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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

LIVE from New Orleans: Why avoiding talking about race is inauthentic and ineffective

Hel­lo again from New Orleans!

There was an excel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion this morn­ing on the effec­tive­ness of using mes­sag­ing that explic­it­ly address­es race. Race-Class: How to Build a Tru­ly Mul­tira­cial Move­ment for Racial Jus­tice and Shared Pros­per­i­ty for All fea­tured Ian Hon­ey Lopez, author of Dog Whis­tle Pol­i­tics, Causten Rodriguez-Woller­man of Demos Action, and Celin­da Lake of Lake Research Partners.

Before they start­ed their dis­cus­sion, a video mes­sage from Heather McFee, a Dis­tin­guished Senior Fel­low of Demos Action was shown.

McGee (who could­n’t make it to Net­roots Nation) explained that we would­n’t have the pover­ty wage econ­o­my we have today if it weren’t for racism being used as a force to cre­ate a hier­ar­chy of human val­ue. We have dis­tor­tion in our democ­ra­cy for the same rea­son, along with the fear of polit­i­cal pow­er for peo­ple of color.

They cre­at­ed their project to tell the truth: that the cur­rent eco­nom­ic pop­ulist mes­sage is accu­rate, but incom­plete, because it is not being hon­est about how racism is part of the issue. So they devel­oped a set of sto­ries and test­ed the mes­sages head-to-head.

“If we don’t get this right,” she said, “inte­grate our sto­ry and our move­ment, not only will we not win, but we won’t ful­fill the promise of this coun­try.” It is up to pro­gres­sives to get it done, to cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ty and jus­tice for every­one, she said. “It is up to us to call out racism and invite peo­ple of all races into coali­tion that is nec­es­sary to make the Amer­i­ca we believe in possible.”

Lopez start­ed the live dis­cus­sion by point­ing out that race has been used as a weapon in pol­i­tics for decades, and Trump is no different.

He says that Trump’s mes­sage of dog whistling, espe­cial­ly around immi­gra­tion, is the Repub­li­can frame for 2018, because its very pow­er­ful with their base, and because they can­not attract bicon­cep­tu­al vot­ers with­out it.

So-called col­or­blind eco­nom­ic pop­ulism is not the way to respond. It ele­vates eco­nom­ics and ignores racial issues, under the the­o­ry that race divides us and that we should focus on what unites us, and the thing we all have in com­mon is eco­nom­ics. But race does divide us! To not acknowl­edge this does not make it go away and the mes­sag­ing is not as effec­tive as when we tell the truth about race.

They test­ed audio mes­sages of con­ser­v­a­tive mes­sages, col­or­blind eco­nom­ic pop­ulist mes­sages, and eco­nom­ic pop­ulist mes­sages that specif­i­cal­ly name race and call peo­ple to work togeth­er across racial lines to address the eco­nom­ic issue. All six race/class mes­sages per­formed bet­ter than col­or­blind eco­nom­ic populism.

They also found that call­ing out divi­sive tac­tics with explic­it ref­er­ences to race beats oppo­si­tion race bait­ing mes­sages on immi­gra­tion, and res­onates more strong­ly than an iden­ti­cal mes­sage that does­n’t name race. How­ev­er, call­ing out divi­sion does not stand up to dog whistling if it fails to include a call for unity.

The study results showed that after hear­ing race-class mes­sages, respon­dents move towards greater sup­port for pro­gres­sive policies.

“So what­ev­er issue you care about, you need to fig­ure out how to address racist dog whistling in gov­ern­ment,” said Lopez.

He next broke down the anato­my of a win­ning nar­ra­tive. Race should be dis­cussed overt­ly and as includ­ing every­one, whites too.

We must explain divi­sion as a “divide and dis­tract” strat­e­gy behind eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty and racial injus­tice. Then we’ve got to empha­size uni­ty and col­lec­tive action to solve prob­lems. Final­ly, we must invoke pre­vi­ous cross-racial sol­i­dar­i­ty vic­to­ries to com­bat cyn­i­cism, and con­nect work­ing togeth­er to gov­ern­ment for all.

Rodriguez-Woller­man spoke next and said that just sim­ply nam­ing race in these mes­sages does­n’t seem like it’s doing much to real­ly call out racism. The real­i­ty is that in our polit­i­cal dis­course on the left, the floor for talk­ing about race is very low, so even when we just men­tion it a lit­tle, to some it feels like we are yelling.

When we don’t direct­ly address race and dog whis­tle mes­sages, he said, peo­ple know that we aren’t being honest.

But when we call it out and address it, we build trust and authen­tic­i­ty. Invok­ing cross-racial sol­i­dar­i­ty helps to get past peo­ple’s cynicism.

Lake runs the com­pa­ny that did the research and polling.

She point­ed out that even if we try to avoid talk­ing about race, peo­ple’s feel­ings about race will still be there. She also said that bicon­cep­tu­al vot­ers are not con­fused, but rather have the abil­i­ty to rea­son using either a right wing frame or a pro­gres­sive frame, so we need to con­sis­tent­ly reframe to ensure the log­ic of pro­gres­sive val­ues is active­ly guid­ing the think­ing and behav­ior of more people.

More infor­ma­tion on race-class mes­sag­ing and the pro­jec­t’s find­ings are avail­able from the Demos Action web­site.

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