Uncovering the roots of discrimination toward immigrants

Interesting study and approach:

All over the world, immigration has become a source of social and political conflict. But what are the roots of antipathy toward immigrants, and how might conflict between immigrant and native populations be dampened?

His newest research on identity politics, an experimental approach that explores the causes of discrimination against Muslim immigrants in Germany, was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Opposition toward immigration can be due to economic reasons because of competition for jobs or due to the perceived cultural threat that immigrants pose to their host country by challenging dominant norms and changing the national identity,” he says.

He finds arguments centered on cultural threat more convincing than economic explanations of opposition to immigration, especially in Europe.

“Most previous research is limited to presenting survey-based attitudinal measures of antipathy toward immigrants or refugees and correlating them with socio-economic characteristics of the survey respondents or their political beliefs,” Sambanis says. “We wanted to go beyond that and measure actual behavior in the field. We wanted to figure out what particular aspects of refugees or immigrants generate more hostility. Is it racial differences? Ethnic differences? Is it linguistic or religious differences? Is there merit to the idea that discrimination toward immigrants is due to the perception that they do not follow the rules and threaten dominant ?”

There’s very little experimental research, Sambanis says, on the causes of anti- bias and even less research on how to reduce it.

Working with University of Pittsburgh assistant professor Donghyun Danny Choi, a former PIC Lab postdoc, and Mathias Poertner, a PIC Lab fellow and postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, Sambanis designed the experimental study. They targeted Germany because of the high influx of immigrants and refugees and the political salience of immigration issues in recent elections there and because Germans are strongly inclined toward conforming with social norms, especially around keeping order.

Their hypothesis: If it is true that opposition to immigration is driven by the perception that immigrants threaten valued social norms and pose a cultural threat, then in a country that values norm adherence they would see a reduction in discrimination toward immigrants if immigrants show that they respect local social norms and care about their new society.

They staged an intervention against a native male German who littered in a public space, since not littering is a social norm there. A female researcher would approach the person littering, asking him to pick up his trash and dispose of it properly. Bystanders, unaware that they were being studied, observed the interaction. Shortly thereafter, the woman would take a call and while speaking on the phone would drop a bag of groceries, causing oranges to spill out on the floor. The observing researchers recorded whether the bystanders who had witnessed this entire interaction helped the woman pick up her oranges.

In some versions, the woman dropping the oranges would have sanctioned the norm violator, signaling her integration with the German culture. In others, she did not intervene so as to seem indifferent to the littering.

Researchers also used the woman’s identity as a variable: In some versions, she was a native German, in others a Muslim immigrant wearing a hijab. Her degree of religiosity, her ethnic background, and her linguistic assimilation to German society were all manipulated as part of the experiment.

This allowed the researchers to measure whether immigrants who are more socially distant than the average German receive less assistance and whether following social norms offsets any bias toward them.

They ran this experiment more than 1,600 times in train stations in 30 cities in both western and eastern Germany using multiple teams of research assistants, with more than 7,000 bystanders unwittingly participating. Then, the researchers measured whether women who wore a hijab received less assistance than native Germans, whether ethno-racial differences between immigrants matters less than religious differences in generating bias, whether immigrants who wore a cross received more help than those who did not wear any outward symbols of religiosity, and whether good citizenship—enforcing anti-littering norms—generated more help from bystanders, eliminating any bias against immigrants.

“We found that bias toward Muslims is too pronounced and is not overcome by good citizenship; immigrant women who wore a hijab always received less assistance relative to German women, even when they followed the rules,” Sambanis says.

“But we also found that good citizenship has some benefit, as the degree of discrimination toward Muslims goes down if they signal that they care about the host society. And ethnic or racial differences alone do not cause discrimination in our setup. Nor is religious assimilation—wearing a cross rather than a hijab—necessary to be treated with civility.”

On average, women wearing a hijab who did not enforce the norm got help in about 60% of cases, whereas “German” women who did scold the litterer got help in 84% of the cases. The rates of assistance offered to a Muslim who enforced social norms by scolding the litterer were equivalent to those for a German who did not enforce the norm.

“The reason to run such an experiment focusing on everyday interactions is that it gives you a sense of the accumulated impact of discrimination in shaping perceptions of identity and belonging,” Sambanis says. “Getting help to pick up something you drop on the floor seems like a small thing. But these small things—and small slights—add up to form lasting impressions of how others perceive you and, in turn, can inform the immigrants’ own attitudes and behavior toward the host society.”

Now, Sambanis, Choi, and Poertner are extending their research to new questions trying to understand the mechanisms underlying the effects they picked up with their experiments in Germany.

They found gender was a key factor, as it was German women who discriminated against Muslim women. Sambanis says he didn’t expect this result since existing research implies that men are more likely to discriminate, and certainly media portrayals of anti-immigrant backlash tend to center on men.

“We puzzled over the fact that German women withheld assistance from Muslim women who needed help. Based on survey data we collected after our experiment, it seemed that this effect was particularly due to secular women, women who do not register a religious preference,” he says. “This led us to hypothesize that part of the reason we observed this behavior is that German women who might otherwise be open to immigration have developed hostile attitudes toward Muslims because they perceive their cultural practices as threatening to hard-won advances in women’s rights. It’s basically a feminist opposition to political Islam.”

The team has now designed a new experiment that explicitly tests this hypothesis. Two new experiments test whether signaling one’s political ideology regarding key issues related to women’s rights can offset discrimination toward Muslim women.

This collaborative effort between Sambanis, Choi, and Poertner will become a book on how conflict between immigrants and native populations can be managed and whether norms can form the basis for the reduction in discrimination. The German experiments will be expanded next year and applied to a different social context in Greece, which also faces an intense political crisis due to unsustainably high levels of immigration and which differs from Germany with respect to the degree of public adherence to laws and rules.

Individuals there are less likely to follow rules and contribute less to the public good. So Sambanis and his co-authors think they may observe even lower effects of the ability of social norms to offset discrimination due to ethno-religious differences. That research will provide a useful comparison to better understand the existing experimental results.

“A key idea in socio-biological theories of inter-group conflict is that there is an almost innate antipathy or suspicion toward members of “out groups” [immigrant], however those groups are defined. But clearly societies can manage sources of tension and avoid conflict escalation since there is very little observed conflict relative to how many different types of inter-group differences exist out there,” Sambanis says. “A lot of the literature on immigration has suggested that assimilation is the key to reducing conflict between natives and immigrants: Immigrants must shed their names, change their religion, or hide their customs so they can be more accepted.

“Is this really necessary? Or is it enough for immigrants to just signal credibly that they care about being good citizens as much as everybody else?”

Understanding these types of questions is at the heart of the PIC Lab’s mission. A unifying theme of Sambanis’ work has been reducing inter-group conflict, particularly inter-ethnic conflict.

His interests were shaped by the wars in Bosnia and Rwanda, which were going on when he was in graduate school and pushed him away from international economics and toward studying peacekeeping. At the PIC Lab, researchers tackle questions both at the larger country level and at the smaller individual and group level, integrating ideas from political science, social psychology, and behavioral economics to understand human behavior and explore the outcomes of different policy interventions to reduce conflict. The lab conducts data-based, mostly quantitative research that can inform policy design but also theory-building in political science, Sambanis says.

“Ethnic differences, religious differences, —they all matter for politics, but they do not need to produce conflict,” he says. “When people are faced with the hard realities of ethnic wars, separatist conflicts, genocides, or hate crimes, they usually assume that these are inevitable outcomes of innate human prejudices or fears and that people just can’t get along because of deep differences in their preferences or their customs.

“A lot of the work that I do shows that ethnic conflict is not inevitable. The key is to understand the conditions that make salient and then find ways to defuse or manage conflict.”

Source: Uncovering the roots of discrimination toward immigrants

Why some South Asians are resisting identity politics

Valid discussion on the balance between focussing on Canadian issues and the politics of the country of origin, one that pertains both to long established communities (e.g., Ukrainian Canadians) and more recent ones:

Multiculturalism and diversity is touted by all politicians as Canada’s strength, it is in the news so often that most people believe that slogan to be true. I don’t. Last week I spent a few hours with a group of Sikhs who had all come to the conclusion that multiculturalism has been misused by the political class to play identity-based politics which has been detrimental. Over time, this has resulted in divisions within South Asians.

Everyone in the group decided upon a plan of action by first creating a platform where South Asians of all ethnicities and religious backgrounds get together and discuss issues of common interest.

Politicians have wilfully encouraged identity politics in the name of multiculturalism so much so that today issues dominating the headlines in South Asian countries resonate here in the community.

Indian politics for example dominates the conversation of hundreds of thousands of Indian immigrants. I have met such immigrants who were so well-versed with all things happening in India while they knew next to nothing about issues dominating the headlines right here in Canada. No politicians will dare encourage ethnic Canadians to focus on Canadian politics and all things Canadian because well, that suits them just fine.

The group of Sikhs at the meeting I attended were of the view that dwelling excessively on foreign issues takes the focus away from local issues that affect the lives of all Canadians, as also those of their children. This enables the politicians and elected governments to sweep these important issues under the rug; as long as a large section of the population is occupied in advancing foreign causes, local governments can avoid accountability for their mediocre performance.

Regardless of difference in political ideology, one point of unity among all Canadians is that everyone wants to secure the best future for themselves, their children and the country. The differences are only in terms of how to reach that goal. The objective, therefore, of this initiative is to achieve unity as Canadians, so that the ill effects of the divisions caused by identity politics can be diminished or entirely eliminated.

In the months to come, this group is expected to announce its plans and hold events where all South Asians will be invited to discuss issues pertinent to Canada and not the land they left behind.

The problem noted by some of these concerned citizens was that the term South Asian that is commonly used is a generic one denoting a single ethnic group, there are many distinct sub-ethnic groupings within the broader category of ‘South Asian’. The one that mainstream Canadians are most familiar with is the Sikh community – often wrongly termed as the Punjabi community. What is lost is the fact that Punjabis can be Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Christian. All of these sub-groups are present in sizable numbers in Canada and particularly in the GTA. In addition, there are ethnic groups such as Gujarati, Tamil, UP-ite, Marathi, Goan, Bengali and Sinhalese etc also, each with a significant population, all of these groups come from the Indian sub-continent.

But because South Asians have been divided to such an extent, even politicians of South Asian descent end up pandering to their own communities and are typically surrounded by members of their group. It can also be said that these elected MP’s and MPP’s lack the maturity to see the need of reaching out beyond their original support base. This behaviour on their part has the effect of making the other ethnic or religious groups feel politically orphaned. This feeling then feeds into the divide that, by that point, is well-entrenched in the broader South Asian community.

As long as South Asians continue to dwell on the politics of their homelands, they will be seen as outsiders or Canadian in name, just like actor Akshay Kumar who is a so-called Canadian citizen. -CINEWS

Source: Why some South Asians are resisting identity politics

Polarized politics could shatter Canada’s fragile ‘virtuous cycle’ of immigration

While I agree with the critique of some of the statements and approaches by those on the right, greater recognition of how both major parties practice identity politics and virtue signalling for partisan advantage is needed as highlighted in the yesterday’s articles by Terry Glavin (Why race and immigration are a gathering storm in Canadian politics) and Andrew Cardozo (Could all the parties just cool the rhetoric on racism and immigration?):

Support for diversity is fundamental to the Canadian sense of identity, our patriotism and our economic success – so much so, that it can be easy to forget just how exceptional Canadians’ peaceful view of diversity is among Western nations.

The United States sees hate crimes jump 226 per cent in counties that play host to rallies by President Donald Trump. The Paris banlieue suburbs are ghettos of disaffected non-citizens resentful of an antagonistic domestic culture. And in her masterful 2012 study of Canadian exceptionalism on immigration during the era of the Harper government, Irene Bloemraad – a sociology professor at University of California, Berkeley – wrote that it was “remarkable how peacefully Canada’s major cities have transitioned from being predominantly Christian and white to highly multicultural and multireligious.”

But Dr. Bloemraad’s critical finding is this: “What at first seems a paradox – high support for immigration in a country with very high levels of new and existing migration – becomes an explanation. Immigrants to Canada generally feel welcomed. Given the predominantly permanent nature of Canadian immigration, government policy promotes integration because it is presumed that both sides are together for the long haul. At the same time, integration does not mean assimilation, given the policy and ideology of multiculturalism articulated by the government. Finally, the overwhelming majority of immigrants acquire citizenship, making it hard for anti-immigrant politicians to gain a foothold. Immigrant votes have consequences for electoral outcomes.”

This is the virtuous circle of Canadian immigration policy. Government policy promotes permanent migration over temporary; Immigrants feel welcomed; affinity with Canada overtakes the country of their birth; immigrants quickly become citizens and vote; political power of new Canadian voters mitigates anti-immigrant politics; the next group of migrants feels welcome in turn.

But now, the delicate cycle fuelling Canada’s exceptional success in creating a diverse and peaceful country of well-integrated newcomers – cultivated in no small part because of conservative parties that are moderate on immigration issues – may now be under threat.

In a new EKOS survey, 40 per cent of Canadians said too many of our immigrants are members of visible minorities, reflecting that “racial discrimination is now an equally important factor in views about immigration [as] the broader issue of immigration.” (The EKOS survey of 1,045 Canadians had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

The results are more startling when attitudes to non-white migrants are broken down by party support. Of voters who prefer the Conservative Party, 69 per cent said too many immigrants are visible minorities. In contrast, the number of Liberal voters saying too many is just 15 per cent, with those who prefer the New Democrats at 27 per cent. That 52 percentage-point gap between Conservatives and Liberals was, as recently as 2013, only 13 points. There has been, it seems clear, a rapid politicization of opposition to non-white immigration.

This is a break from the past. Canada’s successful conservative parties were pro-immigration and celebrated diversity. The Harper government was laudably pro-immigrant compared with other centre-right parties globally, as were the Diefenbaker, Clark and Mulroney governments. In Ontario, the coalition that elevated Doug Ford to the premiership was notably diverse.

That makes sense, given our country’s long-time approach to immigration. As U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson said when he signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.”

While politicians in the U.S. or Europe can run against migrant groups because they often don’t become citizens, immigrants to Canada do become citizens – and quickly. Conservatives can find support among new Canadians concerned about taxes or social policy, so long as their tone remains moderate on immigration and diversity generally.

Dr. Bloemraad concludes that “unless established immigrant Canadians completely turn their backs on would-be migrants, the significant share of immigrants in the voting population will likely mitigate radical anti-immigrant politics.”

Unfortunately, that might yet be happening. Max Bernier’s People’s Party received 11 per cent of the vote in diverse Burnaby, B.C., running on a slogan of “Canada for Canadians” and linking migrants with crime. Much of their support came from Chinese-Canadian voters. This is consistent with the EKOS survey that found just under one in five non-white Canadians felt there were too many visible minority migrants.

And it doesn’t require white nationalists with swastika tattoos to break the fragile virtuous circle. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell is no racist, but he doesn’t hesitate to exploit immigration issues if it’s to the Republicans’ advantage, before and after Donald Trump was elected. The lesson from Europe and the U.S. is that if centre-right partisans succumb to anti-immigrant sentiment among potential voters, politicized hostility can create a vicious cycle of alienated migrants, assimilationist policy, low citizenship rates and fewer first-generation immigrant voters to oppose the next round of anti-immigrant campaigning.

Canada’s economic future depends on high levels of immigration, and continuing public permission for it requires great care by political leaders to avoid disrupting our unique and virtuous circle creating peaceful diversity.

For instance, when federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer inaccurately depicts a “crisis” of asylum-seekers, he also potentially inflames that specific issue and sours attitudes toward rule-following and highly skilled new Canadians. According to Dr. Bloemraad, support for all types of immigration can decline when issues of irregular migrants are in the political and media spotlight.

In Quebec, Premier François Legault has argued for a religious symbol ban, saying, “If we want to avoid things getting out of control as happened with Trump and Le Pen, we have to give something to those who are a bit worried.” His “something,” it appears, includes normalizing unconstitutional infringements of minority rights with the notwithstanding clause.

No political party should be complacent, either. More than one in four New Democrats and one in six Liberals raised concerns about visible minority immigration. In some by-elections, they could be tempted to play to this sentiment, too.

Any party using immigration as a political cudgel threatens the Canadian exceptionalism that allows us to enjoy peaceful diversity. Instead, parties need to compete to address the economic anxieties and sense of powerlessness of all Canadians who are struggling in our globalized world.

Source: Polarized politics could shatter Canada’s fragile ‘virtuous cycle’ of immigration Andrew Steele

Russia Used Identity Politics Against Us

Interesting angle with some valid points by Greenwald on this vulnerability:

Here’s a newsflash for progressives who think the Russians undermined the 2016 election via social media: Your obsession with identity politics did a lot of the work.

Judging from new (and old) reports about Russia’s propaganda campaign, it seems that Moscow put the most effort into stoking discontent among identity-mad leftists in hopes that they would turn away from the political process and not vote. Progressives divided. Moscow conquered.

Source: Russia Used Identity Politics Against Us

We don’t need less identity politics—we need more – Ostroff

Good defence of identity politics by Joshua Ostroff, albeit silent on some of the risks to broader social cohesion and that marginalized groups are not unique to minorities that Terry Glavin recently discussed (Are white Canadians becoming conscious of their whiteness? – Terry Glavin):

Before identity politics also became a pejorative, it was used innocuously in academic circles for decades regarding civil rights movements. American anthropologist Vasiliki Neofotistos defined it as a tool to “stimulate and orientate social and political action, usually in a larger context of inequality or injustice.” British political philosopher Sonia Kruks further explained that it does not seek “respect ‘in spite of’ one’s differences. Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different.” In other words, equality—not assimilation.

Inequality and assimilation, however, was Canada’s initial modus operandi, a nation founded by white men who considered minorities and women inferior. During my parents’ lifetime, Indigenous and Asian citizens couldn’t vote and women had only recently gained the franchise. It was legal to ban blacks and Jews from beaches and businesses, but illegal for gays and lesbians to have sex. The last segregated black school in Canada closed in 1983, the same year that raping your wife became illegal. The last residential school closed in 1996. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legal until 2005. Transgender rights became enshrined just this summer.

Democracy has a systemic vulnerability: tyranny of the comfortable majority. People vote in their own self-interest, but many do so without even being aware of what others deal with. Stephen Harper echoed many Canadians’ own thought processes when he admitted in 2015 that an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women “isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest.”

Progress has obviously been made since my parents were born, thanks to the identity politics putting these issues on that majority’s radar. But inequality remains, and that’s why identity politics still matters. It is not about ensuring, as the National Review claimed in their article about Damore’s Google memo, that “the white male must lose.” It’s about ending the funding discrepancy for Indigenous children because there’s a suicide crisis and because way too many kids wind up in foster care. It’s about police reform because more than half of Greater Toronto’s black population has been stopped in public, and both black and Indigenous Canadians are overrepresented in prison. It’s about protecting Muslim and transgender Canadians from hate. It’s about reducing the gender pay gap and increasing diversity across society. It’s about making sure the playing field gets levelled, and that power gets shared.

Trump has shown us what happens when anti-identity politicians take over. They play their own kind of identity politics—but, for them, it’s just called politics. After all, he’s called for a ban on transgender people in the military, a travel ban from some Muslim-majority countries, and a dismantling of affirmative action policies because he claims white people are the ones being marginalized despite the data to the contrary.

That’s why some progressives want to focus on class and stop talking about identity issues, in the hopes that the left can attract more straight white working-class voters who believe they’re threatened by social change. Former White House advisor Steve Bannon’s recent boasts about his advantage over the Democrats captured this dilemma: “The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day.”

The Republicans’ grand trick—making white Americans feel like an oppressed minority—isn’t new. The white-race card has been a Republican ploy from their Civil Rights-era southern strategy through the Obama-era Tea Party; Canada, meanwhile, has seen less successful efforts with the Conservatives’ barbaric cultural practices hotline and the Parti Quebecois’ Charter of Values.

As counter-protesters in Vancouver, Boston and most recently London, Ont., stand up together to marginalize white supremacist demonstrations, it seems clearer that identity politics, bringing issues of marginalization to the fore, are as important as ever, semantics be damned. We need to tackle all our different challenges, and not pretend we all have the same ones. Class matters, of course, but if you try to address, say, poverty without dealing with racism, the primary beneficiary is the majority group. That’s how “working class” became synonymous with “white working class.” Trickle-down theory doesn’t work any better on the left than it did on the right.

Despite conservative claims of pandering, every subgroup deserves a government and society that intervenes on its behalf as much as for the dominant group—one that reclaims, rather than rejects, this movement.

And if the point of identity politics is to decrease oppression by increasing equality—a slow but steady process that has been ongoing for a century and must continue, despite the current pushback—it is the way forward to genuinely uniting a nation.

Source: We don’t need less identity politics—we need more – Macleans.ca

Andrew Coyne: The answer to left-wing identity politics is not right-wing identity politics

One of Coyne’s better columns:
But if Conservatives think they can save themselves from going down with the alt-right just by pitching its most conspicuous names overboard, they are deeply mistaken. The damage the Republican embrace of Trumpism has done to that party will long outlast Trump, even if His Orangeness were to step down tomorrow. Similarly, it will not be enough for those prominent Conservatives who were so eager, not six months ago, to make time with The Rebel to now suddenly discover their dance cards are full. If they are ever to cleanse themselves of the association they must forcibly renounce, not only the movement’s standard bearers, but the underlying ideology — and more particularly, the extremism with which it presents itself.

Politics is too often analyzed along a single left-centre-right spectrum. Even as a matter of ideology that is too simple, but ideology itself is only one dimension of politics. What the populist surge ought to have taught us is that there is another, equally important: that of temperament. In ideological terms conservatism has little to do with populism: the former is about constraining government to abide by certain rules and norms, while the latter demands to be freed from such restraints in the name of saving The People from whichever force is said to be threatening it. And while modern conservatism is about a society unified around the principle of the equality of every individual, populism is very much about dividing society into Us and Them, or rather several Thems: elites, experts, globalists — or in its darker corners, immigrants, Muslims, blacks, Jews.

But the conflict is even more stark in temperamental terms. For among the norms Trump and his followers reject is the obligation to think through a position, to test it against the facts, to consider any possible drawbacks, to try to persuade the unpersuaded, or to listen to them in their turn. That is the true definition of extremist. It is not the same, though the two are often confused, as radicalism. It is quite possible to propose a radical critique of current policy — radical, in the sense of entailing fundamental change — without being extremist about it. Conversely, Trump’s positions, so far as he holds any, are often far from radical. They are, however, extreme, being advanced without evidence, thought, humility or attempts to persuade anyone beyond his base.

The Conservatives of the last decade, likewise, could hardly be described as radical: their policies were not just “incremental,” as the conceit had it, but incoherent, lacking any guiding principle but opportunism. Yet such was the tone and temperament with which these were advanced — the harshness, the secretiveness, the partisanship, the willingness to demonize certain groups — that many people were nonetheless persuaded they were “right wing” or even “far right.” They succeeded in discrediting conservatism, as I’ve said before, without practicing it.

The alternative to populism, then, is not to “move to the middle.” Conservatives were not partisan because they were ideological, but because they were not ideological enough: because partisanship filled the vacuum where ideology should have been. They pandered to populism because they had given up on conservatism. It is not radicalism, likewise, of which they must be purged, but extremism, of the kind encouraged by the Rebel — from hostility to Muslims to a blind rejection of any serious policy on climate change to an adolescent delight in saying or doing whatever shocking thing entered their heads as a badge of supposed “political incorrectness.”

What conservatism ought to be about — the conservatism that is urgently needed — is the defence, not only of traditional conservative principles of limited government and the rule of law, but of the values that have animated western societies since the Enlightenment: free speech, due process, equal opportunity, and underpinning all, treating individuals as individuals, to be judged on their own merits, rather than as members of this or that social group. Once the subject of broad consensus, today these values are under attack from both the identity-politics left and the populist right — the former, in the name of social justice, the latter, in the name of security and national identity; far from opposites, they feed off each other’s excesses.

The answer to left-wing identity politics is not right-wing identity politics, but a rejection of identity politics altogether, in favour of a renewed commitment to the ideal of a society of free and equal citizens. To defend that vision is the opportunity before conservatives now.

Source: Andrew Coyne: The answer to left-wing identity politics is not right-wing identity politics

The Political Payoff of Making Whites Feel Like a Minority – New York Times

Interesting analysis of identity politics in action:

Nationality, race and ethnicity are a large part of identity for most people. Factors like this matter more for some people than others — and for some groups more than others — but a sense of group awareness or membership exists in varying degrees across all segments of American society.

Often it’s easy to see the signifiers of such group identity, in distinctive music, food or clothing, for example. But sometimes when symbols or language are co-opted, it is harder to spot. In 2015, Donald J. Trump’s “make America great again” and “build a wall” started out as simple but powerful slogans. As time went on, they became more infused with a specific meaning that symbolized the concerns and preferences of a substantial set of white Americans.

Mr. Trump’s appeals were a form of group politics or identity politics, and he continues to focus on threats to white identity as president.

Some Trump critics find his focus on whites as a group outrageous or counterproductive. But survey data suggest that many white Americans do feel threatened, and that they think there are policies that discriminate against them and should be changed.

Two examples of the president’s efforts and the underlying support for his positions illustrate these trends.

On Wednesday, he offered his support for a bill that would cut legal immigration to the United States in half, saying “this legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.” To achieve its goal, the plan would limit entry for some family members of American citizens and permanent residents.

In explaining how limiting the entry of relatives would put the needs of American families first, a White House policy adviser, Stephen Miller, said it was “common sense” that immigration was costing Americans jobs. He then suggested that the family members who would be denied entry under the proposal were largely low-skill workers who were taking jobs away from struggling Americans.

The claim about who, if anyone, suffers from the immigration of low-skilled workers is nuanced. Debate on the question is active. If people come to America because they have a relative living here, it does not mean by definition that they are low-skilled workers. Despite the difficulty of nailing down the effects of low-skilled immigration on American families, public opinion on the topic — at least for a particular set of Americans — may reflect the “common sense” Mr. Miller described.

In January 2016, the American National Election Study asked 875 white Americans this question: How likely is it that many whites are unable to find a job because employers are hiring minorities instead? On average, 28 percent of the white population thought it was extremely or very likely that white people could not find work because of minorities seeking those same jobs. Roughly half the white population thought it was at least moderately or slightly likely. Only 21 percent thought this was not at all likely.

Differences emerge across party lines, even among whites. Close to 20 percent of Democrats thought it was extremely likely that the prospects for white job-seekers would be threatened by the presence of minority workers, while 34 percent of Republicans (and 30 percent of independents) felt this way.

Among white Republicans and independents, an even greater divide becomes clear: White voters who preferred Mr. Trump to one of the other candidates in the Republican field were nearly twice as likely to anticipate white job loss to nonwhite workers (48 percent compared with 24 percent).

The survey also asked white people how important it was for whites to work together to change laws that are unfair to whites. On average, 38 percent said it was extremely or very important. Only a quarter thought it was not important at all — a category that presumably also encompasses people who thought no such laws existed.

These trends also help to frame President Trump’s other recent announcement that the Justice Department would be investigating college admissions procedures that might discriminate against white applicants.

The difference between white Democrats and Republicans on the importance of uniting as a group against discriminatory laws is only five percentage points, with Republicans believing it was more important than Democrats and independents.

The divide, however, among Republicans who preferred Mr. Trump in the primaries and those who chose someone else is overwhelming. Nearly 60 percent of Mr. Trump’s primary supporters thought organizing to change laws that are unfair to white people was extremely or very important. Only 15 percent thought it was not important at all to do so. Supporters of other G.O.P. candidates, on average, were about half as concerned.

The data show that race is less important to white Americans’ sense of self than to nonwhites — more white people say being white is not at all important to their identity relative to the numbers who say so in other groups. But Mr. Trump’s continued efforts to remind white Americans of their group status may increase the number of white people who think of themselves through a racial lens. It is one of the ways that his campaign and presidency may reshape public opinion and politics.

He is capitalizing both on an existing sense of threat among white voters and the opportunity to shape the way whites — because of their group membership — think of themselves.

Does Australia’s values test have a future in Canada? Konrad Yakabuski

Yakabuski asks the valid question: could Australian dog whistle politics happen here?

To a certain extent, they already have: the use of the niqab and “barbaric cultural practices” tip line in the 2015 election, the Kellie Leitch and Steven Blaney leadership campaigns. As he notes, survey questions highlight an underlying concern about immigrant values.

That being said, while we naturally enough see the similarities with Australia – immigration-based countries, large number of foreign-born voters, considerable diversity – we often fail to see some of the differences:

  • Indigenous/white settler dichotomy in contrast to the more complex Canadian Indigenous/French settler/British settler background and a history, albeit highly imperfect, of accommodation and compromise;
  • a political system that provides greater opening for far right extremist voices;
  • a political system that results in fewer visible minorities being elected than in Canada; and,
  • a generally harsher political culture.

So while we always have to guard against complacency, we also need to keep in mind that national elections are largely fought in the 905 and BC’s Lower Mainland, where new Canadian voters, mainly visible minority, form the majority or significant plurality of voters.

The Liberal success in these ridings (they won 30 out of the 33 ridings where visible minorities are the majority) suggest that values or identity-based wedge politics are a losing, not winning, strategy:

When Malcolm Turnbull staged an internal Liberal coup to replace an unpopular Tony Abbott as party leader and Australia’s prime minister in 2015, it was hailed as victory of the moderns and moderates over the ultraconservative ideologues and their nasty dog-whistling strategists.

Guess who’s blowing dog whistles now?

The plan Mr. Turnbull unveiled last month to screen immigrants for Australian values (sound familiar?) and make it harder to obtain Australian citizenship represents a crass U-turn for a Prime Minister who only a few years ago attacked a then-Labor government for seeking to cut the number of temporary foreign workers entering the country. “If you support skilled migration and a diverse society, you don’t ramp up the chauvinistic rhetoric,” he tweeted in 2013.

Now, it is Mr. Turnbull’s turn to target the so-called 457 visa, replacing it with a program that puts new restrictions on foreign workers. The Prime Minister says the immigration changes are all about “putting Australians first.” But they are really about exploiting largely, but not exclusively, working-class resentment toward visible minorities, especially if they’re Muslims.

“If we believe that respect for women and children and saying no to violence … is an Australian value, and it is, then why should that not be made a key part, a very fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen?” Mr. Turnbull asked last month.

Well, for starters, because it demonstrates an astonishing degree of contempt for the very values that liberal democracies such as Australia purport to champion.

Is it really necessary to ask immigrants “under which circumstances is it permissible to cut female genitals” to convey the unacceptability of excision, which is already illegal? You can only answer yes if the real objective of such a measure is to pander to a substantial, but misguided, group of voters who seeks to alleviate their own insecurities by humiliating others.

You’d almost think this cockeyed plan was something cooked up by Sir Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist who may or may not have been behind the 2015 election promise by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to set up a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline. But Sir Lynton – the knighthood was bestowed by former British prime minister David Cameron after the so-called Wizard of Oz helped him win the 2015 British election – is currently too busy exercising the political dark arts in aid of Tory PM Theresa May’s election bid.

Sir Lynton’s business partner, Mark Textor, however, happens to be Mr. Turnbull’s chief pollster. And what the polls are telling Mr. Turnbull is that white, working-class voters in Australia are increasingly turning sour on immigration. This is something of a paradox in a country in which 28 per cent of the population is foreign-born, compared with about 21 per cent in Canada, and that has long been held up as a model multicultural society.

The truth is that both the Liberals (who are actually conservatives) and the Labor Party now only pay lip service to multiculturalism. Both are seeking to scratch an itch among white working- and middle-class voters. Labor recently ran an ad in Queensland promising to “build Australia first, buy Australian first and employ Australians first.” All of the dozen or so workers in the ad were white.

Support for the current policy of turning back boats of asylum seekers, or detaining them on islands off the Australian coast, remains strong, even among Labor voters. Hence, the dilemma for Labor Leader Bill Shorten, trapped between his party’s white working-class base and the urban progressives and immigrant voters Labor needs to win elections.

Mr. Turnbull, meanwhile, is looking over his shoulder at a renewed threat from the far-right One Nation party and Mr. Abbott, who appears to be angling for his old job. He just gave a speech denouncing the “cultural cowardice” of the elites, including the folks at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and their “pervasive ambivalence verging on hostility to our country and its values.”

Does Australia represent the ghost of Canadian politics yet to come? Polls show Canadians from across the political spectrum really like Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s idea of screening immigrants for Canadian values. She’s sticking to her guns, no matter how many old Red Tory friends she loses.

Hey, if Australia can go that low, why can’t we?

Source: Does Australia’s values test have a future in Canada? – The Globe and Mail

Don’t be deaf to the threat of dog whistle politics: Collenette

Good piece by Penny Collenette, former senior PMO staffer under Jean Chrétien:

So what can we do to stop the spread of this inflammatory and destructive force? How do we halt the powerful right wing of Trump’s America from spilling over our borders with their vicious messages? There are a number of ways.

Canadian politicians who use coded messages of race-baiting or values testing should be “named and shamed” by political opponents. Already this is thankfully happening in the Conservative leadership race.

Strategists and pollsters who practise this type of dangerous communication must think twice before posing questions designed to whip up prejudice. Clients and investors may equally become concerned about provocative behaviour.

Civil society and individuals are watch dogs for truth and fairness. Don’t allow friends or colleagues to discriminate against others or to disseminate hateful information. Whether a message is in a tweet, during a conversation, or on Facebook, point out errors or bias.

Main stream media and social media equally have responsibility to verify facts and to report without bias.

And never forget the power of words. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard noted that “Words can hurt. Words can be knives slashing at people’s consciousness.” But words can also heal and soothe, especially when they are spoken with great sensitivity by a member of the community, which has just been devastated.

“What the Daesch is doing in the name of Islam is an affront to Islam, decency and humanity. What took place in Quebec was criminal and horrible. But the response of Canadians with love and solidarity represents Canada at its best and offers us pride and hope,” said Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan, a former journalist and Order of Canada recipient.

Let’s not let our communities and ourselves down. Let’s support each other with understanding and strength.

And while we are it, let’s throw those dog whistles in the garbage.

Source: Don’t be deaf to the threat of dog whistle politics: Collenette | Toronto Star

Here’s Why Democrats Must Not Abandon Identity Politics – The Daily Beast

Good piece by Craig Mills on identity politics:

Further, “white working class” seems to be the identity that matters when considering how Trump won. I hear continually this is the group we should concern ourselves with understanding to the exclusion of others. How absurd. I cannot recall any of those who exhort us to empathize with the white working class asking us to question their racist or sexist motives, as if this group’s decision-making occurs in economic isolation. Additionally, white supremacists who outright advocate for an all-white state supported Trump’s candidacy. If that is not identity focused, I’m not sure what is.

The reality is that both parties necessarily indulge identity to appeal to voters. Economic issues do not operate in a political vacuum, yet identity abandonment asks us to assume it does. Race and gender are outsized determinants that correlate closely with income, social outcomes, and yes, political power. It is unfair and unrealistic to ask holders of these demographic markers to suppress the very real roles they play in their political existences. Indeed, Bernie Sanders continues to struggle with black voters because he believes that if we address the economic component of what plagues many Americans, the rest will take care of itself.

The suggestion that subgroups abandon their identity to a larger goal is the ultimate identity grab: Fall in line, and we’ll sort it out when we win. Bull. Wrangling commitments out of politicians before an election is one of the few ways the electorate holds politicians accountable. Yet as Democrats seek short-term expediency, they are likely to dig themselves into a deeper hole. Such behavior is reminiscent of the 2010 midterm and 2012 general election. Then, many candidates distanced themselves from President Obama’s successes but still got buried politically. Voters notice such fright and flight. It signals lack of conviction in one’s policies and beliefs—hardly confidence inspiring to the marginal voter.

Finally, individuals care about a multitude of economic, political, social, environmental, and visionary issues that transcend individual identity. As proof, consider that Trump, who offended so many groups that comprise distinct political bases he attacked, outperformed Romney’s 2012 totals with blacks and Latinos and won the vote of white women. This should serve as an indicator that identity politics alone does not motivate voters but may be a factor. Voters of all persuasions want an acknowledgment of their concerns. Identity and economics need not be mutually exclusive in the political realm. To signal to large swaths of the public that their needs will have to wait until leaders solve the economic pieces risks alienating them and defection from the party.

Millennial, boomer, veteran, senior, female, black, Latino, gay, Muslim, white. These are but a few groups both parties court for a reason: Identity personalizes politics. Addressing income alone will not address badly needed police reform, education disparities, or a woman’s access to reproductive services. Neither will it address religious freedoms or climate change. Nor will it address the institutional structures that make dismantling barriers to fairness difficult. National parties and politics are messy because of the multiple interests—identities—they encompass. Until and unless we move to a multiparty political system, we must focus on speaking to those identities.

The world does not come with equality; it is something we must work to achieve. If we engage exclusively in economic politics and desert identity liberalism, we will not accomplish this. If the identities of the right matter, however, so do mine.