The Texas Tribune Festival attempts to showcase the upcoming year’s political zeitgeist, and this weekend Texas Republican leaders stuck to the theme of American individualism. In an attempt to move away from their candidate’s vitriolic language, these Republicans want to be the politicians that hear your woes and have a solution.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick focused on expanding citizens’ choices, and Sen. Ted Cruz defended his support of the Republican nominee by saying that his endorsement was the only way to protect individual liberties. But when you listen closely, it is clear that these men are actually sending coded messages for the separation of groups in America.
Patrick’s interview started with individual choice legislation, including giving voters more referendums and a push for school vouchers. But when asked if Black Lives Matter had a legitimate concern, Patrick wouldn’t be nailed down, simply stating that the protesters were upset. “They believe … there is a problem,” he said.
In fact, Patrick went on to suggest solving some of the racial tension between Black Americans and law enforcement by adding a section to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum on how to react when a police officer pulls you over so that the driver doesn’t “make that situation with the police officer very tense,” Patrick said. “I think most of the people in this room know [how to act],” he added.
What Patrick meant is that we need to teach these protesters how to change their behavior for the majority’s benefit. This is how his logic works: Black Lives Matter protesters are not individual people standing up to an injustice but a group that brought problems on themselves because they chose to cause a fuss.
Because, remember folks, oppression isn’t the fault of powerful individuals. It’s the oppressed group who should take the blame. At least that’s how it was in Dallas. Patrick remarked that “if the Black Lives Matter hadn’t had that march, five police officers would still be alive.”
And then we have Ted Cruz, who when pressed about Black Lives Matter, Cruz happily joined in the victim blaming, claiming protesters were responsible for police lacking the will to protect them.
Cruz didn’t limit his double speak to Black Lives Matter. Zoya Zia, an international relations and global studies sophomore, asked Cruz whether or not she could feel comfortable in this country as a Pakistani-American Muslim if Donald Trump became president. Cruz told her that it is a choice she’ll have to make for herself and then pivoted to say he hopes we have a president “who helps bring people together to prevent radical Islamic terrorism, especially in Muslim countries.”
Zia was angered by Cruz’s inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims, exhibited by his insistence on calling these groups “radical Islamic terrorists.”
“Terrorists don’t follow basic moral codes, let alone an entire religion,” Zia said.
All of Cruz’s language comes down to one message: Whether he is talking about Black Lives Matter, Syrian refugees or Muslims, he is saying “they” are different and dangerous. The messages Cruz and Patrick are sending are ones of separation. These men are not saving the individual. They are facilitating the decay of American diversity.
This Tribune Festival, Republicans circumvented the hard questions about institutional inequality and structural racism by claiming they wanted to focus on the individual. But until we make decisions that address social injustices in Texas and the U.S., we will not be able to offer all our individual citizens equality of opportunity.
MacLean is an advertising sophomore from Austin. Follow her on twitter @maclean_josie