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David J. Dunn, PhD Headshot

'Get Them Out!' -- Why Did We See Racism at the RNC?

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This morning I came across a video of what appeared to be mob racism on the floor of the Republican convention. The delegate from Puerto Rico goes on stage and is met with shouts of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" mixed with "Get them out! Get them out!"

If I may be a generous critic, I think it is safe to assume that some of the people shouting "U-S-A!" were caught up in mob fervor. Like Reince Priebus, they probably did not have a clue what was going on until somebody whispered in their ears, "You know that clean-cut white boy is shouting 'Get them out!' -- right?"

I am not about to suggest that Republicans are more racist than Democrats. There are plenty of Democrats who say and do racist things. (Some of them go on to be vice president.) In some ways, Democratic racism is more problematic than what we saw in that video because it is harder to recognize. It often takes the form of patronizing congratulations. Democrats have a bad habit of making a special point to show how un-racist they are by showcasing the accomplishments of minorities, who somehow managed to make something of themselves despite their brownish "disabilities."

But what bothers me about the above video is that there are apparently some members of the GOP who think being racist is not just okay but consistent with the values of their party. They spewed open hate (on camera)! Patronizing racism is inexcusable. It is still racism. But it is arguably an over-correction. If a person highlights the accomplishments of minorities, she is often trying to convince herself she is not a racist. She may be deluding herself, but it may be that at some level she knows racism is wrong.

The clip of the GOP troubles me because I saw delegates being racist without shame. It took the party leadership a little time to figure out what was going on. They tried to shut down the hate-speech, but what does it say about the GOP that a group of white males would be so open about their racism in front of a Hispanic Republican and the rest of TV-watching America?

I do not know the answer, but it is a fair question. There is something about the GOP that makes open racists feel comfortable. Maybe it is because conservatism hearkens back to an allegedly "simpler time," when it just so happens that women did not vote and black folks "knew their place." Or maybe white delegates feel especially privileged because minorities are so underrepresented in the party leadership. Or maybe it is because not even most Republicans believe their party's interest in prevent voter fraud is about anything but suppressing the minority vote.

The Republican Party needs to face up to the fact that, no matter what its platform says, their culture, tactics, and values make open racists feel quite comfortable being openly racist. The GOP is the party for them!

Of course, it's not like the leadership of the party is oblivious to the fact that there is a racist bloc in their base. The GOP has tried to capitalize on Southern disaffection with the Democratic Party ever since Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as Andrew M. Manis has persuasively shown). I guess you could say that a silent appeal to racists has been a pillar of the Republican Party's political strategy for almost 50 years.

Republican leadership needs to be honest about the tacit acceptance of racism in its ranks. Otherwise, white delegates will continue to shout down brown people (or throw peanuts at them), and official shock and apologies will be increasingly seen as the hollow gestures they probably are.

Correction: I relied on early news reports for my information about the events at the RNC. Those reports have been retracted. Therefore, I can no longer say with confidence that delegates were shouting "Get them out." I believe that my critique of racism in the RNC remains valid, but in this case that critique rests upon faulty evidence. I apologize for any confusion my error might have caused.

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