We’ve always known that Ronald Reagan was a racist. That’s why white people voted for him.

Have you ever been in the home of someone who has a photo of Ronald Reagan hanging above the mantel, as if he were Jesus Christ or Abraham Lincoln? Heard him described by a Republican as “our greatest president”? Or as “Saint Ronald?”

The veneration of Reagan is a favorite pastime of Republicans, especially those who like to pretend that the current president is an aberration, not a predictable outcome, of Republican politics. Reagan, they argue, was principled and refined, the kind of person who looked and acted like a leader.

Recently released recordings of Reagan saying overtly racist things about African diplomats–I won’t repeat them here word-for-word, but he compares them to animals and calls them uncivilized–are evidence, in his own voice, that he was racist.

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Turns out that people who make racist policies are also often racist in their personal lives.

But that’s not new information.

Here are just a few of the racist things that Reagan did that were no secret then. In fact, they were tactics he used to rally white voters:

  1. He announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair with a call to support states’ rights. States’ rights, if you recall, is what racist liars say the Civil War was about when they really mean it was about white supremacy and black oppression. Reagan saw this message as foundational to his run for president, and he went to where he thought it would play best–just miles away from one of the Civil Rights Era’s most notorious murders. (Now, granted, it’s hard to give a public talk in Mississippi and NOT be within a stone’s throw of racial terrorism. But he could certainly have not included an appeal to states’ rights if he didn’t want to be accused of riling up the racists.)
  2. He repeated the disproven racialized stereotype of the “welfare queen.” The US’s welfare system is fairly hard to manipulate; food stamp, for example, have a very low rate of misuse, fraud, or and waste. Far, far less than, say, the Pentagon.
  3.  He supported Bob Jones University’s argument that its segregationist policies should not make it ineligible for federal educational funding–a case the school lost in court.
  4. He argued in favor of the right of white property owners to maintain segregated neighborhoods.
  5. He opposed the Voting Rights Act and described it as “humiliating” to the South–by which he meant to white, racist Southerners. Like his decision to invoke “states’ rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi, such language signaled to voters that Reagan did not consider African Americans to be citizens worth considering–he would be a president for white people only.
  6. In continuing Nixon’s War on Drugs, he continued policies that aimed to imprison men of color.
  7.  He opposed the creation of Martin Luther King Jr Day as a federal holiday.
  8.  He opposed economic sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime and supported labeling Nelson Mandela as a terrorist.

In an effort to be polite, we often try to pretend that there is no link between personal racism and support for racist policies and structural racism. Reagan’s racism toward African diplomats–people he needed to have a good working relationship with for the sake of the world–is one more piece of evidence that the racism we see in policies is generally the same racism people have in their hearts.

Rebecca

Back-to-School To-Do List

Your children need food for their lunchboxes.

Do you take them to the store with you so you can die together or leave them at home so they can be orphans?

Your children need shoes for their feet.

Do you tell them to scatter at the sound of gunfire or to work to save each other? Do you assign them buddies to carry away from danger, or do you let them choose their own?

Your children need your love and confidence as they board the school bus.

Do you kiss them on their first day of school like it is their last?

Rebecca

The trivialization of guns

I was at a Love’s truck stop in Ardmore, Oklahoma today when the 249th mass shooting of the year happened.

The display at checkout was filled with pocket knives, flashlights, and keychains–many of them shaped like guns and bullets.

What does it mean to live in a culture where we turn our ink pens into shotguns and weapons of war into keychains?

I hear gun owners talk about how responsible they are, but I see trivialization of guns all around me.

Rebecca

Lessons from Stan Eitzen

Did you know Stan Eitzen? Stan passed away two years this summer, and I only knew him for a short time before that, but he’s one of those people you continue to have imaginary conversations with long after he’s gone.

I met Stan accidentally and under embarrassing circumstances: I had just taken my first post-PhD job, as a visiting assistant professor of sociology and history at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. I was assigned a section of Introduction to Sociology, a course I’d never taught before. The book order had already been submitted for the class: In Conflict and Order, 13th edition by Stan, Maxine Baca Zinn, and Kelly Eitzen Smith. I loved the book; it was lively, and rather than pretending to be neutral, it staked a claim: our social world is characterized by a struggle for power (the conflict perspective) rather than cooperation, with everyone harmoniously accepting their function in the social order (the order perspective). Bethel, like all Mennonite colleges, has students who come from communities where structure, duty, and cooperation are highly valued (and bring with them their negative counterparts of coercion and shame). It also has students whose radical tendencies are more disruptive, students who are most concerned about racism, sexism, and other kinds of violence. So it was a good fit, and we were rolling along quite happily until…

We got to a unit on social control. A passage of the book described abortion in positive terms because, combined with prenatal testing, it has allowed for the termination of pregnancies that would result in the birth of babies with severe disabilities.

I couldn’t teach my students that. While it is true that the vast majority of women who find that the fetus they are carrying has a significant disability terminate those pregnancies, I couldn’t teach that as a positive for society as a whole, even if it was a decision that many women felt was the right one for them. Too many women I know who have made that choice wouldn’t say it was a “positive”—just what they felt was the least bad of several choices that were all sad. And, more to the issue of my classroom, I teach students who have significant disabilities, including the exact conditions that often justify abortion: spina bifida, trisomy conditions, and others. I haven’t yet taught a student with Down Syndrome, but people with Down Syndrome do go to college—as do their siblings. And while In Conflict and Order didn’t list all the conditions that could be eliminated in the population via abortion, once you start that list, you tell people that they are unwelcome. If our textbook said that our society was better off without the birth of children with Edwards Syndrome, would my student born with cleft palate or club foot feel that our book was saying that our society would have been better off without them?

I write a careful email to Stan Eitzen, the lead author, whose email address was associated with the University of Colorado, where he’d spent his career teaching. I was careful but firm: No matter what a person’s political views on abortion, it creates a hostile classroom experience for students with disabilities if we say that one of the benefits of abortion is that people like them are not born.

Stan wrote back, right away and kindly. He wanted to hear more. Perhaps over coffee?

No, of course I did not want to meet over coffee! I did not want to chat with Stan Eitzen, a senior scholar in my field (This was the 13th edition of one of his half dozen or so textbooks, after all!) when I didn’t even have a semester of being a professor under my belt.

But it was too late. I hadn’t done my research properly. Stan was not, as I thought when I found his email address, safely in Colorado. He’d retired and moved back to Newton, where, years before, he’d earned his undergraduate degree at Bethel. In fact, he’d been teaching the Intro to Soc course at Bethel for the previous year—using his textbook. He lived within walking distance of the college.

Though his email had been friendly enough, I was dreading our meeting. It was one thing to challenge a senior colleague via email, another thing to do it at Mojos, the on-campus coffee shop.

But Stan put me at ease right away. Though he was almost two generations older than me, we had shared an advisor at the University of Kansas. Stan had been one of Norm Yetman’s first students, and I’d been one of his last. We shared a bit about our mutual commitments to Mennonite higher ed—as well as our frustrations. No one understood the job I was doing that year (a tough year for Bethel all around) like Stan did, and he was able to help me think through it sociologically, with empathy for some of my more difficult students, and also affirm my experiences. And, as for the passage that I’d had a concern about, he told me why the authors of the book had taken that approach. In the end, though, he saw my point. The next edition of the book was already too far in the publishing process to make a change, he said, but he would revise it in the one after that.

I was genuinely surprised. Academia is a defensive place, and people don’t like to change their minds, especially not publicly. Practically, Stan had no reason to do so; In Conflict and Order was going to sell well no matter what it said about eugenics.

What struck me most about the conversation is that Stan and I didn’t have to agree about the politics of abortion. In fact, we didn’t even talk about them. We talked about students and their learning and how the classroom could affirm the dignity of those present in it. Those conversations could have been hard to have, but Stan made them easy.

A few years later, In Conflict and Order came under attack from rightwing campus organizations that were upset about the authors’ unapologetic conflict perspective. Sociology professors began getting calls and emails asking them to comment on the book. The larger goal of the attack was to argue that college campuses are hotbeds of leftist thinking. As most Intro to Soc professors will tell you: I wish. Groups like TurningPointUSA are full of little Joe McCarthys, on the lookout for evidence of socialism in the classroom, and they like to target individual professors for campaigns of harassment. Their goal isn’t fairness or critical thinking but bullying and censorship.

What I want to tell such groups is that they didn’t have anything to fear from Stan Eitzen’s work. Yes, his textbooks adopt a particular perspective, but the books also welcome readers to hone their thinking against it. Stan knew that many students—and, in some times and places, most of them—wouldn’t come to class inclined toward this perspective. But thinking about it, even if in order to argue against it, was a useful exercise. And, just as importantly, he was willing to listen to an opposing perspective. While rightwing groups attacked his textbooks, they performed the close-mindedness that they accused him of—and demonstrated a lack of faith in students’ abilities to think critically about a challenging idea. Stan, in contrast, has given innumerable college students a chance to think hard about difficult things that matter.

Stan and I continued to meet occasionally over the next two years, before I moved away from Newton. Then, we stayed in touch via email and would greet each other with a big hug at conferences. He sent me a manuscript he was working on—on gender in college mascots (Sports was a major area of work for him.); it sent me digging into my own experiences for more examples. What a treat it was to get to see a great mind still at work, despite retiring twice!

Anyway, Stan passed away, and that new edition of the textbook hadn’t been released by then. It’s in production now, and I’ve not yet checked to see if the revision Stan promised happened. I can’t be disappointed if it didn’t as I know it is hard work for his co-authors to continue. The new book includes a cover of original artwork by Stan, a lovely tribute to his multiple talents.

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I continue to teach In Conflict and Order (now, my 8th year of using some version of it!), and I tell students this story, about how I was probably too forward with my criticism and about how Stan listened to me anyway, with generosity I didn’t deserve, and took my ideas seriously. I want them to know that this is how civil dialogue works.

Rebecca

Survivors of Hate Speak Out

There is no silver lining to the situation of rising hate in America right now. There are no lessons we will learn that we couldn’t have learned in some other way–or that, really, we didn’t learn before. There are no tests that we will pass that we ever needed to take. Things that are being revealed to us are things that we always knew were true: white people will destroy democracy to preserve white supremacy.

Still, there are things we can celebrate, honor, and lift up. That includes the courage of people who have been victims of hate and who have shared their insights with the rest of us.

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Civil rights activist and lawyer Arjun Singh Sethi has brought together some of these voices in American Hate: Survivors Speak Out. It’s not an easy read, but it is an encouraging one. If the present moment feels too much like Alabama in the 1950s, we can remember how victims of hate then preserved their dignity and used their voices to demand change, and we can find hope in the words of people doing the same now.

Rebecca

 

The Sin of Wishing Time Away

At the time that I’m writing this, it’s one year, 6 months, 0 days, 15 hours, 40 minutes and 22 seconds until Donald Trump leaves office. I’m hopeful that he will leave through the democratic process of being voted out and that he will leave in a peaceful transfer of power. I say hopeful because hope is a faith-based assurance of what is unknown. I can’t know, of course, that Trump will be defeated at the polls, that the polls will accurate reflect the voter’s preferences, and that he’ll move along.

Like many of us, I’ve been counting down the days until this presidency can be over.
Not because I think we can erase it and go back to some “normal” time. I’ve never argued that Trumpism is an anomaly; indeed, it seems to me to be very much in keeping with the America that I know–or, rather, is just how we should have expected white people to act if given the chance.

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So I don’t think we want to “go back.” But I also don’t want to be here anymore, you know? Like, I’d like time to pass along a lot faster. Whatever comes next has to be better, right? Like, if I could go to sleep and wake up 1 year, 6 months, and 16 days from now, I would, even without knowing what’s ahead.

There is something theologically troubling about this wish, though.

If God is God of creation, then that includes time. And that means that I shouldn’t be wishing it away. I can’t wish time away when God has given us time as part of creation, to be appreciated and to be respected and to be cared for. 

That doesn’t mean accepting how things are, of course, or treading water while time passes. And I can’t rely on the passage of time to do the work that God calls me to be doing.

It’s a privilege to hope that the passage of time will solve our problems, something that people who are safe in their homes, protected by their wealth and their race and their gender, can wait for. Embracing time, rather than waiting it out, is the harder, holier work.

Rebecca

Why are more people being killed by their partners?

I know you don’t need any more bad news these days, but we have a responsibility to understand the moment we’re in. Part of that includes a rising rate of murders related to domestic violence. Murders of both men and women are increasing, though murders of women have increased more than murders of men.

Research out of Northwestern University published this spring in Violence and Gender argues that the rise in murder in romantic relationships, which is almost always committed by men against women, are increasingly committed by guns. While murders by other weapons are falling, murders by guns have increased by 26%.

Intimate partner homicide by sex of victim, 1976–2017.

Broadly, men are more likely than women to die by violence–but just 5% by their female partners. In fact, murder of men by their female partners has declined with the liberalization of divorce laws faster than the murder rate of women by their male partners.

When women are easier able to walk away from a bad marriage, they do so rather than engaging in violence. Unfortunately, many divorces labeled “no-fault” are actually violent. Our court systems tend to focus just on ending them rather than on holding perpetrators of violence accountable.

Nearly half of women who are murdered are murdered by their male partners, and many of these occur after a woman leaves the relationship. In other words, when a woman walks away from a marriage, she maybe saving a man’s life, but walking away is also the time when a woman is most in danger.

Domestic violence is a key example of what sociologists talk about a private trouble that’s a public issue. Domestic violence endangers everyone. Almost always, mass shooters have a history of domestic violence. Even the most intimate of relationships are shaped by public policies–such as access to guns. Every day, four women are murdered by their partners–and everyone can do something to stop it.

Rebecca