What is the difference between Hank Williams Jr., whose latest bit of rightwing fuckery was comparing President Obama to Hitler, and Salon writer Gene Lyons, who last week, in defense of American white liberals, compared writer and respected academic Melissa Harris-Perry to the KKK for pondering in The Nation if Obama is judged differently by the white left due to racial bias? Very little. Both men speak from a place of race and gender privilege. Both men display a wariness and distrust of "uppity" Ivy League black targets, dismissing their ability and accomplishments. And both men would likely deny that their opinions are at all rooted in race bias. But Lyons, the liberal, possesses an especially dangerous form of race bias--the sort that goes defensively unexamined. The sort that recognizes that racism exists, but only over there with the rednecks and Confederate flag-wavers. The sort that uselessly defines real racism as firehouses and dogs or, in the modern era, monkey-emblazoned Tea Party signs, but remains ignorant of the institutional and subtle bias people of color confront every day. The sort that thinks an ACLU membership and logon at Daily Kos makes one immune to the entrenched biases inherent in our society--no need to proactively challenge assumptions or analyze politics or pop culture. The sort that undermines the supposed racial inclusiveness of the progressive "tent" by dismissing the lived experienced of African Americans.
How welcome am I, a black, female progressive, to feel around a supposed comrade who says this?
This just in: Not all the fools are Republicans. Recently, one Melissa Harris-Perry, a Tulane professor who moonlights on MSNBC political talk shows, wrote an article for the Nation titled “Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama.”
See, nobody ever criticized Bill Clinton, another centrist Democrat who faced a hostile Republican congress. Indeed, he was “enthusiastically re-elected” in 1996. Therefore, “[t]he 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.”
The professor actually wrote that. See, certain academics are prone to an odd fundamentalism of the subject of race. Because President Obama is black, under the stern gaze of professor Harris-Perry, nothing else about him matters. Not killing Osama bin Laden, not 9 percent unemployment, only blackness.
Furthermore, unless you’re black, you can’t possibly understand. Yada, yada, yada. This unfortunate obsession increasingly resembles a photo negative of KKK racial thought. It’s useful for intimidating tenure committees staffed by Ph.D.s trained to find racist symbols in the passing clouds. Otherwise, Harris-Perry’s becoming a left-wing Michele Bachmann, an attractive woman seeking fame and fortune by saying silly things on cable TV. Read more...Among other sins, Lyons pooh-poohs the idea that black people, the victims of racial oppression, might have a unique and valid perspective on racism, quite different from that of a racially-privileged majority that has historically been the perpetrator of said oppression. Or, should I say yadda...yadda.
Then, the writer compounds the racial offense by attacking Harris-Perry in the way men often attack women--branding her as merely "an attractive woman seeking fame and fortune."
Lyons' incredulity at race bias among liberals set against his clumsy article laden with race fail is confusing to say the least. Perhaps the Salon piece was some sort of performance art where a crafty Lyons adopts the talking points of the racially ignorant to teach us about race bias in the progressive community. If that is the case, then Huzzah to you, Gene Lyons. Good job!
More than likely this is an example of how the left often fails to make its movement truly welcoming to marginalized people. Black people are not part of the movement if we are not allowed to speak about how race and racism impacts our lives, and if our liberal allies are not willing to have serious discussions about their own racial privileges and biases. The same can be said of women in the progressive movement. If my being accepted as a progressive relies on never making white or male comrades uncomfortable by asking them to question their views or demanding justice for my race and gender, then we are not allies.