“Outniggering” their way to the White House

In seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party to run for Governor of the State of Alabama in 1958, the late George C. Wallace, who was part of the old Dixiecrat wing of the party that since has migrated en mass to join the ranks of the GOP, ran in the primary election against John Patterson, the State Attorney General. Patterson was a poster boy for antiblack racism in Alabama. While serving as the AG he used the courts as a blunt weapon to drive civil rights activists out of the state, and even approved of the death sentence for a black man who had been convicted of stealing a dollar and ninety-five cents from a white woman. Patterson’s campaign in the primary race also was endorsed and supported by the Klu Klux Klan (Wallace had the endorsement of the NAACP). In 1958 Alabama, however, that endorsement and his public expressions of virulent antiblack racism proved to be a winning strategy for Patterson. George C. Wallace found that out to his dismay when he lost the primary election.

After his defeat, which was the first time he had lost a campaign in his political career, Wallace had the following conversation with his campaign aide, Seymore Trammell:

WALLACE: “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race?” TRAMMELL: “I’m not sure, uh, Judge. What do you think?” WALLACE: “Seymore, I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.”

The anecdote above points to something obvious to anyone who has keenly observed American politics before and since: right wing “white” politicians often try to “outnigger” their opponents in their efforts to win primary elections. As times changed, however, and it became impolitic to make overtly racist appeals in the public arena, they modified their campaign rhetoric. Their antiblack policies, attitudes, and beliefs didn’t change, but they universally adopted a new vocabulary of coded terms like “welfare queens,” “forced busing,” and “state’s rights” to dress their racism up in new rhetorical drag. They soon learned those “silent dog whistles” worked equally well in rallying and driving working-class “white” voters to the polls. Armed with this new tactic they went into overdrive implementing and administering their odious Southern Strategy, which was designed during the Nixon era to lure “whites” from the Democratic to the Republican Party. The ridiculous claim that Obama was not born in America provides an excellent example of how this process has worked in recent years. Birtherism, as this form of racial hysteria has been dubbed, is just a subtle way of yelling “nigger” in public, and tricking low information “white” working class voters into voting against their own interests and in favor of the agenda and policies of a wealthy elite.

All of the above brings me to a recent NYT op-ed piece in which the always readable Charles Blow offers his insightful take on the GOP strategy of promoting racial hatred as a Republican Party family value: The G.O.P.’s ‘Black People’ Platform – NYTimes.com.

The outniggering contest is in full swing, and will continue until the Republican Party nominates its candidate for the White House. But even after their choice is made, the dog whistles will sound nonstop until election day.

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