Dr. Carol Swain is an award-winning political scientist, a former professor of political science and professor of law at Vanderbilt University, and a lifetime member of the James Madison Society, an international community of scholars affiliated with the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. Before joining Vanderbilt in 1999, Dr. Swain was a tenured associate professor of politics and public policy at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Dr. Swain is the author and editor of several books, including “Debating Immigration” and “Abduction: How Liberalism Steals our Children’s Hearts and Minds.”
E Tavares: Dr. Swain, we are honored to be speaking with you today. We would like to get your views on the current state of race relations in America. This has always been a difficult, sensitive topic, but we get the sense that they are at a low point in generations, despite all the technical progress and a relatively benign economy currently. What do you make of this?
C Swain: Many issues complicate race relations in America. Some of these issues I identified in 2002 in the publication of my book “The New White Nationalism In America: Its Challenge to Integration.” In that book, I warned about a set of conditions converging that would create a devil’s brew for race relations. These issues included white concerns about racial preferences in hiring and university admissions; minority crime, especially black-on-white violent crime; demographic changes that are transforming the nation into one without a racial majority; frustration at liberal immigration policies; and the ability to use the Internet and social media to organize.
What I believe we are seeing is the rise of white consciousness and a perception of a white interests that must be protected in the same manner racial and ethnic minorities seek protection. I believe the campaign to destroy Confederate symbols and monuments polarizes the nation and politicizes people who were previously indifferent.
Improved race relations will require a different approach than what we see today.
ET: You faced dispiriting challenges during your upbringing, many of which still afflict other African-Americans, such as dealing with extreme poverty, growing up in a segregated community (in the Deep South) and other social issues. And yet you made it, becoming a teacher in prestigious universities, an award-winning author, a regular guest in national radio and TV shows and even running for mayor recently. To what do you attribute your success? Did the government play a major role in it?
CW: I have always believed in the promise of the American Dream. Specifically, if I worked hard, I could achieve a middle-class status.
Starting at a community college, I was able to earn five college and university degrees and become a tenured professor at elite institutions. I have always had mentors. Most of them were whites who took a special interest in me because I was a hard worker who was dependable as a student and as an employee.
Government played a role in that I received work-study at the community college and the Basic Grant later known as the Pell Grant. I also received scholarships for graduate school and much encouragement from people who wanted to see me succeed.
ET: We were curious to get your personal take on the role of government for the following reason. Dr. Tom Sowell, one of the brightest economists around, has studied in detail the conditions of the African-American community over a century. He found that from the abolition of slavery in the South up to 1960 they were steadily closing the gap with, and in some cases surpassing, whites on a variety of social metrics, including income, employment, education, religious values and so forth.
Then came the 1960s and a perfect storm hit the African-American community: welfare dependency brought about by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the sexual revolution and the drugs epidemic. The consequences were profound, even tragic. Income, employment, education standards and social mobility have plummeted since then. Children born out of wedlock – a reliable predictor of future criminality and social underperformance – exploded as the State replaced the role of the father at home. Successive generations became dependent on welfare. Drug and alcohol abuse became prevalent in many communities.
Actually, we saw the same thing happening on the little predominantly white European island where we were born, although with a lower intensity. So we can personally state that these are outcomes NOT determined by race. However, instead of looking at these facts, prominent black leaders constantly blame the plight of their community on “institutional white racism.” Why is that?
CW: Many African-American leaders are unaware of their history of success before aggressive governmental intervention. Acknowledging any unintended negative consequences from governmental decisions adopted to help blacks and other disadvantaged groups would be seen by some as a loss of moral authority.
If blacks accepted individual responsibility for some of the continued problems decimating their communities, it might mean they would have to adopt a different, more hands-on interventionist strategy that would require a greater commitment for change. Right now it is far easier to continue the mantra of blaming white people and slavery for the plight of blacks.
As long as blacks look in the rearview mirror, the problems will continue. What we need is a new approach and some forgiveness on all sides.
ET: You have been a vocal critic of these policies for many years. And because of that, at one point you were placed on the “hit list” of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who claim to be on your side in these issues. Can you briefly describe what happened here?
CW: The SPLC went after me in retaliation for a 2009 article I published in The Huffington Post accusing them of having lost sight of their original mission. A couple of months later, Mark Potok, the communications director at the time, was quoted in my local newspaper calling me an “apologist for white supremacy” because of a favorable review I gave a film titled “A Conversation about Race,” that I enthusiastically recommended for classroom use. Fortunately, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal wrote an article refuting the SPLC claims.
ET: You also wrote a book on immigration. There was a time when liberals claimed to be on the side of the American worker, and especially African-Americans, at least nominally. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders and even Barack Obama used to speak about limiting immigration for these reasons. Today they are firmly for it, along with major Republican donors, like the Koch brothers, who like the cheap labor. Several studies show that the African-American community suffered disproportionately from the increased competition from immigrants in terms of employment, education and wages. Inner cities have been transformed as a result. And yet blacks overwhelmingly continue to vote for more of these policies. Why?
CW: Initially, black leaders switched their positions as the percentage of Hispanics increased in their districts. However, it is now the Democratic Party’s liberal stance on these issues that push black leaders toward policy stances that work against the interests of low-wage, low-skilled Americans regardless of race and ethnicity.
ET: As these events were hitting the African-American community, something else – equally transformative – was taking place across the wider American society. And that is the gradual shift to the left of US political discourse after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which in the last decade or so has accelerated to the far, radical left. This can be observed daily in the national chatter.
At the risk of oversimplifying it, identity politics is the post-industrial version of Marxism. Substituting in the 1848 international communism manifesto the maleficent bourgeois by “white patriarchy” (or “supremacy”, take your pick) and the oppressed proletariat by “minorities” - purposefully fragmented along racial, gender and sexual characteristics – we get today’s progressive political platform down to a T.
This toxic brew of race baiting can only fuel division and hatred in their long march to create a new Marxist multicultural society, where its “racist” history must be expunged (along with its monuments, traditions and institutions) and replaced by an omnipresent government that will achieve the utopian level of social, gender and racial equalities. It has gone mainstream after being hatched initially in American universities, and now shapes much of the discourse across entertainment, the media, multiple government layers, the judicial system, public libraries, even churches and big corporations.
Here’s a good example. The “Black Lives Matter” movement never addresses the bloodshed taking places in communities like Chicago, where blacks are overwhelmingly shot by other blacks. Instead, they purposefully focus on the very few contentious incidences of cops killing blacks in the line of duty. Why? Because they can use this to dismantle that “white patriarchy,” gain political power and advance their radical agenda – while actually doing nothing to solve the violence in black communities.
CW: I would agree wholeheartedly with your assessment.
The early Black Lives Matter website contained Marxist rhetoric about dismantling the state. Much of the unrest related to race, sexual identity and feminism are part of the Marxist strategy for destroying the State outlined by Herbert Marcuse in his articles and books.
ET: The irony is that the US is the least-racist, multiethnic country in the world, certainly one of the top countries in that regard. This is why millions of people of all races want to emigrate there. Americans even fought a Civil War over it. No country is perfect, but the remarkable progress of American society since its founding should be a reason for celebration. And yet the mainstream narrative is the exact opposite, with all sorts of groups angrily complaining about discrimination.
We recently hailed a cab in Boston and the driver was a gentle, older man from West Africa, generally with extremely socially conservative societies. He was listening to an interview with Trevor Noah, the host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, and how he feels discriminated in America. Here is an immigrant from South Africa - one of the most racially tense countries on the planet - getting paid millions of dollars for a job any American could dream of while dumping on his host country. No proof of racism was presented. The driver then turned to us and said, “He’s right, this country is racist.” And if he believes that, of course, he will not vote for conservative values like in his native country, but progressive so that the “Nazis” don’t take over. And why would he make an effort to integrate into such a “racist” society?
So it’s not only that Americans are turning on each other. Newly arrived immigrants are being taught the same thing as well. What do you make of this?
CW: Yes, this is taking place. Educational institutions at every level have become the transmission belts for these ideas.
ET: If these dynamics remain in place, it is hard to remain optimistic about the future of the US. All this is happening as the country is already in the midst of a profound demographic transformation, a challenging process all by itself. As an example, in California, the largest state, between 1970 and 2011 the share of whites in the total population declined from 80% to 40%. At this rapid rate, integration becomes very difficult, if not impossible, meaning that the melting pot is turning into a contentious multicultural salad bowl.
There is no longer a consensus of what it means to be an American, if the country’s borders remain relevant, who has the right to come into the country and under what conditions? These are profound, perhaps irreconcilable differences. As a result, the Union may start to break apart at some point. We are already seeing signs of that, with Middle America increasingly at odds with its coastal counterparts. What can be done to avoid this outcome? What will it take to truly heal racial and social tensions in America?
CW: We need to move away from multiculturalism and identity politics and toward an embrace of the American national identity.
The truth is Americans stand or fall together. The divisiveness of our politics and the pitting of groups against each other cannot end well.
ET: Finally, as an African-American woman, do you believe America is worth saving?
CW: I love America. As a child I believed I lived in the greatest nation in the world. It was America with its Judeo-Christian underpinnings that provided me with the route out of poverty. America was and remains a land of enormous opportunities for those willing to avail themselves.
ET: Hopefully our discussion will be a modest step in that direction. Where can people find out more about your important work in this area? How can they get involved?
CW: Anyone interested in learning more about me can visit my websites at carolmswain.com and bethepeopletv.com. I am also a podcaster and an author. My books – Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise, The New White Nationalism: Its Challenge to Integration, and Abduction: How Liberalism Steals Our Children’s Hearts and Minds – can be starting points to learn more.
My new book is Debating Immigration: Second Edition. I am on Facebook as Profcarolmswain and Twitter as carolmswain.
ET: Dr. Swain, thank you so much for sharing your insights.
CW: It was my pleasure.