Ian Haney López is regarded as one of the nation’s leading thinkers on how racism has evolved in the United States since the civil rights era.
Currently a professor of law at the University of California Berkeley, he is the author of three books, most notably “Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class,” which showed how decades of subliminal racial language have systematically dismantled programs and policies that benefit lower- and middle-income Americans. His writings have appeared across a range of sources, from the Yale Law Journal to The New York Times.
Haney López will discuss his work and how to rebuild support for a government that helps people realize their full potential and achieve enduring economic security at Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s Fourth Annual Pathways from Poverty Breakfast, Oct. 6 at Embassy Suites Denver Downtown Convention Center.
Prior to the unsettling and racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, CCLP Communications Director Bob Mook talked to Haney López about the themes explored in “Dog Whistle Politics” and what the future holds. This Part 3 in a three-part Q&A. Part 1 and Part 2 were posted earlier.
The views expressed by Haney López don’t necessarily express those of Colorado Center on Law and Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization which addresses poverty-related issues through research, advocacy, litigation and education.
CCLP: Members of Congress and the Trump administration seem intent on rolling back progress we’ve made on issues like wage stagnation as we speak. It sounds like there might be draconian cuts – particularly on human-service programs – coming from Washington. How do we change course?
IHL: These are draconian cuts in terms of the shift of ever-greater wealth to the very rich. But I hesitate to call this “conservative” because there’s nothing especially conservative about what’s happening in our country. When you think about a term like “conservative,” the root word is “conserve,” which implies protecting institutions, respecting tradition, proceeding with social change slowly and cautiously.
These folks aren’t conservative in that sense. They’re radical. They’re anarchists. They are intent on trashing society’s major institutions, including the presidency, the courts, the media, the notion of one-person-one-vote, checks and balances. They are intent on trashing anything that gets in their way. Trashing democracy allows them to move society to one where the rich exercise virtually unfettered power. That is dangerously radical. Many of them admit this. They talk in the language of “anarcho-capitalism,” of capitalism unleashed from government regulation and even more fundamentally from civic constraint and social responsibility.
It’s incredibly important for people to stop seeing the current moment as politics-as-usual and part of the normal cycle between Democrats and Republicans. This is an existential crisis for the country. Will we continue to be a democracy? What will happen to our society if the major social institutions that have bound us together are destroyed in the interests of increasing the wealth and power of a few? What will happen to “us” when social divisions are purposefully deepened and anger is purposefully fueled and stoked?
We face very deep threats to the future of our country and indeed to the future of humanity. It is a moment that demands mobilization and solidarity and creativity and energy. That’s the only way that people can effectively respond. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Think of the Women’s March. Hundreds of thousands of people who never participated in protests before are paying attention, they’re newly energized, looking for new ways to understand what’s happening to us and how to move forward. The goal is to provide a coherent narrative and a coherent vision of where we are, where we want to go, and how we want to get there. If we can do that, we’ll have the energy and the people and the resources to connect with and mobilize the many folks who remain dangerously complacent. But they shouldn’t be our initial focus. Our initial focus should be on people who are already mobilized and actively looking for a way to move forward.
CCLP: Speaking of changing the narrative, can you tell me a little about your effort to develop a unifying narrative on race and class, how it came about, your findings so far and when you think the project will be ready for the general public?
IHL: I’m involved with a new project called “The Integrated Race and Class Narrative Project” that starts with the idea that coming together rests on us having a shared vision about what has happened to the country. The basics seem clear. Now the challenge is to fill it in, to give it shape, to translate this story into many different versions that connect with the experiences of different people, different groups, different regions.
Politics is fundamentally about collective action to govern ourselves and others. To do this requires understanding who we are, who our enemies are, who our allies are, how we move forward.
Our basic story is clear. We are a people united by a set of ideals, including equality, liberty, and freedom. We’ve been taught to fear each other, when in fact other people in our society are our greatest allies. That’s what it means to be a democracy.
The real enemy in our lives — and in every society — is tremendous concentrations of power and wealth in the hands of very few people. The way forward is a sort of unity among the people. We can take the power of the people against the power of concentrated wealth and push wealth and power downward and outward. That’s the basics of it.
How does it actually work? What forms does it take? What language do we use? What sorts of imagery and metaphors can help us convey this message most powerfully? That’s what we’re working on.
The project is launched and going. Initial research is happening right now. There’s going to be both poll testing and focus groups. We’re working throughout the fall in and into the early new year. We’ll have some initial results in this fall. And then we’ll have a fuller understanding of how best to tell the story of who we are, where we’re going and how to get there early in the new year. Stay tuned!
-By Bob Mook
Want to hear more from Professor Haney López? Join us for breakfast and conversation with him on Oct. 6 at CCLP’s Fourth Annual Pathways from Poverty Breakfast.