Race in a Polarized USA
One of the big political sticking points of the 2016 US presidential campaign was immigration. Many on the Left viewed Trumps campaign promise to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants coming across the Mexico-US border as discriminatory, xenophobic, hateful, and bigoted. Those on the Right viewed it as a common sense approach to addressing a legitimate issue of concern. Race and ethnicity colored the topic exceedingly, even though for those on the Right the issue was framed as one of security; those on the Left viewed it through the lens of race and inequality. With the rise of political correctness in the US, since the 1990s, race, ethnicity and inequality have been totems that have seemingly sacred significance for some and that repulse others. This has led to a polarized US, with those on the Right rejecting (in its latest expression) topics like Critical Race Theory, and those on the Left fully embracing and promoting it. The corporate world has embraced the Left-leaning perspective: Coca-Cola was recently accused of promoting an employee training seminar in which white workers were told to try to be less white (Del Rio). Nike hired activist ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to be the face of its brand to promote social justice (Popkin, Atkinson). In reaction to both events, people on the Right announced boycotts, while others embraced the companies for their stances (Bostock). And with Trump having identified Critical Race Theory as a problem in todays schools and corporations, people on the Right are calling for its ban. The George Floyd death, Chauvin trial, BLM/Antifa protests and riots, and calls for defunding the police have only exacerbated the situation. The country is now polarized and divided down the middle, with races more suspicious of one another than ever as leaders on both sides (whether Trump on the Right or Maxine Waters on the Left) and the mainstream media continuing to stoke the flames of polarization.
Polarization is problematic not only because it is divisive but because it leads to tribalism and the entrenching of beliefs that perpetuate bias and ill will. A polarized nation is one that stops looking for a way to get along with people who hold differing views. It is a nation that wants only to fight itself and spread antagonism. Families and communities come under severe stress in such an environment.
Over the past decade, racial dynamics have intensified, contributing to political polarization by pushing those who see the race card as disingenuous to embrace the platform of the Right, and those who see racial inequality and systemic racism (especially in the justice system) as a problem to embrace the platform of the Left. As people join sides and take up the mantle of their respective camp, political polarization in turn shapes racial and ethnic dynamics by amplifying the messages that drove people into their camps in the first place: on the Left, one sees the social justice warriors advocating for protests, riots, police reform (or outright banning/defunding), and reparations; on the Right, one sees groups like Proud Boys and gun rights advocates organizing to oppose what they view as violent extremism on the right. Caught in the middle are not only the various minority groups (blacks, Asians, Hispanics) but also the majority white population that is apolitical. It must be remembered that only roughly half of all voters actually vote in elections. This means that even among those who can take part in the political process, democratically speaking, there is polarization between those who are active and those who do not believe in the process or care to be involved in it. So when issues like coronavirus rise up, and those on the Right refer to it as the China Flu, and prejudice against Asians occurs (just like prejudice against Muslims followed the crusade against terrorism following 9/11), it is an issue that is not necessarily merely a Right/Left issuethere are a great many apolitical individuals who can lean one way or the other on matters of race and ethnicity as well.
One policy initiative that could help to resolve the problem of polarization would be to develop, implement and enforce in the mainstream media a more harmonious tone that promotes a unifying, rather than a divisive, message. Instead of routinely focusing on negative stories that stoke the flames of racial division and polarization, it is important that mainstream media be obliged to cover stories that thematically promote brotherhood, community and family values, and a tone of fellowship. Thematically, stories of this nature are lacking in the media, which is itself polarized (Fox News and Breitbart on the Right; CNN and The Hill on the Left). If mainstream media is going to choose a political side to represent, it must be held to a higher standard by the government, which can deny media corporations the right to broadcast if it is shown that they are violating a non-partisan standard of journalism, defined as part of the recommended policy of this paper.
One action that private citizens could take to help resolve the problem of polarization is to stop using the tools that facilitate polarizationwhich includes social media and mainstream mediaso long as they promote non-partisan views. If people want to unite, they must stop the petty, superficial attacks of one another and differing viewpoints in the media. They must instead focus on empathy and knowledge, finding ways to come together to address real issues that affect real people at local levels. If people are going to come together as a community, it must happen at the local level, where town halls can be held, where peaceful debates can be had, and where voices can be heard from all.
Bostock, Bill. People are Destroying Their Nike Shoes and Socks to Protest Nike’s Colin
Kaepernick Ad Campaign. Business Insider, 2018. https://www.businessinsider.com/nike-advert-with-colin-kaepernick-has-people-burning-products-2018-9
Del Rio, Mairem. Coca-Cola Asks Its Workers to Be ‘Less White’ to Fight Racism.
Entrepreneur, 2021. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/366132
Popkin, Ben and Claire Atkinson. Nike Takes Heat for New Kaepernick Ad But is
Social Activism Just the New Ad Hook? NBCNews, 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/nike-takes-heat-new-kaepernick-ad-n906311
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