Monday, March 12, 2012

Republican Racism Example #35: Those White GOP Voters In Alabama and Mississippi

Tomorrow, Alabama and Mississippi hold Republican presidential primaries.  Both are bedrock Republican states.  Politics there remain as segregated as they were during the days of Jim Crow.  African Americans in the two states vote for Democrats and white folks back Republicans.  And many of those whites remain hardcore racists.

According to a recent poll, 45 percent of Alabama Republicans falsely believe that Obama is a Muslim.  In Mississippi a majority – 52 percent – do.  (For more, see

Since Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, the right wing has spun an elaborate conspiracy theory about Obama being a secret agent of radical Muslims.  The accusation that Obama’s a Muslim regularly appears on crude signs drawn by Tea Party protestors.  Some of the signs are displayed below:

Photos from Tea Party rallies featuring the "Obama is a secret Muslim (or "Muslin") theme.  These and other photos of Tea Party signs are from

The idea of Obama being Muslim stems from the fact that his father, a man he barely knew, was born into a Muslim family.  By the time Obama was born, his namesake was already a “confirmed atheist.”  (His mother Ann Dunham, apparently was both ecumenical and tended towards secularism.) Obama’s stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was a non-practicing Muslim.  From all accounts, not just from Obama but family friends, the future president’s religious and educational life were dominated by his mother and his Christian maternal grandparents.

Obama got married in a Christian church, baptized his children as Christians, has attended Christian churches, has never been observed publicly praying as a Muslim, and has violated Muslim laws regarding the eating of pork in public. (For more on the absurdity of the belief that Obama is a closeted Muslim, see  In spite of the mountain of evidence to the contrary, many Republicans somehow cling to this belief that Obama is a Muslim even though they also attacked him for being a member of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s United Church of Christ in Chicago.  (Wright was accused by right-wing figures like Sean Hannity of being radical, anti-American, and anti-white.)

(The president’s also simultaneously accused of being a communist.  Communists generally are atheists.  You can’t at the same time be an atheist and be a devoted worshipper of Allah.  Radical Muslims called the Mujahideen, of course, fought a long bitter war against Soviet communists in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  How one can be simultaneously a follower of a radical Christian minister, a fanatical Muslim, and a communist escapes me, but then again I am being silly by assuming that logic is a factor in Tea Party Republican thinking.)

(The middle sign portrays Barack Obama as Osama Bin Laden.  Because persuading the Congress to pass a health care reform bill is just like slamming planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center and killing 3,000 people.)

The “Obama is a Muslim” myth stems from the same racism as “Birtherism.”  This is a belief embraced by white people across the country that Obama is secretly an illegal alien born in Kenya or, alternatively, that he somehow renounced his citizenship as a child in Indonesia.   This conspiracy theory, which has been easily debunked, stems from the inability of some whites to accept that a black man could legitimately be president of the United States.  The country is presumed to be of, by and for white people, a tenet that Obama violates by his mere existence.  Birthers can be found everywhere in the United States, but they have a heavier presence in former Confederate states like Alabama and Mississippi.  (For more on Birtherism, see my earlier post, “Republican Racism Example #29: That Whole Stupid ‘Birther’ Thing.”)

Portraying Obama as a Muslim makes him doubly an alien – and doubly an illegitimate pretender to the throne -- since right-wingers also believe that the United States is a “Christian” nation.  This year, Republican presidential candidates such as Texas’ clueless Governor Rick Perry and spacey U.S. Rep Michele Bachmann promoted the myth of America’s intrinsic Christian identity.  (See 

This storyline, like Birtherism and the “Obama = Muslim” tale, is completely false and based on a distortion of what deistic Founding Fathers believed. (For more on this topic, see my essay on the topic at  and 

(The second sign refers to when Obama followed diplomatic protocol and bowed slightly to the Saudi king, a practice followed by both Bushes while they were in the White House.)

If Americans are supposed to be Christians, as the right contends, and if Obama is really a Muslim, then Obama represents an alien menace.  The right, furthermore, believes that the United States – in the “War on Terror” – is actually at war with Islam itself. Newt Gingrich in particularly has advanced this theory, arguing that Islam by its nature is incompatible with democracy and Western values and aims to destroy this country.  (See  If America is at war with Islam, the right’s syllogism goes, and Obama is a Muslim, then Obama is literally the enemy, a traitor ensconced in a White House he illegitimately captured.

The “Obama is a Muslim” meme is not confined to marginal fanatics.  Prominent right-wing Republicans like Newt Gingrich and even Franklin Graham, the son of world-famous Baptist evangelist Bill Graham, have hinted that Obama is, at minimum, influenced by Islam or might actually be a Muslim.  Graham recently said that Obama is seen as a “son of Islam” and said that he could not “categorically say” that Obama is not a Muslim.  “You have to ask him. I cannot answer that question for anybody. All I know is I’m a sinner, and that God has forgiven me of my sins," Graham said on the MSNBC program Morning Joe. "You have to ask every person. He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.” (See 

Evangelical preachers Billy and Franklin Graham.  The elder Graham tried to convince voters that electing a Catholic, John Kennedy, as president, would end religious liberty in America and complained about Jews controlling the media in conversations taped in Nixon's Oval Office. The younger Graham can't say for sure that Obama is a Christian.  Sometimes the nut falls close to the tree. (Photo from

White voters in Alabama and Mississippi don’t simply believe that Obama is a Muslim.  Many are also not sure if they believe interracial marriages, such as that which occurred between Obama’s parents, should be legal.  In Alabama, only 67 percent white Republican poll respondents interviewed by the PPP survey firm March 10-11 said that they believed whites and blacks ought to be allowed to marry.  About 21 percent said they thought interracial marriage should be illegal, with 12 percent not sure about the issue.  Only 52 percent of white Mississippi Republicans believe that black-white unions should be legal, with 29 percent saying that should be legally prohibited and 17 percent undecided.  

In short, one out of three white Republicans in Alabama, almost half in Mississippi don’t outright support the legality of interracial marriage. Such beliefs are inherently racist, based on the belief that a random trait like skin color signifies some intrinsic biological difference that makes “race mixing” undesirable.  No matter that science has pretty much dispensed with the notion of race as a valid scientific concept. (For more on this, read paleobiologist Stephen Jay Gould’s masterpiece The Mismeasure of Man at  The U.S. Supreme Court, by the way, ruled that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case. (See

Racist voters who are Birthers, oppose “miscegenation,” and suspect Obama is a Muslim are becoming a bedrock for the Republican Party.  The phrase “Solid South” used to refer to the always reliable and massive vote Southern whites would give to the segregationist Democratic Party before the 1960s.   The children and grandchildren of those voters now can be counted on to always support an increasingly racist and segregationist Republican Party. 

Alabama last voted for a Democrat in a presidential race in 1976 when it backed the evangelical Southerner Jimmy Carter.  Alabama went for Republicans in 1964, 1972, and every election since 1980.  (In 1968, it backed the segregationist Democrat George Wallace who that year was running as the nominee of the American Independent Party.)  Mississippi has an identical record in presidential elections.

The Republicans elected from Mississippi and Alabama since the 1960s have not covered themselves in glory on civil rights issues.  Longtime Mississippi Senator Trent Lott (first elected to the U.S. House in 1973 and a member of the Senate from 1988 until 207) was a frequent speaker at meetings of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group long known as the “Uptown Klan.” 
Descended from the old White Citizens Councils that coordinated strategy to defeat desegregation efforts, the CCC in its publications have referred to African Americans as a “retrograde species of humanity.”  On its website in 2001, a post declared that, "God is the author of racism. God is the One who divided mankind into different types. ... Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God." (See the Southern Poverty Law Center website at  In spite of such sentiments, Lott was the keynote speaker at a CCC national convention in 1992 and his column regularly appeared in their newsletters.  White racial resentment defined Lott’s Congressional career.  As Fairness and Accuracy in Media reports:
“In 1981, Lott prodded the Reagan administration into taking the side of Bob Jones University and other segregated private schools that were suing the Internal Revenue Service to restore tax exemptions withdrawn a decade earlier because of the schools' discriminatory racial policies . . .

In 1982 and 1990, Lott voted against extending the Voting Rights Act, the law passed to insure that minorities-- especially Southern blacks-- had access to the voting booth. In 1990, he voted against continuation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the crown jewel of civil-rights legislation that desegregated education and public accommodations. In 1983 Lott voted against a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., and in 1994 he voted to de-fund the MLK Jr. Holiday commission.”  (For more, see the FAIR website at 

Trent Lott, Mississippi's longtime voice of the 19th Century in the U.S. Senate.  (Photo from,r:11,s:0)

In December 2002, at a party for retiring 100-year-old Senator Strom Thurmond, Lott made the following statement referring to his colleague’s failed 1948 campaign for president on the “State’s Rights Party” ticket:

"I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

In 1948, those white Mississippians Lott was so proud of voted for a candidate espousing a strict segregationist platform.  Thurmond made this pledge during that campaign:

“And I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.”

If the rest of the country had followed Mississippi’s lead, as Lott wished, we would have had Jim Crow segregation coast-to-coast.  And what did Lott mean about “all these problems over all these years?” The Civil Rights Movement primarily defined the era that followed, the 1950s and 1960s.  One must assume that Lott saw the African American freedom movement not as an advancement in American civilization, but as a problem.

Such is the politics that arises from what historians have called the intentional “development of underdevelopment.”  Alabama and Mississippi essentially have been economic colonies: a source of low-wage, poorly educated workers used to feed an ever-hungry capitalist machine.  Alabama ranks 49th out of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia in elementary school student/teacher ratio while Mississippi ranks 25th.  Alabama is 43rd in the percentage of the population with a high school diploma. Almost 1/5th in the state lack one).  Mississippi ranks only 40th in this category, with 17 percent not finishing high school there. Alabama ranks 43rd in the percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Mississippi fares worse, ranking 49th in this category. (See and

 Almost 17 percent of Alabama’s population live in poverty, ranking the state as ninth poorest.  (See  As of 2009, Mississippi was the poorest state in the nation, with 22 percent in the state living below the poverty line.  (See 

With such a prevalence of low-information voters, it’s no surprise that so many white Republicans in Alabama and Mississippi aren’t sure about Obama’s religion, his birthplace, and that such a large number buy into foolish white supremacist thinking. Workers and the poor there are uniformed and powerless and their overlords, the Lotts and their like, have intentionally divided them by color so their rage is directed laterally rather than upwards.  These voters aren’t evil.  They have been deliberately starved of education and manipulated into racism.  But undeniably, the Republican Party relies on such voters.  The evil has trickled down from the top.

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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