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?


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