangerous encroachments’ by a federal government seeking to enforce civil rights laws in housing, employment, and voting.” Feagin 2012, 78
[5] “Social scientists like Kevin Kruse have shown that white southerners fighting school and other desegregation fought for their ‘right’ to ‘select their neighbors, their employees, and their children’s classmates’ and the ‘right’ to do whatever they wanted with their property. Most importantly, they insisted on their ‘right’ to get away from what they viewed as ‘dangerous encroachments’ by a federal government seeking to enforce civil rights laws in housing, employment, and voting.” Feagin 2012, 78
[6] Feagin 2012, 78
[7] “We’ve already seen how the ‘southern strategy’ targeting white voters in the South and in the suburbs was developed by Barry Goldwater and his white conservative allies in the early and mid-1960s. While the Republican Party lost in 1964, a similar strategy was used by Richard Nixon’s political team in 1968 and 1972 to capture more white voters, especially but not only in southern and border states, and this helped Nixon win the Whitehouse twice. Indeed, some political strategists, such as Kevin Phillips, argued that in this era the ‘emerging Republican majority’ among voters meant that the Republican Party did not need ‘urban Negroes’ and certain other ‘vested interests’ to win nationally, but could successfully focus on white voters. Among these white voters those in the burgeoning suburban areas were especially important.” Feagin 2012, 79
[8] “In addition to ‘pro-family’ and ‘pro-life’ themes, these groups have frequently emphasized other political themes, including renewed negative attacks on big government, with its often thinly disguised racial meanings, and strong positive assertions about ‘free market’ capitalism.” Feagin 2012, 95
[9] “Reagan also supported significant tax exemptions for the many private all-white schools that were a clear examples of the use of privatization strategies to destroy or counter public school desegregation.” Feagin 2012, 101
[10] “Clearly, in his 1980 presidential campaigns Reagan and key members of his political team decided to appeal mostly in a less overt way to the racist framing in the minds of much of the white electorate in the South and the North, and to implicitly link that framing to such influential conservative political themes as states’ rights, lower taxes, and big government. His conservative team effectively used the ‘Southern Strategy’ of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon by targeting southern and border state whites.” Feagin 2012, 9
“Where whites have not been able to prevent significant school and other types of public segregation, they have often moved to the privatization of important public sectors like public schools. Recall Randolph Hohle’s showing that in reaction to the civil rights movement in southern areas many white conservatives developed a public-equals-black political perspective that involved ‘a language of privatization that degraded all things public as ‘black’ and inferior and all things private as ‘white’ and superior.’” Feagin 2012, 104
“Indeed, there is a specific historical linkage of the souther privatization approach to Reagan himself. After running his own surprisingly strong presidential campaign in the 1970s, Alabama’s former segregationist governor, George Wallace, helped to reinforce at the national level a racialized privatization approach to public schools and other public programs, which he strongly supported, when he dramatically appeared with Reagan at the latter’s famous Philadelphia, Mississippi speech in 1980.” Feagin 2012, 104
[11] Feagin 2012, 88
[12] Feagin and O’Brien 2003, 98

[13] Feagin and O’Brien 2003, 97
[14] “In some ways this perspective is no less harmful than the traditional racial views. Regularly, in the mass media, ins schools, and in the statements of politicians and pundits, black Americans are reminded that they themselves are responsible for their continuing social problems.” Feagin and O’Brien 2003, 97
“The policy implications of this point of view are seen in survey research that finds that, while a majority of whites indicate that they believe in the innate equality of whites and blacks, they also express little support for strong public policies, such as aggressive affirmative action, that might bring about social equality. The contemporary cultural-deficiency perspective assumes there are few racial barriers left in society, and that the main barriers to achievement and prosperity for Americans of color are those they create themselves. Thus, forceful government policies aimed at reducing racial discrimination are not currently needed.” Feagin and O’Brien 2003, 98

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