Countering Racism

racismDid anyone catch Van Jones and the CNN panel last night discuss how to react to white racism?

If so, what points do you remember? CNN has not yet posted a transcript and I deleted my recording (alas).

As I recall, Van urged progressives to really understand the pain being experienced by many white working class people and learn how to speak to it. He described the struggles many suffer, including I believe the erosion of their long-held identity as breadwinner, and then one of their children comes home and tell them, “You are a bigot.” Van said, “That is painful.”

I believe racism is the single most important factor fueling the Trump campaign. Learning how to counter it seems critical. That’s why I recently posted on Facebook the lyrics to Dylan’s “Only a Pawn in Their Game” and, on another occasion a question, “How can we counter racism? Do we need alternatives to preaching?”

I received three responses to that question:

Yes!!! We need to do as the leaders of BLM and other anti-racist groups are asking: we white peoples must destroy white supremacy and fight racism.


We start with white people calling out other white people when they say or do racist things. No more ignoring it, no more nervous chuckling, no more changing the subject. (The same for straight people with homophobes, men with misogyny, etc. Don’t let the bullshit slide.) Trump has set us back years by giving people permission to be openly racist. We have to put them back in their ignorant, hateful little closets.


Those of us with white kids must teach them about racism, white privilege, and white supremacy and how to be aware of and counter these things. (Also about homophobia and misogyny.) Teaching kids that these things are wrong is not hard. They intuitively grasp how wrong these things are. The more challenging part is teaching them to stand up against these things, and how to counter these things.

Though helpful, I find those responses inadequate.

Thomas Edsall’s excellent “The Anti-PC Votecommented on “the kind of messages that provoke reactance and a defiant or oppositional response” and referred to a study, “Psychological reactance theory,” which includes:

Research indicates that some linguistic features seem to evoke the perception that free behavior might be curtailed, eliciting psychological reactance. In particular, language that is dogmatic, sometimes referred to as controlling (Miller, Lane, Deatrick, Young, & Potts, 2007) or explicit (Grandpre, Alvaro, Burgoon, Miller, & Hall, 2003), provokes reactance. To illustrate, as shown by Quick and Stephenson (2008), dogmatic messages were perceived as more threatening, which provoked reactance, anger, and unfavorable thoughts. The dogmatic messages include:

  • Imperatives, such as “must” or “need”
  • Absolute allegations, such as “cannot deny that…” or “This issue is extremely serious”
  • Derision towards other perspectives, such as “Any reasonable person would agree that…”
  • Threatening warnings rather than merely impartial, objective information (Bushman, 1998)

In contrast, messages that are less dogmatic do not provoke this sequence of reactions. These messages are more likely to include:

  • Allusions to choice, such as “You have a chance to…” or “We leave the choice to you…”
  • Qualified propositions, such as “There is some evidence that…” or “This issue is fairly serious”
  • Impartial, objective information (Bushman, 1998)
  • Avoidance of imperatives or derisive language

I find that article intriguing. When I shared it with a friend, he replied, “Outstanding, if frightening, piece.”

How to counter racism without provoking “reactance” seems important. I’d like to explore it further. One key may be to first establish some common ground with regard to shared economic insecurity.

One Response to Countering Racism

  1. Pingback: Political Correctness in 2016 | Wade's Wire

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