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๐ŸŒฑ Resetting the Terms of the Debate: The Right's Media Trap

Part II: The Evolving Face of Racism in the U.S.

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized: The right has been good at setting the terms of the debate leading to a rise in overt racism in our media. Many activists are grappling with our messaging for a progressive future amid right-wing extremism.

In Case You Missed It: The Evolving Faces of Racism in the U.S.

What You Can Expect
๐ŸŒฑ The Rightโ€™s Media Trickle Down Tactic
๐ŸŒฑ Take Back the Message
๐ŸŽซ Upcoming Events
๐ŸŒฑ Getting to the Roots
๐ŸŽฌ An Activist Valentine's Day Message

The slow creep of โ€œacceptableโ€ racism in our society has come spilling out into the public consciousness. Last monthโ€™s most obvious example was the targeting of the first Black woman to serve as Harvardโ€™s President, but Claudine Gay is not the only Black person or anti-racist leader facing the media gauntlet for being a marginalized person upending existing power structures. Claudine Gayโ€™s sin to the racist mob that ousted her was, of course, being a Black woman in a position of power in the first place.

This is not new in U.S. history, but we are seeing a resurgence of the white supremacy that has haunted our country since before its founding. As many activists are grappling with how we message against right-wing extremism and for a progressive future, I wanted to touch on how the right has been so deft at setting the terms of the debate leading to a rise in overt racism in our media.

The Rightโ€™s Media Trickle Down Tactic

The inability to defeat white supremacy is our country's biggest fault. It always has been and will continue to be until we make real choices as a collective to end it. The only way to do that is by looking at it head-on. That especially includes less melanated folk who may be more privileged in this society because of our skin color, but ultimately lose out on the goodness of life because of the systems that maintain that hierarchy. The right is smart about using social biases to influence behavior that further entrenches white supremacy. Thatโ€™s why we must be smarter in calling it out.

The Claudine Gay ousting is a case study of how extremists muddy the waters through right-wing media that gets amplified up to the โ€œmainstreamโ€ media which parrots the talking points without any forethought. Letโ€™s talk about the person behind the effort to oust Harvardโ€™s first Black and Haitian-American president, Claudine Gay. He is a very special person that people should know about because these racist tactics are being used across the globe.

Christopher Rufo, who is not a Harvard alum, but went to their Extension School, calls himself a conservative activist and works to further marginalize BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks through anti-CRT, anti-trans, and anti-DEI efforts. His past work includes the Heritage Foundation, the organization behind our White Supremacist Supreme Court. He has been vocal that he's using a โ€œplaybookโ€ to pressure institutions to roll back any DEI initiatives.

โ€œWe must not stop until we have abolished DEI ideology from every institution in America,โ€ said Rufo.

After Claudine Gay resigned, Christopher Rufo bragged that he had โ€œSCALPEDโ€ her in a Twitter post. Yes, thatโ€™s a reference to the genocide of Indigenous people. I wish this was his only audacious statement, but his Substack makes clear that he believes in eugenics, also a fave of Elon Musk, and other racist ideologies. His Substack links to what experts call โ€œan outlet for scientific racism.โ€ Here are some totally normal headlines from them:

  • โ€œIf racism is so bad, why is diversity so good?โ€
  • โ€œThe Goldilocks Zone between inbreeding and outbreeding.โ€
  • โ€œYes, we should talk about race differencesโ€

Pay attention to peopleโ€™s words. The dog whistles are everywhere. The blatant statements that used to start in the far reaches of the internet are now being legitimized by Substack and then in mainstream media. When we give air space to bigotry, we open up a permission structure to be more overt in public.

Business Suits are the New Tiki Torches & Khakis

These statements then trickle down so that the head of JPMorgan, Jamie Dimon, can feel very comfortable making statements who wouldnโ€™t dream of making in 2020 against the โ€œridiculous ESG, DEI groups coming at us." He had the gall to say this at an event hosted by the Female Quotient at the World Economic Forum last month.

โ€˜Iโ€™m a full-throated, red-blooded, patriotic, unwoke, capitalist CEO,โ€™ Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase

If someone is using the word woke, my ears perk up. Because what does woke actually mean? To be aware. To be awake to the systemic inequities in our society. It means wanting an equitable world. That sounds pretty reasonable. Yet, the right has attempted to weaponize the word that originated from Black culture. By now, it should be fairly obvious that extremists purposefully misrepresent the term, ignore the empathetic roots of the word, and equate the word with violence. The right has been mockingly using woke for anything not white, male, and Christian for years now. It's hard not to ignore how they've villainized woke, but what about the other dog whistles?

This is happening everywhere, woke is just the most public example. Capitalists have been using language to divide marginalized communities, divest in social infrastructure, and increase racial inequality. We see it in Dimon's statement, who is responsible for nearly $4 trillion of our world's wealth.

Our biggest mistake is giving bad actors the benefit of the doubt. We see how that is playing out in Gaza in the most extreme, disastrous, and genocidal way. We have seen throughout history how bad actors can exploit our social norms. Both the examples of Rufo and Dimon illustrate how right-wing messaging can worm its way into mainstream narratives by exploiting our biases and using dog whistles to excite the base without the public catching wind. In short, they are doing it all out in the open and are hoping we don't notice.

Take Back the Message

These men are telling us directly what they believe regarding colonialism, eugenics, and how our society should operate with them at the top. We should start believing them now.

This week, I attended a messaging briefing with the Democratic expert, Anat Shanker Osario, who laid out how we can defeat these forces and bring more hope to our movement. I look forward to sharing more from that briefing in future newsletters. In the meantime, the biggest takeaway is to be bold.

We must be bold in setting the terms of the conversation, not the extremists, and speak up about our vision and solutions. While we cannot change how the media covers this moment, we have control over how we do. The media and our institutions are at all-time lows, but trust in our friends and community is not. Letโ€™s use the power of our relationships, to be honest about the stakes of the 2024 election and how we have the power to get out of this moment. As I wrote last month, we arenโ€™t far from some of the solutions that we seek. This year could be the year that we push our country forward and begin to reshape the institutions that have harmed all of us, especially Black people in the U.S. We can defeat white supremacy when we are bold in condemning its harms and championing a better way.

The 2024 election is a race between everyday Americans and authoritarianism. I know what side I want to be on. Itโ€™s our turn now to help others make their choice with the best information.

  • ๐Ÿ“š will invest $32 million in 2024 - The public advocacy group hopes to elect Democrats using what they are calling it a โ€œhouse party strategy.โ€ Their plan focuses on in-person organizing events.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - MoveOnโ€™s strategy for 2024 is all about connection. This aligns with how the voter outreach groups I work with are thinking about things. Human connection is how we build progressive momentum.
  • ๐Ÿ“š Itโ€™s Not Inflation, Itโ€™s Corporate Profiteering - a new study shows corporate profits account for more than half of recent price increases.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - The Fedโ€™s approach is solving the wrong issues. We need legislation to stop the greed and rising inequality.
  • ๐Ÿ“š Lift Every Voice for All U.S. Americans - Matt Gaetz is on his white supremacy again, this time complaining that the โ€˜Black National Anthemโ€™ was played at the Super Bowl.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - one song was written by an enslaver about war, while the other was written by a NAACP leader in 1900. โ€œTheir rage is just another echo of the white supremacy that has fought any public inclusion of Black people in wider cultureโ€

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If you're based in the Bay, join me and some local activists to talk about the state of activism heading into the 2024 election. I will be joined by a panel of Democratic activists with experience organizing up and down the ballot. I am looking forward to my chat with Natalie Burdick (she/her) and Jupiter Peraza (she/her). Weโ€™ll cover what activism can look like in 2024 and how we can plug into life-bringing activism in 2024 no matter our experience. RSVP and come to Manny's on February 20th at 7:30 pm PST.

The Future of Local Activism: โ€˜Roots of Changeโ€™ Live Podcast Recording!
Join host, Sam Chavez, for a live-recording of her podcast, โ€˜Roots of Changeโ€™!

About the roots of change agency โ€” Navigating heart-first activism & storytelling. We explore the ๐ŸŒฑ roots of our world to support organizations and activists ๐Ÿฅต avoid burnout and ๐Ÿ“š tell empathetic stories that cultivate connections that ๐ŸŒ empower โœŠ๐Ÿฝ social change.

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๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ‘‘ Defeating White Supremacy๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ for activists & heart-first humans ๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.


Navigating heart-first activism & storytelling. We explore the ๐ŸŒฑ roots of our world to support communicators, organizations, and activists ๐Ÿฅต to avoid burnout and ๐Ÿ“š tell empathetic stories that cultivate connections that ๐ŸŒ empower โœŠ๐Ÿฝ social change.

Learn more about the Roots of Change Agency.