Monday, December 7, 2009

Now that we've put that strawman to rest...



The makers of this ad, now allegedly running on Fox News, want you to know that simply opposing Barack Obama's healthcare plan does not make one a racist. You might note, as I have, that no one has really made this charge. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is mentioned in the ad and who made waves by stating what many were thinking about the role race has played in opposition to President Obama, said:

"When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds," the Democrat who served from 1977-1981 told students at Emory University.

"I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American.

"It's a racist attitude, and my hope is and my expectation is that in the future both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders will take the initiative in condemning that kind of unprecedented attack on the president of the United States," Carter said. Read more...



What many people believe, I think rightfully, is that the coded rhetoric of some on the right is very telling. Signs at Tea Parties featuring Barack Obama as a monkey or foreign terrorist say something about how the people carrying them view the President's race. The barely-veiled threats about the "tree of liberty" issued by gun-toting activists say something about the unique level of vitriol directed toward this particular president. The insistence that a short-form state-issued birth certificate and a birth announcement from 1961 is not enough to prove that Obama is an American reveals a determination to view people of color as "other," especially if, through family ties, they may have been exposed to Islam. The way Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck slyly play on the fears of some white people that an Obama presidency is a harbinger of black revenge--that the president himself is a virulent racist--reveals something about how these icons of the right view their constituency.

It is not opposing Barack Obama's healthcare plan, which has plenty of critics among people of color and progressives, that points to a person's racial prejudice. It is brandishing signs featuring the president as a racial charicature. It is threatening violence to get "my country back." It is refusing to believe that a biracial man who has traveled and lived abroad and who counts some Muslims as family members could possibly be a true-blue American. It is insisting that, in the grand old tradition of Reconstruction Era propaganda, black people put in charge of government will seek retribution against whites for centuries-old grievances, all while tossing chicken bones and making a mockery of the Constitution. These things reflect racial prejudice and racism.

Of course, the narrative revealed by the "I Guess I'm a Racist" ad is much simpler, especially if you are less interested in useful dialogue about healthcare and/or race in America than being defensive and using a hot-button strawman issue to rile up your base.

What is also frustrating about this ad is that, to resonate with viewers' simplistic views of race, it relies on a too-commonly-held misperception about race bias in our society--that is that only the truly wicked hold racial prejudices. Those concerned and knowledgeable about anti-racism know this isn't true by a long shot. But the ad wants us to believe that the people it features could never be race biased. We are to look at the faces of these folks who could be our friends and neighbors and decide that the idea of them being race biased is patently absurd, and thus so are charges of racism against some opponents of healthcare. We could see it if they were racist, right? They'd be sporting white hoods or swastikas. Everyone knows good people are never swayed by their racial prejudices. Everyone knows that...

...decent looking, middle class, average everyday people can't be race biased.

...black people and other people of color can't be race biased.

...edgy, progressive-looking types can't be race biased.

...educated people, like physicians, can't be race biased.

...a mother with a baby can't be race biased.

All of these notions are, of course, horse shit. I look at the actors in the ad stating incredulously "I guess I'm a racist," and I think, "Well, perhaps you are." I cannot make a sound judgement without hearing their views and witnessing their actions. Just looking at them proves nothing.

I don't care so much about this ad. It is a foolish exercise tossed into the right wing echo chamber. It is the new breed of conservative doing what they do best--muddying nuanced discussion and making relations between Americans worse to better activate their base. The folks who think charges of racism against some of Obama's opponents are not about their own behavior, but about Obama's race, will see this ad and smugly nod their heads. The rest of us will roll our eyes.

12 comments:

Satsuma said...

It's a dumb ad, because you can't take a 2-5 secnd statement as evidense that a person is racist or not. Most men I know don't think they are sexists, but to me they are. They have no clue that their words are offensive to women, that they are dominating an entire conversation while women have to sit and listen to them blather on about women in swimsuits etc. And don't get me going on the homophobes out there who think everything is fine.
I don't even think many white people in the south of say 1959 thought they were racists either. So the ad is meaningless in every way.

Reggie said...

I guess I'm racist.....

I have concerns about the healthcare initiative; and yet, I believe that ALL Americans should be covered under a national universal healthcare bill. It's clear to me that many of the crazies that go out to the tea parties and other protesters to our new president are clearly racist. It's not because they don't agree, as the add implies. It's all about the signage they're carrying and exactly what they're saying. Comparing our president to an ape or a monkey.......what is that, if not racist?!? Making comments about fried chicken and watermelon or someone suggesting that his chief of staff use "gorilla glue" to keep him in his seat is what?!? What purpose does it fulfill to say something like that if it's not racist?!?

I'm Black and I Travel! said...

What's truly sad in all this is that after all these decades, the racists STILL think their coded language is actually fooling somebody. Were the feelings behind it all not so toxic, it would actually be hilarious, in a pathetic sort of way.

Greg Gross, editor
"I'm Black and I Travel!

NOLAradfem said...

part I
I...am...nearly speechless...with outrage.

I swear, I may have now seen it all.

As a white person, and a southern white, and, as we have discussed, a descendent of slave-holding sugar planters, I know damn good and well these two things:

1) very few white people think they are racist,* and feeling that they have been accused of being racist makes them feel angry and attacked (projection much?) - thus, this is the sickest and quickest way to keep heating up their angry right-wing base.

cont'd

NOLA radfem said...

part II:

2) with the exception of a minority of white people who have done conscious, serious anti-racism work, whites generally HATE it that - in their view - blacks always make themselves out to be "victims".** It's what is behind the disproportionate outrage over any government benefits (which are incorrectly believed by whites to mostly go to blacks; they don't, of course, since the typical recipient of welfare-type benefits is a white woman with two kids whose WHITE husband was abusive or left her, but, hey, since when do members of privileged groups let statistics stand in the way of their biases?), affirmative action, extra points in colllege admitions, etc - all the argument comes down to "they" must think "someone owes them" since they "act like victims" (which is absurd for them to do, of course, because WHAT, praytell, could they possibly have to be angry about, right??) Which then becomes "why don't THEY pull themselves up by their bootstraps
instead of ACTING LIKE VICTIMS," which magically absolves white of any of their own responsibility for any of it - TA-DA - "if THEY are just going to sit around and act like victims, why do I care that Orleans Parish schools are falling apart while suburban Jefferson's are doing pretty well? They don't want to fix Orleans - they just want to sit around and be victims, always someone else's fault." (even MORE projection much??) KNOWING that this is one of the biggest (can't think of the right word - already took a pain pill for a toothache but had to respond to this as soon as I read it OR ELSE...lol)...that the "victim-acting" charge is one of the BIGGEST drivers of completely irrational white anger towards blacks, they put together a video trying to get whites to think that SOMEBODY (somebody black, presumably, ooh, maybe Obama himself?) is making Obama out to be the black "victim,"*** which is all the more reason to hate him because, I say again,
it's the ultimate unforgiveable for whites when it comes to blacks (it is exactly what is meant by that sickening term "playing the race card - what frickin' CARD?).

NOLA radfem said...

part III:
And I think it's the ultimate unforgiveable for us whites to come across because of our own collective guilt, our personal guilt, our blindness to white privilege and our strong need to deny that white privilege so we can continue to worship at the altar of the mythological great American meritocracy. After all, if racial minorities or women really WERE acknowledged as victims of racism and sexism then with that acknowledgment of any kind of real harm, any kind of victimization, the meritocracy myth would be shattered! And we can't have that, not here in America! Members of privileged groups would have to get real about the fact that, while life hasn't given them freebies or the easy life either (my white male husband was homeless at 15 and had to enlist at 17, literally, just to have
meals and a cot), they HAVE started a bit closer to the finish line than have others merely by virtue of their race or gender and in some ways continue to get to take extra steps that others don't. Whites - and men - can't bear to face that, that head start of theirs, as it would make their accomplishments perhaps not ENTIRELY their own (an understandably threatening and demoralizing idea to anyone), thus the OUTRAGE over anything suggesting someone else is somehow a "victim" of 400 years of demonstrable and viscious sexism and racism; it comes across to them as a very personal attack. And by making Obama a "victim,"*** according to this mysterious 12%****, it gives ALL whites permission to be even more viscious in their Obama-hating if they choose.

I hope this rant is coherent. Sorry re the pain pills. I just couldn't hold back, Tami! Sorry = I hope this didn't come out too incoherent!I will write about this tomorrow on my blog, do a better job, and send you what I come up with. I am just OUTRAGED. As a white person, I just...I KNOW what the conversations around white people's dinner tables are like and this kind of b.s., where I KNOW what strings they are pulling, blatantly playing to what whites think and fear and rage about and never say in public...I'm so angry my head could explode (well I do have a toothache too, but...lol).

Shameless. Shameless racist hateful, manipulating bastards, whoever made that ad. Hey, DO we know who made it?

NOLA radfem said...

part III:
And I think it's the ultimate unforgiveable for us whites to come across because of our own collective guilt, our personal guilt, our blindness to white privilege and our strong need to deny that white privilege so we can continue to worship at the altar of the mythological great American meritocracy. After all, if racial minorities or women really WERE acknowledged as victims of racism and sexism then with that acknowledgment of any kind of real harm, any kind of victimization, the meritocracy myth would be shattered! And we can't have that, not here in America! Members of privileged groups would have to get real about the fact that, while life hasn't given them freebies or the easy life either (my white male husband was homeless at 15 and had to enlist at 17, literally, just to have
meals and a cot), they HAVE started a bit closer to the finish line than have others merely by virtue of their race or gender and in some ways continue to get to take extra steps that others don't. Whites - and men - can't bear to face that, that head start of theirs, as it would make their accomplishments perhaps not ENTIRELY their own (an understandably threatening and demoralizing idea to anyone), thus the OUTRAGE over anything suggesting someone else is somehow a "victim" of 400 years of demonstrable and viscious sexism and racism; it comes across to them as a very personal attack. And by making Obama a "victim,"*** according to this mysterious 12%****, it gives ALL whites permission to be even more viscious in their Obama-hating if they choose.

I hope this rant is coherent. Sorry re the pain pills. I just couldn't hold back, Tami! Sorry = I hope this didn't come out too incoherent!I will write about this tomorrow on my blog, do a better job, and send you what I come up with. I am just OUTRAGED. As a white person, I just...I KNOW what the conversations around white people's dinner tables are like and this kind of b.s., where I KNOW what strings they are pulling, blatantly playing to what whites think and fear and rage about and never say in public...I'm so angry my head could explode (well I do have a toothache too, but...lol).

Shameless. Shameless racist hateful, manipulating bastards, whoever made that ad. Hey, DO we know who made it?

NOLA radfem said...

part IV:
*My policy is never to believe a white person who claims they are not at all racist (there may be a few, a handful of real 100% non-racist whites, but it's not much of the white population, and it's a pin tip compared to those who THINK they aren't). Of course I learned racism as a child (you read on my blog last year about the two years in elementary school when my best friend was black and how stunned I was at the reaction I got from my mom when I asked if Leslie could spend the night - remember "a child has to be taught to hate," and, oh, yeah, ya'll, we were taught all right); for a white person to claim they grew up in the U.S. and have NO racial bias is like saying they never drank the water. Don't believe it. Of course the racism I was taught as a child is still in me. Unlike most whites, however, I KNOW it's there and I have worked HARD - and keep doing so - to shine my own light inside my soul, to search it out, to do my homework about what
subtle signs to look for, to listen to what these things are like in the lives of others, etc. I'm sure I don't always get it right, but I am working on it, as a lifelong journey of mine. But when a white person just casually says, "I don't see color," well, I don't see somebody who has ever looked far into his or her own heart, which means they can't be an a journey toward improvement. DaNile - it ain't just the big river in Egypt.

**This is a favorite initial charge for a man to make to a feminist as well - "you're making yourself out to be a victim. Why are you angry? You know, we're never really gonna work with you if you act like an angry victim like that" (yeah, like you really ever would have anyway, bud). I will speak for myself only - yes, THIS feminist does see herself as a VICTIM of misogyny and isn't afraid to use the word - when I was twice raped by someone a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than I and was, at the same time, called "bitch" and told other hateful things that I can not even repeat, that sealed it that this wasn't about a guy being horny, but a guy hating and therefore hurting me AS A WOMAN (a hate crime), so I say again, a VICTIM of patriarchal woman-hating and refuse to apologize for the word "victim" no matter how many men want to debate me over it and make that a given in the official terms of the debate.

***Do you remember by chance my post last year about the Jeremiah Wright thing, about how whites in general and the media had been trying, without success, until then to peg Obama into one of the black stereotypes with which they are familiar? This "victim" thing is another example - this is a black stereotype EVERY white person knows - a shorthand whites use to convey their racism to other whites.

****re the mysterious 12% - Big ass deal; this proves what? More than 12% believe Elvis is still alive but hiding (and probably jamming in Paris with Jim Morrison), that we never really landed on the moon, that UFO's exist, and so on). Twelve percent is not an especially significant or alarming trend in public opinion - not even close, but the makers of this video want us to think it is big and worrisome.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I totally agree with you. I watched the vid before reading your comments and I had the same thought - how absolutely preposterous to actually make the statement that nice-looking people couldn't possibly be racists.

cassdawn said...

this is the same crap i have been hearing since well, forever, but in specific to the president, since at least the beginning of 2008.

it usually goes like this 'obama . . . ruining our country . .. and i'm tired of hearing that i don't like him because he's black' it's important to note that when that last piece of the announcement is made; i haven't said anything. in fact, it is that statement that generally alerts me that this person is in fact opposed based on race. i know lots of people who don't like obama and his policies for whom it isn't about race. they are not the people telling me it isn't about race. i think there are three anti-obama groups: those who are just against his policies, those who are just against the fact that he's a black man and then those who are against his policies and the fact that he's black is the insult to the injury. likely most fall in the last category

as to the commercial itself. that is one of the craziest things i've ever seen. before i even get into the more obvious stuff "12% of voters think opposition is due to racism" that is not a large number of voters. and yet this is what they are setting out to combat??

as for carter's statements - words have meanings. carter didn't say 'people don't like him because he's black' he said "overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity". because yes, it would be problematic if anyone tried to say - hey, ya gotta like him because he's black. but for the life of me i don't know who the hell has said that.

and of course throwing two black men into this commercial - well, that just seals the deal right? frankly, i think the fact that these people appeared in this commercial is evidence that they are racist. or at the very least that they do not believe racism is an actual problem. otherwise they wouldn't have been party to trivializing it in this manner.

i live in supposedly the bluest state in the union. i was in a neighborhood bar when obama was elected. definitely a red spot so i didn't expect anyone to be happy about it but . . . what i heard was a man announcing to the bar that:
"people only voted for him because they were afraid of being called racist"
-- i'm not kidding. he was basically espousing a reverse bradley effect.
and
"now 'those people' are going to think they can do whatever they want"
- - - that one sent my head in a spin. first of all, i thought 'those' people were supposed to have the right to do whatever they wanted anyway. unless he was talking about unlawful or immoral behaviour or . .. i don't know . . . it still makes my brain break and it was over a year ago.

the truth is, given some of the things i hear, i'm still a little shocked he was elected at all.

foreverisamoment said...

Good grief. Thanks for putting in words the source of my heartburn. It is so overwhelmingly clear to me how absurd that commercial is, yet I know so many people will see it and thing "yeah!". Wish we could all sit down at one big round table and work through this sort of bs once and for all. Until then, thank you from the bottom of my heart for using your mind and words to express so very clearly the hazards of rightous thinking we face in our world today.

Cindy said...

Can we file this under "I'm not a racist but..." ?

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