Thursday, September 17, 2009

The "ism" that dare not speak its name

I never thought I'd be quoting JLo but, "Ain't it funny?" ...How things work, I mean.

After a campaign season that revealed America's best, but also the worst of its racism and sexism, Barack Obama emerged victorious as the nation's first black president.

Now, predictably, the mainstream was eager to pronounce that racism was dead, but brown folks and our allies who care about equality knew better. We knew because we noticed the way scared citizens rushed to stock up on guns and ammo following Obama's election. We noted the way First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters were talked about--their bodies and hair analyzed and criticized. We noted the racially-coded and flat out racist e-mails and products that surfaced, bearing the US President's image. We heard the ever-more-inflammatory rhetoric of right wing talking heads, crafted to spark white resentment and racial tensions--Southern Strategy for the new millennium. We noted the attempts to denigrate the Supreme Court's first Latina member. We were reminded that even a high-profile, well-respected Harvard professor can be arrested for little in his own home...if he is black. We learned that an official birth certificate issued by a person's state of birth is only official if said person is not black and running for president. We found that when a Southern Congressman, a former ally of Congress' most unrepentant former Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, screams invective at the black President of the United States, during a presidential address on the floor of the House, he becomes a hero. We understood what it meant that Van Jones was tarred with the false claim that he had been arrested and imprisoned during the "Rodney King riots" (among other things). (Besides, radical conservatives were okay in the White House for eight years, but a radical lefty--a black one--will never do.) We noticed, over the months, as Joan Walsh recently pointed out in an excellent article on Salon, Barack Obama was being "blackened" by his opposition, the better to stir a certain fearful, incurious, xenophobic and provincial segment of the population. And that segment of the population (sadly, far larger than some of us once suspected) has responded. Oh, have they responded...

I have not heard reasoned debate on liberal vs.conservative ideology since I-don't-know-when. The unhinged, wild-eyed braying chronicled by cameras at health care town halls and the 9/12 march on Washington last weekend is not about supply-side economics or so-called conservative values. There is something else that makes grown men and women readily believe that the President of the United States is formalizing a plan to kill the elderly and infirm. There is something else that makes people believe that a moderate Democrat president with seemingly not a radical bone to be found is a bloody Marxist. There is something else that makes mainstreaming, TV-friendly conservatives reveal the race-biased idealogy that they usually take great pains to hide. There is something else that gets an US-born citizen branded a shadowy, foreigner--a Manchurian candidate bent on subverting everything that is American. There is something else that makes men show up at town hall meetings with elected officials, strapped with firearms and issuing thinly-veiled threats about the "tree of liberty." There is something else behind those signs. Oh, those awful signs!

It is race.

It is the color of President Barack Obama's skin that has made the difference in how his opponents and the people they influence view him, his policies, the people around him and his very existence. Oh, Bill Clinton drove the right crazy. By the end of his second term, to hear Republicans tell it, Bill and Hillary Clinton were responsible for everything up to and including the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. But even that Newt Gingrich-led madness wasn't like this. Death threats to the president did not increase 400 percent in the first months of Clinton's term.

It's race.

Black folks know it. And many of us are growing fearful about our country's racial climate. A diarist on Daily Kos wrote a searing post about her fears for herself and her family:

I did not want to write this diary but the nastiness is rising so fast out there that I have to share how I feel.

The other day my daughter and I were walking to the PO and someone yelled
'Black Bitches" at us from a driving truck.

I even worry about standing at the bus stop alone waiting for my daughter to get off the bus. The only place to stand is right on the corner of the mains street and it is very quiet and empty.

There is a Confederate flag hanging prominently on our way out of the neighborhood.

The school speech given by Obama was banned by our kid's school with no notice sent out and my daughter really felt hurt by it.

What am I to tell her? I told her the truth.

Everytime we turn on the tv we see people ranting and raving and hating our President.

I go to bed with a feeling of disquiet every night and I go through the day with the same feeling and it is not going away.

feel as if something is in the air: as if something is imminent.

There is a Preacher calling for the President to die.

The President is treated like a boy in Congress and the person who did it is now a hero.

Obama signs with him posed as a witch doctor.

Signs of him compared to a Gorilla.

Prominent politicians and radio personalities are spewing racist invective daily and all I see is a rabble of white angry faces screaming in support.

Then I turn on the tv this morning to see Morning Joe with Peggy Noonan and Pat Buchanan saying Democrats are playling the race card.

African Americans know that no one listens when we talk about race. It does not matter that we face race bias every day or that our mothers and fathers did and their mothers and fathers did and so on. We know from racism. It directly impacts us. But we are not to be trusted on the subject. We could be "playing the race card." We are biased. So, too, those folks who call themselves allies--those mealy-mouthed progressives and Tim Wise-types. They are blinded by their own guilt. Would that a nice, mainstream, white fellow would speak out about the purposely-stoked racial tensions--someone with power and visibility, someone who knew first-hand the ugliness of both politics and segregated America.

President [Jimmy] Carter stated that he believed that the vast majority of demonstrations and rhetoric coming from those opposing Obama at various teabag rallies and marches are in fact acting out on deep seated racist views towards minorities , in particular Blacks.

He went on to say that there is a belief among many Whites , and he made note that they are not all from the South, who believe that Blacks and other minorities are incapable of governing this nation.

Someone said it! A former president and Nobel Laureate, no less, gave voice to the fears in the hearts of all of us who have been nervously watching irrational hatred on our TV sets each day. Perhaps now, someone will do something to end this madness. Maybe the purveyors of mistrust and bigotry, the miners of America's worst inclinations, will ease up on their rhetoric and hate speech. Maybe the sign-holders and gun-toters will go home now and we can talk about issues and the things that are really wrong with the House healthcare plan.


Jimmy Carter, good man, Christian, progressive, Mid-East peacemaker, has long been demonized on the right. Indeed, the mainstream media has often given him the side-eye--treated him like a dotty rube, gone soft and ever-more liberal and outspoken in his advanced years. Support for Carter's statement on race found most support only in the usual progressive quarters. And then...
Of course we knew this had to be President Obama's response. He cannot say what we know he must be thinking, what his wife must be thinking, what everyone around him must be thinking. He cannot say that he is the victim of race bias, because that not only inflames racists, but makes other good people uncomfortable. We want so to believe in post-racial America.

Some even say that, by acknowledging the role that race plays in Obama opposition, Carter has damaged "the cause."

We'll have no truth-telling 'round here. We dare not ever call racism for what it is. The good politicians in Congress who want to be sent back to the halls of power come election time know this. That is why they rushed to distance themselves from Carter's opinions, too. Anyone who has been paying attention these days knows one thing for sure, it is worse to charge racism than to actually be a racist. And so, many of the same folks who are supposed to be on the side of racial equality; the same folks who have watched the tenor of opposition to President Obama with horror, shame and fear; will abet race-baiting with their silence and by backing away from one of the few people with the guts to speak the word "racism."

Ain't that funny?


recursiveparadox said...

It just blows my mind that they can't/refuse to see it. It should be obvious.

This hasn't happened for any other president. Not any other one. And nothing Obama is suggesting is all that radical at all. In fact, in many respects, he is woefully conservative leaning in his moderate views (much like many Dems) and very ready to compromise.

If they would just take a moment to look at his politics and then look at how people are acting, it should be obvious. Giant pink elephant wearing a top hat in the room obvious.

This so called post racial America we apparently live in is a delusion. And it gives me a headache how obvious it all seems nowadays that I've gone out and learned what was going on.

RiPPa said...

This was a very powerful and excellent read Tami. I'm glad that I'm not the only one who notices that it is harder to call or draw attention to racism than it is to be racist. But hey, people like ourselves who share the same color must be imprisoned by our victim-hood and paranoia, no?

Sabrina Messenger said...

Hello, Tami: I'm pretty new to reading your blog but so far I agree with what I've read thus far. It is true, racism is the big "elephant in the room" at the moment. No one wants to admit it exists and those who do are accused of playing the "race card" and risk losing friendships and relationships over it. To me, speaking the truth as one sees it is not about playing any "cards" but of trying to identify a problem and remedy a situation. Right now it seems like people of all races are so keyed up and on edge, and it doesn't help when entities like Fox News and conspiracy theorists fan the flames. To me, whether one is Republican, Democrat or of no affiliation...we can't afford as Americans to be in denial. We need to face the issues, and work on them and go on from there. Thank you for posting this. I've written something similar at my blog and I hope it will not make things worse but I figure I must at least make the effort, so that hurts can be healed and people and nations can be strengthened again. God bless you.

Sassy J said...

I, too, feel that certain disquiet aura that "something" is going to happen. And as soon as it does, those naysayers will be backfooting to discredit the lies they spread.

I had just left this eyebrow spot in DC, on my way to meet up with some friends at the National History Musuem. I was peturbed that traffic was everywhere and I was making my way to Eastern Market to park and ride the Metro. I'm on the train and I notice all these white people with signs. Me and this man where staring each other down and I wanted to let him and the others that were around to see that I was not afraid of what they were there for (at the time I didn't know the Tea Baggers where in town). I'm gonig up the escaltor and looking across at the people going down. I looked them all in the eye as I read their hateful and disrespectful signs. As I exited the station and began walking towards the Capital, I realized something was *really* going on. That's when I began to get scared. I was looking around and I was the ONLY brown/black face sans DC's finest patroling the area.

It was really uncomfortable for me to be walking in DC a couple of weeks ago. I felt, that at any minute, these people would say something mean and hurtful to me, or even worse, attack me. I was more afraid that I would be able to defend myself. Luckily, nothing happened.

Ironically, UCNW was having their Black Family Reunion that day, as well!

But yeah, something is in the air.

Wildflower said...

I wish it was required for every right winger in America to read your post.

Julia said...

This is an amazing post, Tami. Thank you.

perlhaqr said...

I'm not going to address any of the other points, because most of them are addressed to "conservatives", and I'm not one.

But, as a Certified Gun Nut I can assure you that we'd have rushed out and stocked up in quantity every bit as fast if Hillary Clinton had been elected President of the United States. Heck, possibly even more so, given that her husband presided over one of the most obnoxious 10 years of the firearm enthusiasts' life. (I refer to the tenure of the '94 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, not his terms as President.)

It has precisely nothing to do with the color of his skin, and everything to do with the perception that he's going to make it harder to come by such things in the future.

I know a lot of firearms enthusiasts, from all over the country, and while there is perhaps a selection bias, given that these are all people I'm willing to talk to regularly, not a single one of them cares what color the man is one iota, but care instead deeply about what they see his leadership doing to the country.

Actually, I suppose that can no longer be said to be true, unfortunately. Many of us have come to care about the color of the President's skin, because in every corner of the land, we are reviled as racists whenever we disagree with him, no matter how calmly we state our objections. One is forced to presume that would not be the case if the President was white. I wish it were not the case now.

When every argument is met with baseless accusations of racism, we stop listening. Perhaps the adherents of the President's philosophies do not care. But I cannot see how it does anyone except the sowers of chaos any good for there to be less communication between opposing forces.

Tami said...


What exactly in Barack Obama's platform makes people think that he will restrict access to guns? That hasn't been an issue in the front of national Democratic politics in quite some time.

The idea that EVERYONE who disagrees with President Obama is branded a racist is a strawman argument. I have had many debates with white Republican friends about our differing views, say, on whether the Constitution allows for a federal health plan, or the role of the free market in health care. We have differeing ideologies and that is fine. I respect them, even while I disagree.

But then, those Republicans that I have healthy, reasoned debate with aren't marching around carrying posters with Barack Obama drawn as a witch doctor, complete with a bone through his nose. They don't think Obama is trying to kill their elderly relatives. And they don't think he is an African Manchurian candidate. EVERYONE is not being branded a racist, but the behavior of a very high-profile, vocal bunch has all the markings of racism.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Once again, I am just so proud of Jimmy Carter for reminding everybody that white Christian southerners can be ALRIGHT!!!! (((preens at His Greatness)))

It's interesting, I argue constantly on Twitter with the Glenn Beckoids, and the concept that "it's racial" drives them round the bend, bigtime, so that means we must continue to say it and always point it out. If Obama is too (politically) scared to go there, I can dig that, so it is up to US to point it out.

Also, what Carter knows in his gut is real: progressive whites must be the ones to say this. Conservatives are not even listening to YOU say it, which of course is more evidence of their racism that they will not acknowledge. We need to hit them over the head with it, the way I did when I accused the teabaggers of wearing white sheets to protect themselves in the rain on Saturday. (I got tons of nasty rightwing Tweets, but lots more followers too!)

They know perfectly well that RACE is the reason, and that's why they freak out when we remind them. So: REMIND THEM ALL THE TIME.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

So true, Tami, so true. Something else that troubles me is the fact that the GOP is now having Mr. Steele stand up and say that these are not racist issues. So now, people who are uncomfortable acknowledging racism and looking for an excuse are letting him speak for all African Americans. The old, "THAT black man said so, it must be true" thing.

I wish that more in the mainstream media would stand up and call it what it is.

Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Why is so much hatred being hurled toward President Obama? That's a no-brainer!

He's a Kenyan born Arab terrorist who wants to bring DEATH PANELS to this grand and glorious land of ours so he can pull the plugs on Granny and Gramps.

HE'S A DANGED LEFT WING SOCIALIST whose education was funded by the American Communist Party, MoveOn.Org, Barbara Streisand and Ed Asner.

He named his daughters Sasha and Malia - YO! WHAT'S UP WITH THAT???

He would prefer to have dinner with Mahatma Gandhi over Ronald Reagan. RONALD REAGAN!!!

He wants to start a TROTSKY FOR TOTS program for our children.

He's just an evil person!



My fellow Americans, heed my warning,

The Big, Black, Bolshevik Bogeyman is gonna git'cha!

It has not a thing to do with race.

I am a white person. I would not lie to you.

But seriously, folks....

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Razzberry Jam said...

Wow, just wow!! Awesome.

OneBrownSnowPea said...

Michael Eric Dyson was on several news programs saying that their is definitely an under current of racism in this whole thing. But honestly white people don't get it. Dyson was on the today show, being interviewed by Matt Lauer and Lauer said thats not true and tried to cut Dyson off while he was speaking. I actually thought Lauer was ok, but people show their true colors. Dyson stated why are Americans in denial and people refuse to see whats in front of their face.

Why do White folks hate to hear the truth? Their privileged and were taught their were the "good guy". They don't want criticism thrown their way, but expect you to take it your you to take it your whole life.

Anonymous said...

When that yo yo called "Liar" at the President in the halls of congress, I thought OH MY GOD, they can't stand a black man! No person has ever yelled out at a president giving a speech to congress ever, or at least it was never recorded in the days before TV.

This is a real warning folks!

I can't see where people are getting these wild ideas of Obama. Hey, he's an ordinary liberal guy who works hard. He seems very middle of the road in many ways to me. How the heck would he have gotten so many votes if he'd been a wild eyed Marxist, so puleeez.

No, Dixie is rising again. Those flags are waving, those guns are coming out of the closet. White folks are real mad that this guy got elected, real mad. I think this segment of the population really thought Obama wasn't going to get elected. Most people thought this when the election first started. So surprise!

And believe me, white folks don't get it a lot. My own highly educated parents think Obama is a socialist and out to have the government kill our country. My own Mom says this, and no matter what I say, she calls him a socialist. They read the "Weekly Standard" oy! I get so frustrated with my Mom lately. She supported Adlai Stevenson for heaven's sake!!

What can we do? Well we need to get out to town halls, and we need to talk to moderates, and we need to help each other. I've been warning people about this, trying to point this stuff out! It'll be hard work, but we can do it!

rmg said...

I concur.

Satsuma said...

love the allusion to the love that dare not speak its name...oscar wilde I believe :-)

PureGracefulTree said...

Eloquently written as always, Tami. I have nothing to add that others haven't already said...just, thank you for telling it like it is.

ac said...

Preach Tami, preach. What happened to General Holder's admonishment that we all needed to grow a little courage to have the hard discussions about race? Woudn't this be one of those times? What happened to "teachable moments"? sigh. President Carter speaks truth and gets little to no respect for it. Daisy deadhead is right sadly - we don't even have enough credibility or agency to be heard on the matter, so I guess it is up to our allies to carry the message. And if that ain't indicative of the institutionalized racism that exists in this country....but goodness no, let's not talk about it.

perlhaqr said...

I'm afraid I have to judge President Obama's potential threat to the Second Amendment by his past actions, rather than his presently publicly listed platform. You are correct, that he's been very careful to not imply that he's going to try anything. Nonetheless, his past actions make those of us who favor broader gun rights nervous. And hey, if we're wrong, then we spent all that money for nothing and we'll have less of it to give to Republican (or Libertarian, in my case) candidates, right?

You may claim that it's a strawman to say that everyone who disagrees with the President is being branded a racist, but I'm afraid that I have to report from this side of the discussion that many on the other have not been so narrow with their claims of such.


No person has ever yelled out at a president giving a speech to congress ever, or at least it was never recorded in the days before TV.

Wait, seriously? C'mon, at least try a little research here, Anonymous. Democrats regularly booed at Dubya during his State of the Union Addresses, and Republicans likewise gave Clinton the same treatment. That's as far back as I felt like researching, but needless to say, this isn't exactly unprecedented.


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