White Racism, Left Politics, and the Spectrum of Acceptable Opinion

Glen Ford says that a recent Pew Research Center poll is revealing of what constitutes acceptable opinion in conventional Republican and Democratic politics

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ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of The Ford Report.

Now joining us as Glen Ford. He’s the cofounder and executive editor of Black Agenda Report and the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of the U.S. Media Coverage of the Granada Invasion.

Thanks for joining us, Glen.

GLEN FORD, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Oh, thank you for the opportunity.

WORONCZUK: So what have you been following this week?

FORD: Well, we’re following the latest Pew Research Center report. And the Pew Center is considered to be–oh, certainly one of the oldest, considered to be one of the most reliable of the research centers that gets quoted in the media, and they’ve been asking a set of ten questions of about 10,000 respondents for–well, since 1987. So they went through that exercise again. And the most noteworthy in terms of news response they got was to one of those ten questions, and that had to do with race.

But before we get into that, I want to talk about this exercise. The exercise, as I said, has ten questions. And from the responses, choosing one response or another to these ten questions, Pew has somehow come up with seven different categories of Americans, a typology–what kind of political type are you, according to their research?–what the numbers, they say, tells them. And from, I guess, left to right those categories are solid liberals, faith and family left, young outsiders, hard-pressed skeptics, next generation left, business conservatives–and they have two kinds of business types: business conservatives and steadfast conservatives. And somehow, by asking ten questions, they come up with these seven different groups.

There was one consensus response to one question, and this is the one that made news. And, in fact, it wasn’t a question; it was two statements, and people were asked to pick the one they agree with. The statement was: racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days. That was considered the–if–you would be liberal if you agreed with that. And the conservative would pick this variation: blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition. And 63 percent of folks questioned by the Pew Research Center agreed with the conservative position that blacks who can’t get ahead basically have nobody but themselves to blame. Of the seven categories of people, six of the categories had majorities that agreed with that statement. Only the solidly liberal category had majorities that disagreed, and the solidly liberal category only accounts for 12 percent. So that was something quite useful coming out of this Pew Research poll, because it was clearly a consensus. And I as an observer of politics and race for going on 50 years think that 63 percent figure is probably accurate.

But the rest of the exercise is a totally useless one. It asks milquetoast questions that are all designed to elicit a response within the bounds of discourse that makes conventional Republicans and Democrats comfortable. For example, you have a choice in terms of how you feel about the government. One statement is that government is always almost always wasteful and inefficient. That’s called the conservative position. The liberal position–and you can choose this one if you want–is that government often does a better job than we give it credit for.

So that in a nutshell is the spectrum of American politics as outlined by Pew Research. And so if they asked you to participate in their questionnaire, to be a respondent, your political beliefs could only be reflected if they are somewhere between government is always or almost always wasteful and government, well, mostly they do a pretty good job. Anything to the left of that disappears. And, in fact, there is no left opinion, at least discernible, from this Pew Research poll.

Actually, there are no questions that black people can answer as black people. For example, I think that the consensus question, the one that elicited a 63 percent racist response, has no counterpart. If there were a question that would be a counterpart to that question, it would be: do you think that most white people are racist? And given that the Pew Research poll shows that 63 percent of folks–and that means a whole lot larger percent of white folks–think somehow that black folks have gotten themselves in this position in society, that would be a very telling question to ask. But it doesn’t ask it, because that’s not a polite question to ask in today’s society.

So the only people that get served by this poll are those who are trying to continue the kind of narrow political discussion within the very narrow spectrum and those politicians who want to phrase questions fuzzily so that they can get fuzzy, narrow-spectrum responses when they’re on the campaign trail.

WORONCZUK: Okay. Glen Ford, thank you so much for that report.

FORD: Thank you.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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