Cepeda column: Don’t fall prey to forces trying to make us fear the ‘other’ | PostIndependent.com

Cepeda column: Don’t fall prey to forces trying to make us fear the ‘other’


CHICAGO — The recent rash of videos showing white people lashing out against blacks and Hispanics isn’t just because everyone is carrying around an internet-connected camera in their pocket.

While there has always been plenty of racism in this country — including well-documented discrimination in everything from housing to employment — the effects of Donald Trump’s toxic candidacy and presidency cannot be overstated.

The enmity toward people of color constitutes a range that, on the passive end, can simply be the conspicuous wearing of a red “Make America Great Again” hat. But it can quickly escalate to calling the police on black people doing nothing more menacing than sitting at Starbucks or barbecuing at a park.

At first glance, it may seem like nothing connects, say, an incident in which a group of white men call the police on a group of five black women on a Pennsylvania golf course for allegedly playing too slowly — to the case of Aaron Schlossberg.

Schlossberg is a New York attorney who was caught on video at a Manhattan restaurant berating Spanish-speaking employees and customers and threatening to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to round them up. The restaurant happened to be just a stone’s throw away from the Mexican consulate. Parroting the kind of language heard at Trump rallies for the past two years — baseless accusations of Latinos living off welfare, being in the country illegally and “refusing” to learn English — Schlossberg felt no qualms about lashing out against people he perceived as “other.”

But we can’t lay all the anger against those who aren’t white solely at the feet of the president.

Russian meddling and home-grown anxiety have escalated matters, as well.

According to an analysis of about 3,500 Facebook ads that were created by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (the outfit currently under investigation for having sought to influence the 2016 presidential election), USA Today found that the “company consistently promoted ads designed to inflame race-related tensions. Some dealt with race directly; others dealt with issues fraught with racial and religious baggage such as ads focused on protests over policing, the debate over a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community.”

In fact, USA Today found that more than half of the ads made public last week by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence specifically referenced race.

At least 25 percent of those ads (the other half of the trove has not yet been made public) centered on issues of crime and policing, often with racial connotations.

It looks as though the divisive racial ads that have so far been released started in 2015, then ramped up significantly prior to Election Day and continued through to May 2017.

On the social science front, researchers are now positing that it wasn’t economic worries but whites’ social anxiety about being displaced by the so-called demographic tsunami of Hispanics and other people of color that triggered the turn toward Trump.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — and based on an analysis of voter surveys — University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz argues that Trump’s success was and continues to be due to dominant groups feeling threatened by change.

“Political uprisings are often about downtrodden groups rising up to assert their right to better treatment and more equal life conditions relative to high-status groups,” Mutz wrote. “The 2016 election, in contrast, was an effort by members of already dominant groups to assure their continued dominance and by those in an already powerful and wealthy country to assure its continued dominance.”

In essence, we are being manipulated to feel targeted by “the other” — making for wealthy whites who feel as threatened by a minimum-wage worker speaking Spanish as Spanish speakers who feel increasingly nervous at the possibility of ICE coming around.

(And by the way, you don’t need to be an immigrant to be scared of ICE — the agency has mistakenly detained and deported at least 2,840 U.S. citizens since 2002.)

Bottom line: There are political forces actively working to divide us. As soon as this becomes clear to more people, we might have a shot at not giving into the impulse to hate the “other” as much as we’re told they hate “us.”

Esther Cepeda’s email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

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