WAUKESHA, Wis. – A University of Wisconsin – Waukesha professor claims that Gov. Scott Walker (R) used racism to build support for his public sector union reforms and to win and hold on to the governor’s office in 2010 and 2012.
Walker and others “invoke[d] racial symbolism in the policy contest over public sector collective bargaining rights,” Prof. Dylan Bennett claims in an academic paper co-authored by Hannah Walker, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington. The paper was published in April 2015 and is titled The Whiteness of Wisconsin’s Wages: Racial Geography and the Defeat of Public Sector Labor Unions in Wisconsin.
“Governor Walker engages a strong, populist message directed at a vague popular majority with an exclusive claim to common sense, morality, and hard work,” writes Bennett, but the governor is guilty of “covert racism.” Such “racism” is spotted by Bennett in Walker’s comments about a “Midwestern work ethic” and his desire to “put the government back on the side of the people again.”
“In the tradition of covert racism such appeals to common sense, morality, and hard work are references to whiteness,” Bennett, who is himself white, claims.
Another example of racism is the construction of US-43, the federal highway that runs north and south through the heart of Milwaukee. “The construction of Highway 43, linking the city’s business center to outlying white communities, cut through the African American business district,” writes Bennett, and the highway is a “major contribution to Black poverty and segregation.”
Gov. Walker’s entire political career has been marked by appeals to whiteness and the successful exploitation of racial divisions, Bennett and his co-author write. “Walker came of age in the 1980s with a veneration of President Ronald Reagan, who is well known for his electoral appeals to racial identity,” the article notes, and Walker’s first elected office came when he represented “a privileged white community on the edge of Black Milwaukee” in the state Assembly.
“[W]hen Governor Walker campaigned against unions he simultaneously campaigned against Milwaukee and African Americans, even when posturing behind the familiar conservative language of austerity and flexibility,” Bennett goes on to explain. “The history of race and labor means the exclusion of an alternative hypothesis that Governor Walker’s appeals could contain a race-free message in a contest over economic policies.” Put another way, Bennett is claiming that because he personally sees Walker’s policies as racist, Walker is a racist regardless of whether or not he claims or admits to be a racist.
The shoddy academic work continues when Bennett and his co-author claim that pro-Walker and pro-Act 10 letters to the editor they reviewed from 2011 through 2012 are racist even though the writers never mention the subject of race. This lack of evidence is really evidence of “unmentioned white privilege,” which is to be expected, Bennett posits, because of the “latent whiteness of the anti-union voter.”
Buried at the conclusion of his diatribe, Bennett admits, “We cannot directly test the presence of racial animus held by individual voters, and its relationship to support for cuts to public sector spending.” Never mind that his entire paper is based on his assumption that such a relationship exists.
Bennett’s integrity as a UW academic is called into question by his signature of a Walker recall petition in 2011. Not once in his paper does he mention that he himself participated in the hotly contested political battles of which he writes. While pretending to be a dispassionate academic observer and an expert UW political science professor, Bennett in reality was just another state employee who disliked Walker.
Days after Bennett and his co-author published their report, Thomas Edsall, an editorial writer for The New York Times, regurgitated their arguments and heavily quoted their report in an op-ed titled Enter Scott Walker, Stage Right. “My impression is that Scott Walker is developing a campaign based on the premise that an expanded white electorate can be the basis of victory in 2016,” Edsall wrote.
Bennett, ironically enough, lives in the Village of Kewaskum, which is northwest of Milwaukee, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau is 96.0% white. According to a Milwaukee Business Journaldatabase, Bennett made $46,977.69 in salary in 2014 from the UW system.
PDF of The Whiteness of Wisconsin’s Wages: Racial Geography and the Defeat of Public Sector Labor Unions in Wisconsin: whitenessofwisconsin