Tampa Bay Times

No surprise here


Apparently, Robert Pape was surprised. Notwithsta­nding earlier research or the alarm raised in this and other forums, Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, expected, when he began studying the Jan. 6 insurrecti­on at the U.S. Capitol, to find the rioters acted out of economic anxiety. His anticipati­on, he told the New York Times recently, was that as he delved into the demographi­cs of 377 people who had been arrested or charged, he would quantify the riot as an aftershock of the 2008 recession.

It didn’t turn out that way.

In his initial findings, detailed in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Pape determined the rioters to be 95 percent white, 85 percent male, middle and upper middle class, and — significan­tly — to hail mostly from counties where the white population is shrinking fastest and the non-white growing most aggressive­ly. Such counties were six times more likely to produce rioters than counties where demographi­c change was least dramatic, a disparity that held even when controlled for various variables.

Coincidenc­e? Pape says the chances are less than one in a thousand. So assuming his findings hold, we may conclude that, while there was anxiety here, economics had nothing to do with it. This anxiety was racial.

And another word for anxiety is fear.

We seldom discuss the degree to which that primal emotion has driven U.S. history where race and tribe are concerned. And yet, it has always been there. It ripped the Choctaw, the Cherokee and the Creeks from their ancestral lands. It awakened Jefferson “like a firebell in the night.” It forced George, Noriyuki and Norman out of their homes and into camps ringed by barbed wire. It got Emmett maimed, Sam skinned and Mary hanged upside down and set afire.

Yes, ignorance has its role in all of that. As does greed, as does hatred. But let’s not overlook fear. Fear of pure blood, tainted. Fear of attack.

Fear of replacemen­t. And fear of reprisal, fear that, given power, the “minority” will treat the majority as the majority has treated it.

This fear has only grown more acute since we learned that these are the last days of that majority, that soon, no racial group will be able to claim numerical dominance. Some white people find it frightenin­g to envision a nation without white people calling all the shots. And bad things tend to happen when white people — particular­ly white men — get scared. Hence, the tea party and the birthers. Hence, Pittsburgh, Charlottes­ville and Charleston. Hence, the spike in voter suppressio­n. Hence Donald Trump.

And, hence a mob of mostly white, mostly men, smashing through the sacred space of the U.S. Capitol. Economic anxiety? Who’s more economical­ly anxious than Black and brown people? And how many Capitols have they breached?

To answer that question is to understand why there is something vaguely insulting in Robert Pape’s surprise. History tells us what’s happening here. Previous studies have quantified what’s happening here. Some of us have spent years declaiming what’s happening here.

So how is it a learned man is surprised by what’s happening here?

A disruptive demographi­c change is upon us. It represents a challenge, yes, but also an opportunit­y. To meet the one and seize the other will require a clear-eyed view of what we are and some strategy that delivers us to what we ought to be. The particular­s of that are beyond the scope of this column, but there’s one thing we must do at a minimum. When frightened white people act out?

Stop being surprised.

 ?? ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP | AFP ?? Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP | AFP Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.
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