Oct 12, 2017

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Ian Haney López on moving America forward

by | Oct 12, 2017

Many regard America as the land of freedom, opportunity and ethnic and racial diversity. Still, it can’t be denied that overt and systematic racism played and continues to play a major role in the story of our country.

“If you want to tell the story of race, start with Native American dispossession,” said Ian Haney López, during his keynote presentation at Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s Fourth Annual Pathways from Poverty Breakfast, Oct. 6, at the Embassy Suites Downtown Denver Hotel. “All of this land was taken, not just from people, but from people who were turned into a ‘race’ to justify why it could all be taken.” He continued by saying, “Slavery was the great economic engine that turned America into a world power by the 20th century.”

After the abolishment of slavery and the end of the Civil War, Jim Crow laws and other policies systematically ensured that Blacks and other people of color would be kept “in their place” throughout much of America’s history — while much of White America thrived.

During his presentation, Haney López challenged participants to explore America’s past and how it fits within the current racially divided political climate. Using the “Socratic method” popular with law school professors, he ventured from the podium to ask members of the audience questions about race and class – provoking interesting insights from the audience.

A constitutional law scholar, and the Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley, Haney López’s most recent book, the acclaimed “Dog Whistle Politics,” showed how decades of subliminal racial language undermined support for programs and policies that benefit lower- and middle income Americans. Published in 2014, “Dog Whistle Politics” described how politicians began using subtly coded racially divisive terms such as “state’s rights” to justify racial discrimination back in 1964.

Since then, dog whistling was used during the Reagan era to demonize Blacks as criminals and welfare cheats. More recently, the racial lens has expanded to characterize Latinos as illegal aliens and Muslims as terrorists. At the same time, racial dog whistles form part of a larger culture war that includes attacks on sexual orientation and women, Haney López said.

Despite advancements in civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s, and the election of an African American president in 2008, politicians have continued used coded and strategic racism as a tool to persuade Whites to vote against their own self-interests – culminating with the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, economic and social inequities continue to deepen and Whites themselves struggle with their own economic challenges, perpetuating feelings of division and resentment.

“Dog-whistle politics turned people against the idea that government could help people and convinced a lot of White people that most programs are handouts for underserving minorities, or wasted dollars on inner cities and infrastructure,” he said. “Instead, they convinced us that we should trust the marketplace, the job creators and the 1 percent [wealthiest Americans]. In fact, this is trickle-down economics and it doesn’t work.”

Even politicians who do not openly espouse racist views use strategic racism to appeal to voters. Haney López pointed out that in 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spent half of his campaign advertising budget to tie President Barack Obama to welfare.

“That’s not bigotry, that’s cold, calculated political strategy,” Haney López said. “[Strategic racism] says in code that good White people built this country and it’s really ours. [The narrative says] we’re under attack and the government is our enemy, so we need to band together to use the government to seal the border. And because we can’t trust the government, we need to turn it over to the very rich.”

Haney López credits purveyors of strategic racism for building a sense of identity and belonging among White voters. Indeed, he points out, about 60 percent of White voters voted for Trump. He said while most White voters aren’t bigots, politicians have become masters at stoking their fear and resentment of a growing minority population for political gain.

Countering the dog-whistle
While champions of policies that promote economic inclusion and racial equity may be discouraged about the political climate, Haney López emphasized that strategic racism could be challenged if the narrative is changed to appeal to voters’ desire for inclusion, community and belonging. But he also emphasized that that message must incorporate discussions of race and class.

“Our story says ‘side with one another.’ We do have a common enemy:  concentrated wealth. It’s the same enemy people wrestled with during the Great Depression – even leading back to the 14th century. The story of human progress involves pushing wealth and power downward and outward.”

Rather than stoking fear of people of color among White voters, Haney López suggested stoking fear of concentrations of wealth.

Currently, Haney López  is working on the Race-Class Narrative Project, which is testing messaging among different groups of American voters, with an emphasis on how racism is hurting White people. He stressed that the messaging is still in development, but preliminary results have been encouraging.

“Once you create an opening on a worker-centered, class-centered message, then you can have conversations about White privilege and the multiple forms that racism takes, but you’ve got to lead with why Whites themselves have their own interests and why their children’s future depends on dealing with racism.”

Wrapping up his presentation, Haney López noted that he is completely revising “Dog Whistle Politics” to include an analysis of the 2016 election.He also offered the audience a four-page handout that details the nuances of racially coded messaging and how to respond to it.

“In short, the best response is to empower people and give them a sense of identity and belonging through a narrative that says, ‘side with one another, trust one another, and demand a government that works with all of us.’”

For more of Professor Haney López’s thoughts, read “Beyond Dog Whistle Politics,” a Q&A interview.

– By Bob Mook

Recent articles

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 2

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs. Part 2/2.

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 1

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs.

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.