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.

Can we let Tiger be Tiger? Should we?

written by Jennifer; originally published at Mixed Race America

I've debated about whether to blog about Tiger Woods and the recent mishap that he had with his car hitting the tree and fire hydrant at 2am, the reporting in various tabloids and magazines about women claiming to have had affairs (or denying affairs) with him, and the statement on his website apologizing for "trangressions" he has made and his statement that like the rest of us, he is human and has flaws and would appreciate some privacy in this matter.

I have written in the past about Tiger--about how he is not solely responsible for whether or not there are more black golfers on the PGA and in a post titled "Let Tiger be Tiger."

But can we let Tiger be Tiger? In other words, should we, the larger public, respect his need for privacy--ignore the hype in the tabloids, switch the channel on CNN, ESPN, every major news outlet when they carry something about his alleged affairs or his car accident or anything else related to Tiger outside of his golf swing?

How much scrutiny, how much judgment should we be leveling at Tiger in the court of public opinion? How much of this matters to the readers of a blog called "Mixed Race America," beyond the fact that its author is a golfer, a Tiger Woods fan, and sees him as the subject for one of her book chapters?

I can't really speak on anyone else's behalf but my own, so let me see if I can sort this out here. There is a part of me, the anti-racist educator and activist part of me, who has long wanted Tiger to be SO MUCH MORE than he seems to be--who has wanted Tiger to be a spokesman for social justice and racial equality. That every time he accepts an endorsement from a major corporate sponsor like Gatorade or Nike or Buick, that he insists on a little PSA talking about anti-racism or anti-sexism or anti-homophobia--and the ways that golf can turn its image around as an elitist country club sport and be inclusive for everyone, including working-class kids.

It's a pipe dream, I know--a true fantasy. And in some ways, unfair to expect the golfer of color to be the one who is going to speak truth to power when we all know we need allies of all races to step up to the plate.

But nonetheless, I like many others, want Tiger to be something more than he is--a flawed human being. And in many ways, because of how ubiquitous he is in mass and popular culture--all those t.v. ads that show him as a super-human being, and all those golf tournaments in which he defied the laws of physics and the averages--winning more championships than anyone else currently playing (and perhaps, projected into the future--more than any other golfer in our lifetime)--he seems to be a super human being. Plus he seems to also care about certain causes--namely education. Setting up learning centers for kids who are largely working class and racial minorities to help them get up to speed in math and science and all those Tiger Woods golf clinics helping working class kids, especially girls and racial minorities, see golf as a path for excellence in their larger lives. He seems to care about kids--to be a role model for kids.

So how do we reconcile the news that he has clay feet--that the evidence for him cheating on his wife and family appears damning--that he is not the super human being that he is portrayed to be?

Perhaps what Tiger offers is an object lesson, as a recent New York Times article titled "Woods as Inadvertent Educator: Choices Matter" indicates. I think what we can learn from Tiger Woods is that he is human and has made mistakes--not just the allegations of infidelity, not just the accident with his Escalade--but there are countless flaws and failings that he must have, that we do not see, or that we do see but overlook because we want Tiger to be this perfect super-human role model.

But maybe the best role models are the ones who admit they are human--who admit their mistakes, apologize, and then go on and learn from them. Because that's what it means to really succeed. Not that you never fail, but that in your lowest moment, how do you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, apologize to any you have harmed, make genuine amends, and then move forward? How do you recover from an "F" on an exam? From your parents' divorce? From racist comments made by fellow students...from a teacher...from yourself--racist comments YOU have made towards others? How do we admit our mistakes and failings and grow from them?

Yes, I'm disappointed to find out that Tiger may have cheated on his wife--multiple times. It suggests a moral frailty and vanity and arrogance that doesn't sit well with me. On the other hand, I have my own frailities, vanities, and arrogances. I do want Tiger to be better than what he seems to be, if only because I want him to be a super-human role model, as unfair as it is--but like everyone else in the world, I need to remember that my desire for him to be this symbol ignores the reality of who he is--and what I'll be waiting and watching for is how he handles himself in the next few months and years. We all deserve a level of compassion--Tiger may not be able to ask for less scrutiny as a public figure, and we can condemn him for his moral failings, but I think that as a figure who seems to genuinely want to make a difference in children's lives, we should also allow him a measure of compassion.

And I'm not going to stop hoping that one day he will step up as that Mixed Race American spokesperson who champions issues of social justice. Yes, I can dream.

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