“It may be,” they write, “that whites simply will not or cannot separate race from the proxies associated with it, even if told otherwise.” That is, the three authors continue, “the categories ‘Black’ and ‘Hispanic’ may simply mean for whites higher crime rates, declining property values and poor quality schools.”
Massey shares Emerson’s concern over possible repercussions from the televised disorder and violence at some Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
“Unfortunately, the stereotype of Blacks as lawless and violent persists in U.S. culture and permeates American social cognition, both explicitly and implicitly,” Massey wrote in an email. “So yes, to the extent that media reports (and especially images) link Black protesters to street violence, it reinforces negative stereotypes and creates animus against the Black Lives Matter movement and those who support it.”
This is especially true “with the Republican base,” Massey continued; whether “it will turn white suburbanites against the Democrats is a possibility, but not a given.” That will be determined by
the degree to which voters see Trump as being the instigator-in-chief and responsible for inciting the violence, or instead blame the B.L.M. demonstrators themselves.
In fact, many voters do perceive Trump as the “instigator-in-chief.”
For that reason, Robert Sampson was more cautious in his estimate of the potential for Trump to make political gains by focusing on the violence and destruction associated with some of the protests:
The lesson from prior research is that racial context often frames how we define and interpret the meaning of disorder and acts of violence or destruction. The active stoking of racial tensions by Trump exploits this social process, but whether it will yield a political benefit for him is unclear.
An alternative scenario, Sampson wrote, is that
increasing revulsion at vigilantism and public violence occurring under this administration’s watch may spur a multiracial backlash that offsets or overturns the standard script.
Christian Davenport, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan and the author of “Media Bias, Perspective and State Repression: The Black Panther Party,” does not believe there will be much movement either to the left or the right among racially conservative whites. In an email, he argued that
The truth of the matter is that there is probably very little that could take place during the protests that would shift the opinion of some whites. Their positions are fixed already and they would likely only see the negative manifestations which you could almost always find during extended campaigns.
For these voters, Davenport continued, “the idea of African-Americans in a group might be enough of an offense.”
Lester Spence, a professor of political science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University, pointed out in an email that the fear of a surge of conservative reaction to the protests is based on the assumption that events today fit the model of “1988, and Trump is the equivalent of George Bush trotting out Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis.”
Spence contends that reporters and columnists should
write about 2020 as if it were 2020. Not as if it were 1990. Write as if Trump is NOT George Bush, but something altogether unique. Write as if we are in a moment in which the entire world protested George Floyd’s death, not just Black and brown people in Los Angeles after Rodney King.
Spence is referring, of course, to the 1988 campaign of George H.W. Bush, who capitalized on Willie Horton ads to win the presidency, just as Richard M. Nixon relied on a law-and-order/silent majority theme designed to convert George Wallace voters into reliable Republicans.