Mask Off

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander reflects an idea in this article by Rick Perlstein called Exclusive: Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy, which talks about ideas of masking racism into a new form that may have an association with race/ethnicity and economic status. Alexander’s idea of the “New Jim Crow” is something I hope to expand on in my final project.

This article begins with an interview with Lee Atwater, the campaign advisor for President Reagan, who explains how Republicans can win the vote of racists without being one themselves:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Ni**er, ni**er, ni**er.” By 1968 you can’t say “ni**er”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Ni**er, ni**er.”

In the follow-up to these infamous comments from the interview, it is interesting to see the confidence in which Atwater thinks he is establishing the racial innocence of modern conservative political campaigning. However, he continues to create an argument that by talking about civil rights wins like the Voting Rights Act, and wanting fiscal conservatism and lots of national defense spending, he and others are proving that Southerners are just like the rest of the U.S. in terms of ideology.

He claims that voters will be more likely to vote for economic interests than anything else. And those are the type of people who become Republicans through a slow but steady process. Accordingly, race no longer matters because “in my judgement Karl Marx [is right]… the real issues ultimately will be the economic issues” (Perlstein). He echoes sentiment of the “47 percent tape” of Mitt Romney; as the number of non-producers in the system moves towards halfway, the conservative side has nothing but to expand, therefore a new Republican party that won’t have anything to do with racism.

This article is a legitimate source because it was published by a reputable news source called The Nation. Here is a link to the article. Link

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