Who Is More Racist, Republicans or Democrats?

Lately, the debate over who is more racist, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, has heated up, with accusations flying from both sides. The discussion really got going when Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes, said of Republicans, “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other.”

That got the twitter-verse screaming foul. Hayes himself quickly took back his statement citing economist Alex Tabarrok’s research revealing that where racism is concerned, the parties are pretty much in a tie.  Hayes also cited John Sides‘ research that indicates a slightly stronger lean toward racism among Republican’s. But while the lean seems real, it’s not significant.

I side with Tabarrok and Sides. Racism is a problem for both parties. But, I think the issue is more complicated than what’s indicated by their research.

While I agree that the base of each party is equally racist, at least as measured by the narrow metrics of the research, the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans has to do with how each party’s leadership deals with the racism in their ranks. The Republican’s strategy is to organize, amp up, and exploit racist sentiment for political gain. Where racism is concerned, the GOP is about as manipulative as you can get, and given the history of this country and the affect of that history on our culture, that’s saying something.

One can’t put too fine a point on this difference. The Republicans are inciting a racist movement for political gain. Because of that they are, I believe, more dangerous. However, while they are actively breaking new ground and expanding opportunities for racists and racism, they’re no more cynical nor effective at institutionalizing, or at least accommodating, racism than the other side.

The Democrats present themselves as agents of equity while acting in ways that define what is necessary to achieve equity as nothing more than a bunch of empty platitudes. And that’s not the worst of it. Obama has one upped the Republicans when it comes to xenophobia, not through his words but through his actions, ordering a record number of immigrant detentions and deportations.

The Obama administration has also done next to nothing to end the crisis of mass incarceration of black and brown people in the U.S. They have also failed to directly address the disproportionate impact of the recession and the mortgage crisis on communities of color.

When it comes to race, the Republicans have started a racist movement that is pulling them ever further to the right. But the Democrats have passively played along by following them to the right to capture the political space the Republicans’ rightward march is leaving open. In other words, for the sake of political gain, the Democratic Party has, over the last 32 years or more, grown increasingly conservative on race, not to mention many other issues.

The Obama administration’s policy on deportations is one expression of that growing conservatism. His near silence on the issue of race is another.

I get the fact that being a Black president in a racist society makes talking about race poisonous to Obama’s political prospects. He didn’t create that problem. But, if you buy that, then it’s up to us to be the antidote to that poison by stepping up the pressure and making it more politically expedient for him to speak out than to shut up.

Even in this campaign, with coded and not so coded racist messaging a core strategy of the GOP, the Democrats are leaving discussions of racism to their surrogates. And boy are those surrogates buzzing about Republican racism.

But are they doing so in order to end racism? Nope. They’re doing so in order to make political points.

Now that’s cynicism, and it needs to be called out, not just because it’s bad politics, but because it leads to bad policy.

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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

4 replies on “Who Is More Racist, Republicans or Democrats?”

The real cau… racist could not withhold their hatred and their comments any longer after America chose a black President. It came out in full. However, all races make racist comments. Just some say it loud and some are classy and do say it behind closed doors.AND The real stupid ones use fox5.

People put themselves into jail through wrong decisions. Don’t blame whites for the blacks that are in jail. It’s not the president’s job (and I voted for him both times) to give one-on-one lessons on morality, nor can he set a quota on which races go to jail.

But what do you do when 53% of those stopped and frisked by the NYPD are black in a city that is 44% white and 25% black, yet whites stopped by the police are far more likely to be holding a gun, the ostensible reason for the stop and frisk policy? And then, what do you do about the fact that this means that in Brownsville, the blackest part of the metropolitan area, 93 out of every 100 residents have been stopped?

When you target a group like that, you will end up with disproportionately high levels of arrests, with the majority for possession of small amounts of drugs, especially marijuana. And because of federal drug policy, this may get you in prison. But, whites and blacks use illegal drugs at the same rate, and whites are a larger group so they use more, and therefore provide the capital incentive that drives the illegal drug trade?

And when, how do you respond to a City attorney defending this policy who says that race is not a factor, even when white stops yield more quality results in terms of arrests for the target, which is gun possession, in these stops. That, instead, the police are just making errors? They are, according to her, either misinterpreted the law or just making human errors.

Over the last 10 years, nearly 5 million stops have been conducted. The vast majority are of blacks and Latinos – over 80%. Only 12% of these stops have resulted in arrests. So the NYPD has got this wrong about 88% of the time. That’s an error rate of 88%. You couldn’t get away with that at MacDonald’s. But no corrective action is taken, including just changing the target of these stops to the groups that are in the wrong a higher percentage of the time by neighborhood, by race, etc. They don’t need to move the target by race. They could move the target by neighhorhood in this one of the most segregated cities in the country.

But they won’t. They just say that they make mistakes.

When all of that is happening, I’m not sure what a person who is in the targeted group is supposed to do. Federal policy has to change so that the cash resources for all of these stops ebb and police departments have to come up with better practices and higher levels of quality control. As long as this kind of petty crime enforcement continues, there will be disproportionality in arrest and incarceration rates.

Or, they could just target college campuses on Friday nights. That would yield the motherlode of exactly the kind of arrests being made now at huge expense to taxpayers, but with an 88% error rate.

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