Friday, September 25, 2009

Yes, it's racist

Our national discussion these days would seem to focus, to a large (and, I'd argue, important) degree, on racism and the scope to which it is undermining the debate over President Obama's policy proposals. Most salient among these--of late--is the president's ambitious and Herculean effort to reform America's healthcare system.

At both the national and local levels, and among left-leaning bloggers, even, we're seeing an awful lot of denial. In the Tampa area, for example, we have Creative Loafing blogger Catherine positing that that Not everyone who disagrees with President Obama is “racist”.

Now, on its face, this statement is true. In fact, you could expand that to an even broader observation: Not everyone who disagrees with Person X (where X="whichever sex, color, faith, or sexual orientation is pertinent to the discussion") is prejudiced against X. For example, I disagree with my own husband on a number of issues, but the last thing of which anyone could or would accuse me is being anti-Italian (and regular readers know this to be true, ahem).

But Catherine's next point--in the form of a question--indicates that she, like so many on the left (including President Clinton), is leaving the all-important issue of historical context out of the equation. Catherine writes:
What if white, country-boy Kanye West had interrupted African-American, R&B singer Taylor Swift? Would this switcheroo have changed public sentiment after their now-infamous interaction at the VMAs?
Switching the race of the interruptor and interruptee--without also noting the very different histories of the behavior of each race toward the other--renders this point kind of, well, pointless. For the sake of argument, let's simplify the comparison thus: as it actually transpired, a member of a historically oppressed class interrupted, and thus upstaged, a member of the oppressor class. If the scenario had instead involved a member of the oppressor class interrupting, and thus upstaging, a member of the oppressed class, could it have been interpreted as a racially-motivated act?

And the answer to that question is, yes. And it would be a justifiable yes. Not because of any knee-jerk reaction by people who, as Catherine puts it, "...cry racism, anti-Semitism, or some other form of hate-ism, take our ball, and go home", but rather, because it is impossible to disentangle hundreds of years of oppression from the equation, simply because we're all so damned open-minded and egalitarian these days, we white folks.

Listen, I disagree--vigorously--with President Obama about several policy matters, including his ongoing stance on upholding telecom immunity, for one thing. About not going after the war criminals responsible for, firstly, lying the nation into a war of choice and secondly, engaging in violation after violation of international law, particularly those conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war. But I am not a racist by dint of my disagreeing with him, even if, given the chance, I would politely express my sentiments to the President himself (although I'd never, ever--not in a million years!--shout them out while he was speaking, much less while he was addressing a joint session of Congress in front of the world's cameras, for Heaven's sake, which restraint and good manners are all part of growing up and being British, and, as I've witnessed, generally considered part of being a good American citizen, too.)

But so much of the vitriol aimed at President Obama is laced through and through with the toxic sap of racism. And saying we "have come a long way" is little more than patting ourselves on the back. Because we haven't. Not really.

Not when a Congressman shouts You lie...! (with the unspoken suffix "...boy" implied; otherwise, he'd have simply said "You're lying" or "That's a lie"), and that Congressman happens to be a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group which, in the last decade, has been led by radical neo-Confederate secessionists who defend slavery as "a benign institution"; and further, when that Congressman happens to have been one of only seven Republicans to go against his own party and vote to keep the Dixie Rebel flag flying over the South Carolina capitol.

Not when a conservative activist--someone who of course disagrees with President Obama, but is also a Florida neurosurgeon serving as a member of the American Medical Association's House of Delegates; an energetic opponent of health-care reform; and the founder of the anti-reform group Doctors For Patient Freedom--sends out an e-mail, to an entire mailing list, which contains a photoshopped picture of the President as a tribal witch doctor (complete with horns through the nostrils), along with the comment "Funny stuff".

And no, we haven't actually come very far at all in this whole getting-beyond-racism effort when a Republican mayor in California created, this spring, a similarly widely-disseminated e-mail in which there is a picture of the White House lawn covered with watermelons and vines and bearing the legend "No Easter egg hunt this year."

History--ancient and recent alike. Context. They matter.

But as is so often the case, the darling Stephen Colbert says it best:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Blackwashing
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Protests

Also at litbrit.


At September 26, 2009 5:00 PM , Blogger Adam said...

Uh... huh. Because... Marx was all about the black people? Sorry, it was a nice try otherwise (accusing the people with whom you are arguing of not understanding some complex and ill-defined set of 'realities' is always a good strategy when even you have no idea what your argument is) but bringing in Marx is the equivalent of bringing an automatic juicer to a knife fight.

Unless, I guess, you are arguing that either of the two participants in this silliness were working class?


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