Tommy Tuberville Decries Reparations as Payments for “People That Do the Crime”

Seriously?

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 26, 2022. Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly /ZUMA

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On Saturday, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) implied Black Americans were “the people that do the crime” in comments railing against reparations.

Speaking at a Donald Trump rally for Republican candidates in Nevada, Tuberville described Democrats as engaged in a battle to take from white people and give to Black people whom he stereotyped as criminals. Democrats “aren’t soft on crime, they’re pro-crime,” Tuberville said, “[they] want crime because they want to take over what you got, they want to control what you have, they want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that.”

“Bullshit!” he finished. The audience cheered.

Reparations are financial recompense for Black people whose ancestors were enslaved and lived through Jim Crow. The policy of giving reparations to Black Americans has support on the left, but it is not the policy of the Democratic Party. President Joe Biden has said he supports a study on reparations, which is in the party’s 2020 platform, but has ignored calls to create such a commission to enact the policy. Democrats do not support violent crime as a way of seizing property to compensate for the harms done by slavery and legal oppression.

But Tuberville’s point is not to describe actual policy proposals. It’s to reinforce the general animating feature of the MAGA worldview that white Americans are embattled as non-white people seek to replace them, disempower them, and take their wealth. It’s a zero-sum politics of us versus them: As Tuberville put it, “the people that do the crime” and “you.”

The press often writes about the political dog whistles—racist political appeals conveyed through coded language—that politicians deploy to win votes. But as Mother Jones‘ Tim Murphy recently wrote, the whistle, only audible to a few, has been replaced in recent years by a bull horn. Often, “this speech isn’t coded so much as it’s loaded.”

Tuberville’s speech perfectly encapsulates this point.

It shouldn’t be lost that at the same time that the Republican Party, under Trump’s influence, has become more explicit in its use of racism, the Trumpist vision of the country is that racism is not only over but that its real victims are now white people.

It’s not just rhetoric, either. This is also the party’s legal position. At the same time that Alabama’s senator is describing politics as a contest over resources between white people and Black people, the state of Alabama, in a case now before the Supreme Court, wants to roll back the 1965 Voting Rights Act to allow the state to draw political maps that disempower Black voters by gerrymandering them out of office. Forcing the Alabama to draw maps that give opportunities to Black voters, one of the state’s briefs said, “reduces individual Alabamians to members of competing racial monoliths.” It’s hard to think of a better way to characterize Tuberville’s comments.

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