by Martha K. Huggins, Ph.D…….
I’m still stunned by a letter to the Key West Citizen’s editor last April (4/22/15), stating that, “Black people are born three times more likely to commit crime than white people.” Cringing at this historically racist and supremely incendiary statement, I was reminded of criminology’s long history of explaining crime as caused by genetic, physiological, psychological, and religious factors. Nineteenth-century physician Cesare Lombroso measured the skulls, arms, and heads of imprisoned poor Italian inmates and concluded that one very dangerous category of criminals was an ‘atavistic’ throw back to an earlier stage of evolution. These “born criminals” were allegedly identifiable by such congenital ‘defects’ as being left-handed, red haired, and showing the “savage” characteristics of an Ape—‘abnormally’ long arms, high foreheads, and sub-normal intelligence. People with an ape-like body physiognomy, Lombroso decided, are dangerous, so “Look out,” good citizens. Or as the 21st century letter writer to the Key West Citizen forewarned, “Black people are born three times more likely to commit crime than white people.”
White US supremacists of the immediate post-emancipation era,[i] “generally believed that blacks were inherently savage and violent [, but]…that the institution of slavery had tamed them. They feared that abolition would cause them to return to their ‘primitive’ state and would lead to mass violence against whites in a race war.”[ii] Rumors about “criminal acts by blacks were often exaggerated or outright fabricated by newspapers, which helped perpetuate this fear.” The Black man was seen as ‘hyper-sexual’ because of his ‘savage’ nature,[iii] which led to worries among whites that Black men would target white women and rape them.”
Stereotypes have consequences: in the US, when rape was still treated as a capital crime, “the South put blacks to death for rape far more often than whites—especially when the alleged victim was a white woman. Of the 455 men executed for rape in the United States between 1930 and 1967, 90 percent were African American.”[iv] Such consequences are usually ‘explained away’ through racism and then further neutralized in ways that allow a person’s living comfortably with allowing inhumanity to others. Heck, we’re not all that bad!
Even today, Blacks have been identified in random survey research as having ”superhuman” physical abilities, while at the same time being seen as less adept than whites at performing everyday tasks. In another recent survey, respondents saw blacks as less sensitive to pain than whites….”[v] By combining these two myths about Black men–that they should be feared for their superhuman strength and that they have low pain sensitivity, you have an ‘enabler’ for physically mistreating Blacks.[vi] As psychologists Kurt Gray and Daniel Wegner argue, “The more you cast someone as an active doer, the less you see the person as susceptible to things being done [to them].”[vii] Such “moral typecasting,” as Gray and Wegner label it, neutralizes feeling guilty about personal or institutional mistreatment of ‘Others,’ especially Black men.
Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime ideologically neutralized the genocide of Jewish, LGBT folks, and Romany people, by claiming there to be a strict hierarchy of purity within the human race: The Aryan (Nordic) Master Race was at the top–the most “pure” of races–followed by the less “pure” ones, which included the “parasitic” races of non-Aryan origin. These dangerous “sub-humans” were exterminated by Nazis in numbers far greater than their proportion in the populations of Nazi-occupied countries.
War is especially helpful in demonizing and mistreating an enemy, which usually includes, on the home front, victimizing each warring country’s immigrants–especially those of the enemy’s ethnicity. “The coming of World War I brought with it a backlash against German culture[viii] in the United States, [increasing after]… the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917….” [ix] Anti-German sentiment rose across the US and “German-American businesses and homes were vandalized, and German Americans accused of being “pro-German” were tarred and feathered, and, in at least once instance, lynched.”[x]
As far as religious beliefs are concerned, the US also has a troubling history of anti-Catholic sentiment. The usual refrain was: ‘Catholics cannot be trusted because they have greater loyalty to the Pope than to the US government.’ Translating this stereotype into public policy, in the 1920s, Oregon voters got a law passed prohibiting US parents from sending their children to private (Read: Catholic) schools.[xi] It was argued that sending a child to a ‘private’ school would undermine the ‘American Way,’ which, it was claimed, created conditions favoring a US invasion: “Anti-Catholic nativists [i.e., white protestants] believed that Catholics could overthrow the government at a moment’s notice, turning Americans into (sic) knaves of the Roman Pope.” It was argued that “only by attending a government-controlled school could children learn to be true Americans, and become properly grounded in American history and the principles of liberty.” [xii]
How many of us remember such discourse in the early days of President John F. Kennedy’s run for the presidency?
The US has a long history of evoking racial (-ist) and ethnic impurity theories to explain various kinds of immigrant criminality, even though there is no solid scientific evidence for the assumption that immigrants are more criminal than non-immigrants.[xiii] Irish immigrants have had a particularly difficult time of it: Drunkenness and criminality were central to stereotypes about them– “The term ‘paddy wagon’ has its etymological roots in the racist term ‘paddy,’ a shortening of the name ‘Patrick,’ which was used to refer [generically and disparagingly] to the Irish.”[xiv] Pointing to the presumed link between Irish body types and crime, “the Simian [monkey], or ape-like caricature of the Irish immigrant was…common…among … mainstream news publications of the day.” [xv] Harper’s Weekly in 1899 featured a drawing of “three men’s heads in profile: Irish, Anglo-Teutonic and Negro,…to illustrate the [negative] similarity between the Irish and the Negro…and [show] the supposed superiority of the Anglo-Teutonic. [xvi][xvii] Racial and ethnic stereotypes build on one another.
In the early 20th century the US public’s response to another bump of mass migration–this time largely from Southern and Eastern Europe–was to designate these immigrants ‘inferior’ to the prior Northern European ones[xviii] : the new “criminals” were Italians, considered more prone to violent crime than even [the earlier] Irish and German immigrants,” who had by then managed to become ‘conventional.’ Of course, all such ethnics—Italians, Germans, Irish– were still arrested and jailed in numbers disproportionate to ‘old stock, native born,’ Anglos.[xix]
Never mind that the damaging ethnic discourse against each new wave of immigrants was usually rooted in fears that these immigrants would take “real Americans’” (read: older immigrant whites’) jobs. Such economic fears were cloaked in myths about immigrant criminality, a safe political route for discrediting someone. In turn, evoking sufficient ethnic, racial, and gender failings and dangers, elevates a population’s fear to the point that people will give up any of their own Constitutional guarantees in order to be safe. But, in fact, with respect to alleged immigrant criminality of the late-1920s and early 1930s, Edith Abbott, economist and co-author of the 1931 Wickersham Commission Report (US National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement), pointed out that, “The theory that immigration is responsible for crime, that the most recent ‘wave of immigration,’ whatever the nationality, is less desirable than the old ones, that all newcomers should be regarded with an attitude of suspicion, is…almost as old as the colonies planted by Englishmen on the New England coast.” [xx]
Not surprisingly, in light of our country’s history of fearing and demonizing immigrants, “The American-led ‘War on Terror’ has…[created] an increase in Islamophobia (fear or hatred of Islam) across the globe. This increase…[has been] reflected in the way media outlets [have] addressed and stereotyped Muslim populations. The most prevalent Islamic stereotype is the radical Muslim insurgent, bent on waging jihad, or holy war, against the West. The stereotype includes willingness to use violence as an inseparable part of being Muslim….[xxi] It would be one thing if this were ‘just’ a stereotype and not the foundation for an institutionally-funded US government program. Since 9-11 our government has dedicated more and more resources to allegedly‘ protecting’ the US from “Islamic radicals” through the Bush administration’s creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The “budget authority” Congressionally allocated to the DHS—the latter came on-line in 2003–has already cost US taxpayers slightly over 2/3 of a trillion dollars. [xxii] [xxiii] However, just as bothersome as the mountain of tax payer dollars gobbled up by DHS is that the Department of Homeland Security has become the umbrella organization for a host of other (NSA and CIA apparently notwithstanding) US international and national security entities: Office of the Inspector General (OIG), U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), U.S. Secret Service (USSS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to name a few. These entities are dependent for added funding for their enhanced security measures on the Department of Homeland Security. Since the vast majority of such funding comes from the DHS’ “discretionary” budget, the DHS can ‘giveth’ and ‘taketh’ away according to each subordinate organizations’ adherence to its mandates; these may not always correspond to each organization’s own mandates and procedures.
But most troubling of all is that large national security agencies have demonstrated a tendency to survive and grow even after the ‘emergency’ for which they were created has subsided or ended. ‘Bureaucratic creep” practically ensures the impossibility of reducing the organization’s size, power, and spending. The US Department of Homeland Security, ‘ye shall have with you always,’ as your growing income tax payments will remind you. The DHS feeds on your fears because if you get scared enough you’ll likely to agree to just about anything they want.
So how did we get to this point? The US build-up of internal security wasn’t just the result of the criminally actionable 9-11 attacks. The internal security noose which we now find around our necks was tightened after that by the Bush Presidency’s fear-mongering lie that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.”[xxiv] This opened the door to our ineffectual and economically and politically costly war in Iraq, as well as to US government torture of Muslims at Abu Ghraib (Iraq), Guantanamo (Cuba), and at other CIA ‘black sites’ throughout the world. Islamophobia is responsible for uncounted war zone civilian casualties (so-called collateral damage) and for the maiming and death of US fighters. In the end, all that can be said with certainty about the US war on ‘terror’ is that, in the words of a recent headline, “Islamophobia in America is spiraling out of control.”[xxv]
We are hateful, angry, and afraid but presidential candidate Donald Trump assures us that, as president, he will eliminate the danger of a “terrorist” attack through “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States….”[xxvi] The real danger of such a statement is not just that it signals Trump’s lack of understanding of policy and his bigotry, but that each such statement garners him more and more like-minded followers. The Daily Stormer, “a neo-Nazi website,…endorsed Donald Trump’s proposed ban on all incoming Muslims,” writing, “Why were these monkeys ever allowed in in the first place? Get all of these monkeys the hell out of our country – now!” “Heil Donald Trump – THE ULTIMATE SAVIOR. Make America White Again!”[xxvii]
In the US, post-9-11–just looking at the numbers of mass slayings alone–it’s US right-wing—our country’s, white ‘home-grown’ “terrorists”– who are acting like “terrorists,” albeit not labeled as such. “Terrorists” can apparently only be Muslims who kill over three people at a time and do so because of their allegiance to Islam and the promised ‘Islamic State’ (which, by the way, is made up of ethnically diverse fighters—Sunni Iraquis, Boko Haram in Equitorial Africa, Somalia ISIS allies, and US ISIS fighters, to name a few) who do not always agree about battlefield means and ultimate objectives, with potentially even less agreement about the ideological, political, and social parameters of the much sought after Islamic State. .
The US now has on average one mass shooting a day, [xxviii] most carried out by one or more ‘home-grown’ white guys with an ideology that often weaves together Christianity and racism. Yet these home-grown ideologically-driven “terrorists” are not labeled as such. The latter designation is exclusively reserved for people who ideologically associate with the Islamic faith and State –or who do not–but are Muslims whose religion is Islam. White Christians who interpret the ‘Word of God’ as telling them to eliminate dark-skinned ‘miscreants’ who violate their God’s Word,’ are just “crazy,” not racist Christian religious “terrorist” zealots with guns and intent to kill in the name of racial ‘purity. My guide to understanding the contradictory nature of our government’s discourse is Humpty-Dumpty:[xxix]
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t- till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that’s all.
[ii] See “race war” discussion today, http://gawker.com/5912132/are-you-prepared-for-the-race-war
[v] Sophie Trawalter, Kelly M. Hoffman, * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Affiliations: Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States of America, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States of America Adam Waytz. 2012. “Racial Bias in Perceptions of Others’ Pain.” Plos.org. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0048546
[xvii] See cartoon stereotypes of Irish: https://www.google.com/search?q=anti-irish+sentiment+in+america&biw=1600&bih=742&tbm=isch&imgil=DZ7bGaKm_nmLWM%253A%253BmT05hqkRpqeuDM%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.capecodtoday.com%25252Farticle%25252F2014%25252F07%25252F29%25252F26296-Sen-Therese-Murray-invokes-anti-Irish-sentiment-amid-immigration debate&source=iu&pf=m&fir=DZ7bGaKm_nmLWM%253A%252CmT05hqkRpqeuDM%252C_&usg=__BOuoLoXXb6Xtu52RqSm0hHe5hWE%3D&ved=0ahUKEwj2yLLUsc_JAhUFRyYKHQKyA8MQyjcINA&ei=O3BoVra_MYWOmQGC5I6YDA#imgrc=YeO2G2YNdLjETM%3A&usg=__BOuoLoXXb6Xtu52RqSm0hHe5hWE%3D
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