The late Lee Atwater, erstwhile bought-and-souled Robert Johnson of the Republican party, in a rare moment of lucidity, once explained how white politicians enforced and maintained white supremacy in the United States in the last half of the Twentieth Century:
You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’1
From 1865 through nineteen-fifty-something, politicians and demagogues, e.g. Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the first incarnation of white businessman’s social group the Ku Klux Klan and Woodrow Wilson, erstwhile president of white supremacist organization Harvard University, could just use the magical incantation of “nigger, nigger, nigger,” and their will would be done.
But, as Lee points out, things started to get more complicated. Instead of saying “nigger,” white supremacists had to talk about states’ rights, and, later taxation. This was the essence of Richard Nixon’s so-called Southern Strategy, which got him elected in 1968 using those precise codewords which his audience heard as “nigger, nigger, nigger,” the same Southern Strategy that a star-struck Lee Atwater is glorifying to the heavens as he breathlessly describes its genius.
By now, though, we’re well into the 21st Century and by now, as the incomparable Steven Johnson has so convincingly argued, everyone is way, way smarter than they used to be.2 These days, even talking too vigorously about taxation will expose one as a revanchist white supremacist. Lee Atwater died unlamented by sane people in 1991, so he didn’t get to see the present state of the progression he so enviously described above. A new vocabulary was needed to maintain white supremacy and, as humans are so very adaptive, a new vocabulary was developed. And wouldn’t Lee have been proud?
Continue reading Nathan Bedford Forrest, Woodrow Wilson, Bull Connor, Richard Nixon, Lee Atwater, and the Vicious Crypto-White-Supremacism of the Hollywood Area BIDs