Commentary: Is Racial Politics Becoming Extinct?

A new report finds declines in stereotype-based policies in the U.S., but some hurdles remain.  

Posted: 02/27/2012 09:15 AM EST

The thread of racism is woven into the very fabric of our nation, starting at the beginning. Many of this country’s laws were steeped in the misguided belief that slaves were somehow lacking in the work ethic department and in need of the institution of slavery to force them to be productive people. 

 

Fast forward to the year 2012. Has much changed? The obvious answer is “yes.” The better answer is “yes” and “no.”

 

The liberal think tank, Center for American Progress, published a new study called, “Moving Away from Racial Stereotypes in Poverty Policy.” The report suggests that the kind of race-baiting that creeps up from time to time is declining and better modes of examining race in policymaking are being explored.

 

“What we see is that through time there is a lingering stereotype, thinking that as a group of people, African-Americans and other people of color are lazy” said Joy Moses, senior policy analyst at a recent panel sponsored by the Center for American Progress.

 

Initially, laws fueled by negative stereotypes about Blacks excluded minorities from taking part in safety net programs. And, even after laws changed to include them, some of the old stereotypical thinking remained. 

 

Moses said, “Now we have this new era where we want to tear the whole benefit system down because we have more people of color that are part of the system. So we still have the same stereotypes about laziness, and promiscuity on behalf of women who partake in the system.”

 

But the report touts various reasons to be hopeful that old race-baiting strategies don’t hold the same power as they used to. The report cites:

 

—The emergence of a younger generation of Americans who welcome diversity. 67% of young people say they think positively of America’s demographic changes

 

—Public opinion polls that indicate that people are more open to the idea that not all Americans have equal access to opportunity, and rely less on notions of laziness

 

—The rise of a more racially diverse America, making it less advantageous to insult people of color who will outnumber whites in the year 2050

 

The report offers a few solutions to reduce the influence of racial misconceptions in our policies, including:

 

—Fixing flawed laws based on stereotypes

 

—Employing targeted approaches that meet the needs of specific groups

 

—Allowing the views of low- and middle-income communities to inform policies

 

But in the age of Barack Obama, we have a long way to go. This election year has been replete with examples of coded language and racial innuendo. 

 

Some of the Republican candidates stepped in a minefield recently. Senator Rick Santorum was accused of targeting Black people at a campaign stop in Iowa on Sunday, saying he doesn't want to make their lives better by giving them welfare. He denies that charge. And his fellow Republican opponent, Newt Gingrich, also stepped into the fray when he told reporters he’d urge Blacks to demand paychecks, not food stamps. So much for progress.   

 

“Now people are less apt to talk about race directly, but the same negative, stereotype-based ideas are reflected in our policy,” said Moses.

 

Despite the signs of hope, replacing stereotypical thinking in policymaking is a daunting task. Just turn on the national news, and you’ll see that we as a nation still have mountains to climb.     

 

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

BET Politics - Your source for the latest news, photos, and videos illuminating key issues and personalities in African-American political life, plus commentary from some of our liveliest voices.

 

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(Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

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