The Gentleman From Alaska Does His Bit For GOP Outreach


The ink was barely dry on Prince Rebus’ Growth and Opportunity Project plan when 21-term Rep. Don Young (R-The Last Frontier) screwed the pooch on Alaskan talk radio, sharing a little homespun story about his boyhood on his daddy’s ranch which sometimes employed “50-60 wetbacks” to pick ‘maters.

For those of you who are younger than dirt, the term “wetback” was an old-fashioned pejorative for Mexicans who got their “backs wet” swimming across the Rio Grande for an illegal entry into the Land of Milk and Honey.

Subsequently, of course, some aide who helps the 79-year-old Congressman think, clued him to the fact that the term “wetback” has been replaced in the GOP lexicon by the less-fraught, more outreach-y terms “Latino/Latina” and “Hispanic.”  Whereupon, the bewildered Congressman cued up the standard GOP non-apology for his use of a racist epithet in a purely non-racist way:

During a sit down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California.  I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.

Ahem.  Well, first of all, Don, I’m pretty sure that “this term” is not used in any way, nowadays, same or otherwise.  Just like some of the terms that were used during my days growing up in a Northeastern steel town. 

Terms like niggers, spics, kikes, wops, dagos, hunkies, DPs, micks, japs, chinks, etc.  And, just like “wetback,” I can’t imagine saying any of them on the radio in 2013 no matter how often I heard them in my childhood because, even when I was a child, I understood exactly how much disrespect those terms inferred.  Believe me, they were never mistaken for terms of endearment.

The problem is, Rep. Young, that racism is so deeply rooted in the souls of some of us, that it is innate, instinctual and therefore it doesn’t feel deliberate any longer.  But make no mistake, racism doesn’t always dress up in silly outfits and torch things in the neighborhood.  Such egregious acts are no longer necessary because white Americans have done such a bang up job of institutionalizing racism.  That way it’s pervasive, effective and nobody needs to stick their neck out to keep minorities in their place.

Robert Slayton very aptly described it as “racism by habit, rather than by intent.”

As an article at pointed out, last year:

This institutional racism forms an invisible barrier that many white people cannot see, many black people do not understand and many African Americans cannot avoid.

Public government bodies, private business corporations, universities and school systems.  If a group experiences bias in any one these areas it will be almost impossible for that group to succeed and prosper in America.

Some examples of institutional racism are:

Public school budgets and the quality of teachers, that correlate with property values in the US: rich neighborhoods are more likely to be more ‘white’ and to have better teachers and more money for education.

Voter Suppression Laws.  Over 2 dozen states have added new ID laws under the guise of eliminating voter fraud. 

Redistricting.  Redrawing lines around communities in an attempt to alter the voting composition of neighborhoods within cities and states.  When we heard Mitt Romney and other Republicans refer to the “urban vote,” during the 2012 campaign, most of us knew what they were talking about and it was pretty clear that GOP candidates would not be wasting time campaigning for the “urban vote.”

Unfair Sentencing Laws.  Until as recently as 2011 the prison sentence for 5 grams of crack was 5 years (a poor user), the same sentence for 500 grams of cocaine (major drug dealer).  Guess who’s most likely to be selling large amounts of cocaine as opposed to using crack?

Racial profiling by the police, FBI and other government authorities.

Stop and Frisk gives police complete authority to randomly stop and search a person on the street in the hopes of finding drugs, weapons or some other form of illegal substances or evidence of crime.  Stop and frisk dehumanizes the victim and reinforces a false concept of complete police authority over the citizenry.  Well over 80% of victims of stop-and-frisk are Black or Latino and the overwhelming amount of stops are perpetrated in lower class, minority neighborhoods.

Business Redlining.  Drawing a red line around a section of a city where major banks will refuse to give business loans or provide insurance to any individuals within the ring.  Business redlining almost always occurs around minority and/or low-income areas.

Supermarket Redlining.  The process of placing supermarkets in high dollar, middle class neighborhoods and removing them from low-income neighborhoods within a “redlined” area.  The result is less food shopping choices which leads to poor health in the target community, contributes to higher food prices and ultimately leads to higher health care cost for the residents.

Liquor Lining - A form of redlining where banks will only fund businesses like liquor stores and convenience stores in low income neighborhoods.  Liquor stores obviously contribute to alcohol abuse and higher crime rates.  Both liquor and convenience stores charge higher prices for food and have less fruits and vegetables (if any), contributing to poor health in the African American community and less money for each resident.

Prison Privatization.  Private prisons operate primarily on the profit motive - the more prisoners, the more the prison gets paid.  For this reason private prisons are incented to round up prisoners for whatever offenses they can and keep those prisoners as long as possible.  Rehabilitation is not prioritized as that is counter to the profit motive.  The result is overcrowding of prisons, more repeat offenders (in and out of jail), and longer sentences.

Predatory lending practices.  African Americans and Latinos were disproportionately targeted during the housing bubble.

Mortgage Redlining - denying real estate loans on properties in older, changing urban areas, usually with large minority populations, because of alleged higher lending risks without due consideration being given by the lending institutions to the credit worthiness of the individual loan applicant.

Blockbusting The practice on the part of unscrupulous speculators or real estate agents of inducing panic selling of homes below market value by exploiting the prejudices of property owners in neighborhoods in which the racial make-up is changing or appears to be on the verge of changing.

These practices are not mere memories of past prejudices.  These things are today’s dirty little secrets, and deeply embedded in American culture.  If many white Americans were more aware of such practices they might condemn them but why would they be aware of them? whites are not targeted by such practices.  These things still thrive in our society because they are not stereotypical, they are insidious.

Even when institutional racism is exposed, many have a “that’s not racist” reaction.  As a matter of fact, one of our landmark Civil Rights achievements—the Voter’s Rights Act of 1964—a mere fifty years old, has recently been taken up for reappraisal by SCOTUS because, evidently some of us believe that we are so evolved that we no longer need such interventions to keep us fair.

Likewise Affirmative Action Laws have been judicial punching bags since their inception despite the fact that they represented thoughtful, sober attempts to right very real social injustice.  And there is no good evidence that we are ready to dispense with our legal remedies for inequality.

A study in the Jan. 2009 issue of the journal Science, carried out by researchers at Yale University and Toronto’s York University, presents strong evidence that even people who aspire to tolerance — who would consider themselves non-racist — still harbor unconscious biases powerful enough to prevent them from confronting overt racists or from being upset by other people’s racist behavior. The authors of the study say the results suggest attitudes so deeply ingrained that protective legislation and affirmative-action programs are required to overcome them.

People expect to feel much more emotion than they actually do. We are good at rationalizing responses,” says Jack Dovidio, a Yale psychologist and co-author of the study.

If there are certain costs — we don’t want to get involved, maybe because we aren’t quite as committed to equality as we thought we were — then we go through a series of rationalizations: ‘Maybe it wasn’t that bad.’ That’s the danger — that we explain everything away. It justifies our behavior.

I think this helps explain the big discrepancy in [North American] culture between what people say and think about racism and the actual persistence of racism in our society.

Dovidio says his study provides strong evidence . . .  that tacit acceptance of racism is enough to influence outcomes in a society.

The most worrying aspect is that even if a small proportion of a society is active, old-fashioned racists, and if the majority of people who believe they are not racist rationalize away racist behavior and don’t intervene or even get upset when it occurs, then the society is going to be an unfair, unequal society.


Rep. Young may tell us that referring to Mexican laborers on his Dad’s ranch as “wetbacks” meant no disrespect.  Some of us might accept his statement and conclude that he’s not racist.  Just as some others of us might label him a pasty ofay Honkasian—no disrespect intended, of course.

Posted by Bette Noir on 03/29/13 at 11:21 AM • Permalink

Categories: PoliticsNutters

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I can’t imagine saying any of them on the radio in 2013 no matter how often I heard them in my childhood because, even when I was a child, I understood exactly how much disrespect those terms inferred.

Yeah, dumbass’ not-pology doesn’t even pass the smell test.  I’d be willing to bet his dad didn’t address the braceros to their faces using that term.

I’d be willing to bet his dad didn’t address the braceros to their faces using that term.

Damn straight, @ B4.  What could be more cowardly than racism?  Get together with 10 guys and dress up in a hood to pick on a skinny guy who doesn’t get enough to eat?

I don’t know if this is just my biases or what, but when someone like Young “accidentally” says something racist, my brain processes it as “accidentally on purpose”.  I understand the idea that kind of language is like a passive habit of racism that was never deliberately unlearned for many people of his generation (my grandparents’ generation was pretty comfortable with a wide variety of bigotries and utilized a colorful rainbow of ethnic labels, a veritable patchwork quilt of slurs that blanketed a wide swath of humanity)—

And yet, you know that deliberate form of trolling called “not being politically correct”? I can’t be sure if he knew that word was not to be used but said “What the hell, let’s see what this one’ll get me.” (He has a history of loose cannon sort of statements and behavior.) Well. He saw.  But for the Republicans who condemned him on that, I think that’s a bit of cheap grace of a sort: We don’t use that language (out loud).

@Vixen, that’s a cluster of good points!  Add to that the “Us vs. Them” phenomenon—as a gay single mother I was frequently privy to anti-gay slurs, jokes, etc because acquaintances assumed that I was “one of them.”  And during the Sixties, it was not usually prudent to stand one’s ground or “come out” on the spot.

I think that was, ultimately, one of the big drivers for gay people to “come out” en masse.

Last night, fresh off writing this post, I was at a small party where one of the guests thought I’d enjoy watching a disgustingly racist YouTube video he’d saved to his iPhone.

I think he’ll be more careful who he shares with in future . . . but it did make me wonder if social media hasn’t reinforced some of the “Us vs Them” mentality by allowing cowardly bigots to thrive in anonymity.  His response to my outrage was “well I didn’t make the damn video.”

Racism and bigotry are taught and learned. People who use pejorative terms to degrade other human beings have heard those insulting terms and learned to use them as casually as the rest of us breathe.

The bigots who let these terms slip will never change. They may become more careful with what they say in public or they may not. The point is, they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. They won’t change because they don’t see that they’re wrong.

The strongest form of censorship & ostracization will always come from within the specific ethnography/demographic exhibiting the said behavior being targeted. It’s also the strongest force for change from within that same group, whatever it happens to be, e.g. males censoring/ostracizing other males who engaged in sexual harassment of females in the workplace. That’s why whenever I see some white idiot exhibiting racist behavior, I exercise my right of group repudiation of said behavior. It’s the only way those fucking cracker-ass, white trailer-trash motherfuckers are ever going to learn.

You know, as a kid I really idolized my dad; I thought he was a paragon of fairness, and even went to bat 40 years ago for the job of a female geologist when the wives of all the miners wanted her fired for being female.  Then Limbaugh entered his life via lots of hours in a vehicle, and he started dissing women and using the N word, something I never, ever heard as a kid.  The older he’s gotten and the more Faux he watches/Limbaugh he listens to, the worse it has become. 

We’re in this “cracker backlash” period for a reason, and the hate media is a huge part of it.

Outstanding post.

I don’t take it for granted that racism is anywhere near dead, the overt ones are still breeding and your post provides ample explanation why that is still dangerous for the rest of us.

Honkasian! I had never seen that word before, but it’s fantastic! I recognized myself in it immediately.

I’m sorry, but as a white man I just kind of like being the butt of a quasi-racial slur for a change, even if it is thanks to a dopey politician from West Yukon.

We’re in this “cracker backlash” period for a reason, and the hate media is a huge part of it.

Former RoastWriter Hunger Tallest Palin addressed this phenomenon in a brilliant post a few years back. 

People with Privilege could be magnanimous to the browns, blahs and gals as long as They stayed in Their Places.  Failure on Their part to Do So results in cognitive dissonance for the Ps with P and hilarity ensues.

Hope you’re doing OK HTP.  We miss you.  :-(

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