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Bigotry And Backlash Find Home In Class Resentments

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Bigotry And Backlash Find Home In Class Resentments

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “Mountaintop” sermon in Memphis in 1968, he probably had not dared to dream of the astonishing racial progress that would be made after his death.

Had he lived to a ripe old age, he’d likely be heartened by the election of a black president, by the elevation of black executives in corporate boardrooms, by the inclusion of black men and women in every important sector of American life. And he might be surprised by the ways in which old racial taboos are now so easily broken — as is evidenced, for example, by the increasing number of advertisements that feature interracial couples.

Even the ongoing controversies over criminal justice would likely not dampen his optimism. Police violence against black Americans is nothing new, after all. But the Black Lives Matter movement has shown that black voters — and their white and brown allies — have a new capacity to influence systemic change. That, too, is evidence of progress.

Still, in the fear and resentment that have roiled our politics in this election season, there is something that King would find all too familiar: bigotry and backlash. Every wave of progress in this great country has seen, in its wake, currents of resistance, of anxiety, of bitterness. And racial progress, it seems, has prompted the greatest swells of indignation. What else explains the popularity of the vitriolic and bullying Donald Trump?

Commentators and political analysts, myself included, have expended reams of paper and volumes of hot air in an effort to explain the crosswinds that have buffeted the electorate — especially on the right. Trump’s bellicose rhetoric has been compared to that of George Wallace, whose run for the presidency captured the attention of disaffected working-class whites all over the country.

Certainly, Trump’s economic themes harken back to Wallace, who employed an anti-establishment populism that appealed to factory workers, truck drivers, plumbers and policemen. Wallace’s denunciations of “pointy-headed intellectuals” were legendary.

Yet, the former governor of Alabama is most remembered not for his economic appeals but rather for his racist ones. His infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” — when he insisted that black students would never attend the University of Alabama — generated nationwide attention and guaranteed him a place in the history books. And it was that resistance to allowing black citizens full citizenship that fueled intense loyalty among his white constituents.

So it is with Trump, whose nativism and bigotry have captured many working-class whites as they are reeling from the demographic change that is in evidence everywhere, including the Oval Office. When the real estate mogul denounces Mexicans, denigrates Muslims and disparages President Obama, he isn’t using coded language — or “dog whistles.” He’s giving full-throated voice to the prejudices of those who fear the erosion of white privilege.

Yes, their economic anxieties certainly provide ample kindling for the fires of resentment. It’s no secret that the well-paying jobs that once supported a middle-class lifestyle for workers without college degrees are disappearing, as factories move offshore or replace humans with robots. Even though the unemployment rate is now at 5 percent, wages have stagnated.

Besides, many workers who lost their homes and savings accounts in the Great Recession are still trying to dig their way out of debt. They fear they will never make it back to a secure and comfortable middle-class existence.

Here’s the irony: King would have offered them hope rather than scapegoats. He would have pointed out that black and brown workers have suffered even more in a system that favors the few. Months before his death, King announced a “Poor People’s Campaign” that, as he envisioned it, would have united black, brown and white Americans in pursuit of a fairer economic system.

Unfortunately, even though King’s lieutenants tried to continue the campaign after his death, racial antagonism was stronger than the pull of class unity. And that’s still the case. For all our amazing progress in race relations, too many of us still fall victim, much too easily, to the siren song of racial demagogues.

King would certainly recognize that.

(Cynthia Tucker Haynes won Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)


Photo: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would both be heartened and appalled at race relations today. via Wikimedia Commons

Cynthia Tucker Haynes

Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a veteran newspaper journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a Visiting Professor of Journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She is also a highly-regarded commentator on TV and radio news shows.

Haynes was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 17 years, where she led the development of opinion policy. More recently, she was that newspaper’s Washington-based political columnist. She maintains a syndicated column through Universal Press Syndicate, which is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007, Haynes has also received numerous other awards, including Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists.

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  1. Alex January 16, 2016

    I was just thinking about Reverend Martin Luther King yesterday, thinking that instead of him been shot by a white supremacist group today if he would be marching he would be shot by the police or hung in jail. Reverend Martin Luther King would be dead certainly at the hands of cops then there would be a bunch of cop Union leaders defending the killing of the crusader and there would be an investigation and a grand jury exoneration of the killer cops. Now a days police departments have become military bases unto themselves with ties to white supremacist militias. A case in point is the s standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. White supremacists have taken over federal lands armed with assault rifles complicit with the local Sheriff regardless of his now disguised attitude. He is on the side of the white supremacists. Yes sir, Martin Luther King would be killed today by cops if he were alive and if he started marching for civil rights.

    1. itsfun January 17, 2016


      1. Alex January 18, 2016

        Not it is not a fact it is based on a set of testing samples of resent killing of Afro American unarmed men and women by police and the KKK (are you a member), facts and probabilities in which the outcomes is scientifically calculated and leaves no room for error arriving at an undeniable conclusion that Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches would be met by killer cops just like the killer cops are destroying today’s’ civil rights marchers. In his time he was arrested and jailed and survived but in today’s killer cop permissive society Martin Luther king would be hung in his cell by his captors. No sir,m ethe bullshit is you.

        1. David January 18, 2016

          “Testing samples”? Can you cite what model you are using to support your claim?

        2. itsfun January 18, 2016

          Like I said bullshi_t

  2. David January 16, 2016

    Unemployment at 5%? I guess if you count people who are not looking anymore or are no longer getting unemployment checks. What country is this author talking about?

    1. Alex January 18, 2016

      Sorry ass, you need a lesson on how unemployment rates have been calculated by every administration… treasonous are you?

      1. David January 18, 2016

        As a Vietnam combat veteran, I have never been called “treasonous”. Perhaps you can explain how unemployment rates have been calculated by every administration?

        1. Alex January 18, 2016

          Thank you for the question and the false assumption that you think I am not a Vietnam. No, I disagree with you I belonged to too many Vietnam vets organizations that just fronts for treasonous white supremacist veterans so you see you do not impress me. It’s like you are saying that veterans cannot be traitors but unfortunately your white supremacist dogma does not hold water. Too many veterans have turned against this government and this President and I call them traitors just like Benedict Arnold was a trait, Jefferson Davis was a traitor, and Robert E Lee was a traitor and I believe they should all have been shot dead for their treason. As for me researching how the unemployment rate is calculated I am going to tell you that you should research it instead of spewing lies on the internet. You will be surprised as to the truth. Benedict Arnold was a general during the American Revolutionary War who originally fought for the American Continental Army but defected to the British Army. While a general on the American side, he obtained command of the fortifications at West Point, New York, overlooking the cliffs at the Hudson River, and planned to surrender it to the British forces. After the plan was exposed in September 1780, he was commissioned into the British Army as a brigadier general.

          1. David January 18, 2016

            What Vietnam Vet groups did you belong to that were “fronts for treasonous white supremacist veterans”? Veterans who are opposed to the policies of the Muslime occupying the White House are patriots.

          2. Alex January 18, 2016

            You got my point, end of story. Hang up your KKK hat.

          3. David January 18, 2016

            Can’t answer my question? Hmm…could it be that you are lying SOS?

  3. DOC January 16, 2016

    Not a damn thing has changed white folks killing and blacks marching.Black folks killing each other and blacks still marching. So Dr. King would not be happy.

    1. Alex January 18, 2016

      There are more white trash killing each other today than Afro Americans killing each other … it’s ignored. If Jesus was alive today he would spit on white supremacists the likes of you.

      1. DOC January 18, 2016

        It always amaze me how people speak for Jesus and God. All I was saying is that we as people do a lot of killing.

        1. Alex January 18, 2016

          It always amazes how racists try to change their posts, you did say Blacks killing Blacks…. you set Blacks apart in a racist rant. Truth hurts there are more Caucasians killing each other so instead of saying folks like if Blacks were not folks try and keep it clean.

          1. David January 18, 2016

            Well, there are more than 8 times as many whites as there are blacks. So, you would assume that there would be more whites killing whites than blacks killing blacks. But, why are blacks committing more crimes than their percentage of the population?

          2. Alex January 18, 2016

            Look it up why do lazy KKK’rs like always want people to do your work? You don’t threaten me at all. Your statement is idiotic you admit there are more Caucasians so there is more crime regardless off your perceived criminal rate., fact is Caucasians kill each other at a higher percentage but since you are in love with lies you will not believe anything. End of story, tired pf your idiotic comments.

          3. David January 18, 2016

            Tired of the fact that you were called out in being a part of veterans groups who were, in reality, white supremacists? Name them — POS!

  4. oldfed January 16, 2016

    King was nothing but a shyster who milked whites for every nickel he could

    1. Daniel Max Ketter January 17, 2016

      Well I have much respect for Dr King. My girl Kristy is engaged to a black man, and by god he’s going to be the best son-in-law i’ve ever had, certainly better than my boy Lewis who sells crack to high school students and spreads hiv.

      Perhaps black studies should be mandatory for all races .

    2. Alex January 18, 2016

      you do not know it but your wife gave you aids… you will die of aids too. Your mothers took quarters for what she did with Afro-Americans and that is how she gave them aids.

  5. oldfed January 17, 2016

    Had he lived he would of died of AIDS

    1. Linda Rae January 17, 2016

      That is simply untrue. I had an extramarital affair with a man of color, and I never contracted that awful virus. AIDS strikes all races regardless.

    2. Danielle Glidden January 17, 2016

      That’s horrible. You sound like my loser daddy, who made remarks like that every time Ford motors passed him over for a promotion. No wonder he was only a desk clerk. Even the union guys picked on him and called him fatboy.

    3. oldfed January 17, 2016

      Had oldfed dan ketter of williamsburg va lived he would of died of AIDS

    4. Alex January 18, 2016

      you do not know it but your wife gave you aids… you will die of aids too.

    5. pisces63 January 20, 2016

      He would have been 87 years old. AIDS? No, I don’t think so. White man’s disease, yes, you betcha. That same disease that got 3 civil rights
      workers. Four little girls blown up in a church. Medgar Evers!! Viola Liuzzo. Emmitt Till. South Carolina 9. That white man’s disease is still running rampant.

    6. Daniel Max Ketter January 22, 2016

      But ex-Ford Motors parts clerk Dan M Ketter from Virginia is a Vietnam War draftdodger, who cowardly evaded the draft with a college deferment.

    7. Linda Rae January 23, 2016

      you do not know it but your wife gave you aids… you will die of aids too.

    8. Danielle Glidden January 28, 2016

      Dannnnnnnnnnyboy Ketter

    9. oldfed January 29, 2016

      Why is it that Linda Rae Ketter gives oral jobs to coloreds and mooslems??

    10. Linda Rae February 20, 2016

      Dannnnnnygirl Ketter is fat and sweaty just like Jabba the hut from star wars…

    11. Linda Rae February 24, 2016

      Vote Hillary 2016!!

    12. Rebecca Glidden April 23, 2016

      But you are Dan M Ketter from Williamsburg VA, a Vietnam era military
      draft dodger who cowardly evaded serving your country with a college
      draft deferment, then couldn’t get hired for a federal job. Other than
      tracking down recalled car parts during your 30-years as a Ford motors
      clerk and a wannabe republican online, are you qualified to answer

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