Monday, September 21, 2009

Once More With Feeling: The Slippery Slope Of Racism In America Society

Barack Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance. He tells kids to study -- and they seethe. He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness -- and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date -- and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them.
There is no slipperier slope in American society than accusing someone of being a racist. Is Joe Wilson a racist? How about Rush Limbaugh? Or Al Sharpton? Is Jimmy Carter an expert on what qualifies as racism? How about Henry Louis Gates. Or me?

My answers: Wilson is most definitely a racist while Limbaugh and Sharpton are racial agitators. Carter and Gates are indeed experts on racism, having been involved in the civil-rights struggle. I'm not an expert, but I have a blog.

That so noted, it is inaccurate to portray all of the troglodytes who bellow and curse at town hall meetings and tea parties as racists. Some certainly are, and as I have written here and here, knuckle draggers like Joe "You Lie!" Wilson simply refuse to accept Barack Obama as their duly-elected leader.

In Wilson's case this is because he shares the "inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president," as Carter accurately put it earlier this week.

The shrewd Obama sought to distance himself from the former president's remarks on all five Sunday television talk-shows (a Full Ginsberg, as the feat is known), saying that he believed the attacks had more to do with people questioning whether Washington can do anything right, while the health-care debate "has become a proxy for a broader set of issues about how much government should be involved in our economy."

The slope is nowhere more slippery than when liberals and blacks (and yes, black liberals) pull out their broad brush and paint Republicans in general and conservatives in particular as racists. This too often is pure and simple race baiting, which goes to show you that Democrats can act pretty stupidly, too.

I believe that most conservatives -- even if they didn't vote for Obama and don't agree with him -- are for the most part respectful of the man and the office. I also believe as someone who would bleed red, white and blue for his country that conservatives and I have a lot more in common than the differences between left and right amplified by the punditocracy and the shitstorm over Wilson's outburst.

While Republicans and conservatives aren't the only people who are angry and confused about the scary times in which we live, bloviating about birth certificates and funny middle names has an undeniable quality of cheap escapism. And let's remember that many of the people who populate town hall meetings and tea parties are elderly folks who grew up at a time when prejudice against blacks was barely blinked at.

In the end, crying "racist" every time someone goes off on Obama further cheapens what passes for discourse in America these days, as well as the specter of racism itself. That's not to say that people should not be called out for blatant race-based attacks. They should, and while we're on the subject, the notion that calling attention to racism feeds it is horse hockey.

Responding to attacks with policy points instead of more invective can have a doubly positive effect: A good-faith effort at discourse on a particular position can advance that position while making the attacker appear to be even more like a caveman.
From top: Ted Rall, Chris Britt, Signe Wilkinson,
Glenn McCoy and
Chip Bok

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