A problem in discussing racism (or most any social problem) is that most people's understanding of what it is and how it works is woefully outdated. For instance, I wrote awhile back on this very blog about the incredibly racist reaction to Adrian Peterson finding out he had a son he didn't know about when the child was tragically murdered. Someone (my favorite stalker?) commented that since race was never directly mentioned in the the discussion of AP, I was obviously inventing what I wanted to see. This is actually a pretty common criticism from people who understand nothing about how race works, somewhat like I imagine it must have been trying to convince people the earth rotated around the sun and not the other way around (after all, I see the sun come up every morning and go down every night!!! This is just another example of librul, PC fascists trying to jam their heliocentric world view down our God-fearing throats!).
But as always, it doesn't take long for the next perfect example of this process to come along. You may have already heard about Minnesota State House of Representatives member Pat Garofalo (Rep) tweeting: "Let's be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would
notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in street crime" (not included, the implied hashtags of #Imnotaracisbut and #Ihaveblackfriends).
This is a classic example of what we social scientists call "racially coded" language (or in layman's terms, dog whistle politics). Such coded language is used because of the strides we have made as a society in addressing racism; it's no longer at all acceptable publicly to say that Black people commit all crime (at least not in most places). But there's clearly a lot of people who still believe that (factually inaccurate as it may be), but know they can't say that. So they have to find a way to say it to each to each other, but in a way with plausible deniability built in. So they use codes they understand but which on their face are not controversial or racist.
"States rights" is a great example of this. In an entirely apocryphal justification for the civil war (invented decades after the actual war was fought), those defending slavery have invented this alternate explanation for why the Confederacy was right to do what they did. Because again, while plenty of people still clearly don't view Black Americans as anywhere near their equals, they know that publicly praising slavery is a faux pas. But saying they believe the federal government has too much power and they believe states should be able to set their own laws isn't racist, it's just a preference in governance. Never mind this hatred for federal intervention stems from the federal government intervening to say they can't own other human beings, that's just a coincidence. Just like the Confederacy didn't secede because of slavery (though someone should tell that to the Confederates themselves, given how often they spoke about defending the institution of slavery); no, apparently the Confederacy seceded and engaged in the bloodiest war in our nation's history because they were concerned about the proper balance of power between intra-governmental bodies. Because if there's one thing that inspires millions of people to revolt, it's matters of bureaucratic jurisdiction!
So how does this relate to an idiot state Congressman's racist tweet? Well, as Kyle Wagner points out over at Regressing, the tweet doesn't make sense if you take it at it's supposedly non-racist face. Wagner goes into a lot more detail in the article, but his half-assed graph here does the best job telling the story while giving that idiotic argument as much respect as it deserves:
So as you can see, NBA players actually commit crime at a much lower level than the A) the general public, B) the general public of Minnesota (where Garofalo unfortunately serves), and C) comparable men in their age group. In fact, there were only a single-digit number of arrests of NBA players last year. Now, of course, arrest data is far from a perfect measure of criminal activity, but it's the only one we've got here. Besides, the number of crimes committed by NBA players is so low, that even if you assume they're somehow getting away with 2 or 3 times as many crimes, they're still not committing much crime compared to the general public, and definitely not nearly as much crime as other men their age.
So again, the tweet makes no sense viewed from reality. But it makes a ton of sense when viewed racially: the NBA is by far the "blackest" sports league in America (the only majority African-American sport). What Rep. Garofalo meant was not that NBA players commit a lot of crime (because they empirically don't), but that black people commit a lot of crime (even though, empirically-speaking, they don't either). So instead of saying "black people are responsible for most crimes" (which would be obviously racist), he says "NBA players commit the most crime" (which he can then try to explain away as not racist with an explanation that makes even less sense than the tweet). In fact, even his walking it back shows the racism underlying the tweet -- when contacted about how he was wrong re: the arrest rates, Garofalo claimed it was somehow about the NBA having the most lax pro sports policy toward marijuana (which again, it turns out, is factually incorrect).
This is why "seeing" the racism in this tweet and other such communications is not "reading too much into it," because there's no other way to read it. If you take it at face value, it means this state rep does not have the intellectual capacities of a child. So either he is monumentally stupid, or as Occam's razor would have it, he knew exactly what he was saying.
Or to put it in a way Rep. Garofalo can understand, he seems like he's lost a lot of weight lately. I just read that people who get addicted to meth and turn to prostitution to fund their drug habits tend to lose a lot of weight quickly. But I said nothing about Rep. Garofalo being a meth-addicted prostitute...