MARCANO: The ‘new racism’ and shackles of a different kind

We’re now seeing the consequences of America’s new racism.

Ten dead in Buffalo.

What’s the new racism? It’s purposeful race-baiting that uses legislation, lies, and code instead of nooses, chains, and shackles.

The new racism doesn’t use the threat of lynching. It passes (or in Ohio’s case, seeks to pass) laws that make it harder to teach about race in schools and stifles an honest examination of a brutal history. It targets diversity, equity, and inclusion training as some sort of brainwashing and seeks to limit or ban the effort in the workplace.

History shows us the parallels. Enslaved people were forced to live by rules that said, among other things, they couldn’t transmit “inflammatory literature,” according to the slave codes of the time. Today, lawmakers have simply substituted “inflammatory literature” for “divisive concepts.”

Shackles of a different kind.

Remember, Republicans believe they can run on race and win back the suburban moms who defected to Democrats in 2020. Sadly, they’re probably right. It’s a disgusting strategy, but I give them kudos for being honest about it.

I’m not making this up. Here’s what conservative activist Christopher Ruffo, widely credited with weaponizing Critical Race Theory, wrote on his Twitter account:

“We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,” Ruffo wrote.

The new racism lies about everyone having the same opportunity, so it becomes “their” fault they can’t get pay equity, have to pay higher interest rates to get a house, or can’t get a loan for their business.

What else could it be since everything is equal? “They” — meaning Black people — are just criminals, stupid, lazy, and violent, as a sickening swath (25 to 50%) of Clinton and Trump voters told pollsters in 2016.

That last statistic proves a troubling point. Yes, GOP lawmakers are pushing these shameful laws and rhetoric.

But there are plenty of Democrats who buy into the new racism. They are not clean in this.

Then there’s the most powerful tool of all: Words that frighten. First, it was critical race theory, and that was one of the GOP’s greatest hits. Now it’s the monstrous and sickening Great Replacement Theory, a right-wing conspiracy that holds there’s a plot to diminish the influence of white people and replace them with immigrants (I guess white European immigrants can still come in).

The Buffalo gunman, in his writing, cited both theories — critical race and replacement — as justifications for his slaughter.

No lawmaker told this troubled teen to go out and shoot Black people, as Republicans quickly pointed out (though they’re silent on their rhetoric).

But, as Art Jipson, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Dayton noted, no one has to overtly give the command to shoot. He mentioned David Duke, the former KKK leader who helped change the racism discourse.

“He didn’t talk about the racist epithets, he didn’t need to,” Jipson said. “He talked about crime. He talked about immigration. He talked about ‘the other,’ and he didn’t have to explain that to the people who are listening to him. So that phrase becomes code for the racist sentiments that would not be palatable, that would not go down easy for the general population.”

But Duke did something more dangerous, or I suppose ingenious, depending on your point of view. He made racism acceptable.

“He laid this intellectual veneer of respectability,” Jipson said.” Those ideas get re-organized, simply filtered through a vocabulary that makes it more acceptable to the general population.”

Words matter. People understand the code.

That leads to 10 dead, and different shackles.

Democrats are attacking the GOP’s incendiary code, but they lack a message (so far) that is as powerful as any the GOP has.

I ask myself, will voters be horrified enough to kick out of office (or not vote for) those who play to the new racism?

My answer: Probably not.

Ray Marcano is a longtime journalist whose column appears on these pages each Sunday. He can be reached at

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