No sooner did an African American take the oath of office as the President of the United States than racists (and those who tolerate them) began slathering on the euphemisms and buzz words for making opposition to him credible. Remember the e-mails that made the rounds? The ones with “bones in noses” and “watermelons on the White House lawn?” And the response, “We were only joking.”
Those who found this cartoon amusing are racists. Purely and simply racist. Those who took these people seriously are enablers .. consider CNN’s “debate” about whether this obnoxious drivel was “Racist or Satirical.” There’s no debate here. The cartoon is clearly, obviously, evidently racism. How do we know this? A black man as a “savage.” A black man as a “witch doctor.” Enough people were indignant about this offensive cartoon that its advocates slunk off to find more fodder for their e-mail lists.
However, the obvious racists are relatively easy to deal with – and even easier to shun. Those “dens of lone wolves,” the Internet’s dark corners of hate and intolerance can be monitored, the “patriots” can be watched, and the hate-mongers prosecuted. It’s the enablers of institutionalized and personal racism who seem more problematic. Perhaps we’ll be able to move forward if we shatter some persistent myths.
The Myth of Two Sides
In the current cable news template, there must be “two sides” to an issue. Let’s revert to the day someone at CNN decided to produce a segment on that 2009 cartoon. Yes, they decided, the cartoon was, indeed, racist, but why was the question posed at all? Well, gee, it could, it might, it may look in some circles, … like racism, but it could also be political criticism… Really? No, to anyone with any sensitivity, or an IQ above cauliflower, it was racism. Moving along the continuum from “we’re just joking” we get to “can’t you take a joke?” Other presidents have had horrible cartoons drawn and published about them, why are we so sensitive about a black president? For the near-veggies who might read this: It’s because he is a black man, and black men have been vilified for centuries in this part of the world for being “savage,” and “wild,” and “emotional,” and “lustful,” and … we could keep going here, but that would only serve to raise blood pressure. So, let’s get to the point: Racist and ethnic jokes aren’t funny. Except to racists. But, but, but… African Americans (and blondes and Poles) do it? That still doesn’t make it right. The ‘everybody does it’ response is usually the province of immature adolescents trying to explain their misbehavior to the parents. We should be a bit more mature.
The Myth of the Mirrors
Another myth which should hit the skids is the banal “speaking out about racism is divisive.” Well, obviously, yes. As well it should be. Who wants to be lumped into the same category with racists?
Remember the Twitter Fit from the Right when the President commented on the murder of Trayvon Martin? The Right echoed George Zimmerman’s whining about the President “rushing to judgment,” and said the President’s comment “pitted American against American.” [Hill] It’s “race-baiting” to talk about race?
“…the allegation is that simply talking about race in America makes you a racist. It is, as Boehlert called it, “a very odd brand of projection” that’s “very weird and complicated,” but that’s where the roles of endless repetition and cognitive closure come in. They naturalize and normalize what would otherwise clearly be both arbitrary and bizarre.” [Salon]
If we boiled the “endless repetition and cognitive closure” down to its essentials what comes out is – If you talk about racial issues in ways that make racists uncomfortable, i.e. it makes people confront their own racism, it must be ‘race-baiting.’ When this message moves inextricably closer to its inevitable extension we can no longer speak of a whole host of topics which cause conservatives to squirm.
We can’t have a national discussion about institutional racism in employment, housing, or health care outcomes because … we’d be “divisive.”
We can’t have a national discussion about voting rights and the African American community, and other communities of color, because … we’d be ‘divisive.’
We can’t have a national civil debate about the social costs of mass incarceration of African Americans and other people of color, because … we’d be ‘divisive.’
And, Heaven Help Us, we can’t have a discussion about policing in America because … we’d be ‘divisive.” Worse still, we’d be “race-baiting,” as asserted by the Louisville, Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police. [Full letter here]
The Myth of A Non-Partisan World
I think I’m going to gag at the very next assertion that what we need in this country is “healing,” and “bipartisanship.” There never was, and never will be, a harmonic idyllic session of any democratically elected ruling body gracefully gliding over issues and points of disagreement with elegance and aplomb. And yet, this is the standard by which some of the Chattering Classes measure the effectiveness of legislators and legislation. “The bill had bi-partisan support,” as if that automatically made the bill any better law. Yes, politics is the art of the possible. And, yes, pragmatism usually makes more progress than strident partisanship. However, there are some points at which we should agree, and one of the prime ones in American life is that racism is wrong.
The racists are aware of this. Why else would they be quick to tell us that they were only joking, or that they are merely being satirical? Why else would they begin obnoxious expressions with “I’m not racist, but…?” Why else would they whine so loudly if it’s suggested their own brand of projection is nothing more than an attempt to ‘normalize’ what is patently arbitrary and downright bizarre?
Sometimes wrong is just wrong. We can debate the finer points of trade agreements, international arms agreements, educational policy, health care insurance needs, and so many other topics, but this is 2015 and we should no longer have to make racists comfortable and racism tolerable. Nor do we need to tolerate its symbols.
The Stars and Bars, isn’t a Redneck Flag — unless the aforementioned Redneck is a racist. It isn’t a symbol of southern heritage – unless that heritage is hate.
NASCAR, yes NASCAR, got the message back in 2005:
“NASCAR has a policy that prevents use of the Stars and Bars or other controversial subjects on any car, uniform, licensed product or track facility under its control, but that doesn’t stop hard-line rebel fans from displaying it.
“We recognize that the Confederate flag is an important issue for a lot of people and as our fan base grows, we are doing what we can to break down its use and be more in the mainstream,” said Ramsey Poston, NASCAR director of corporate communications.” [LA Times]
Mainstream America doesn’t sport the traitorous Stars and Bars, the battle flag of a revolt, the cornerstone of which was the preservation of the Peculiar Institution, as expressed by the CSA vice-president when speaking about their new CSA constitution:
“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [Alexander Stephens, March 21, 1861]
Is there any good reason why we have to tolerate the display of a flag which was truly and historically divisive – physically, philosophically, and morally divisive? It did divide us – dividing us between those who thought chattel slavery and all its horrible implications was a physical, philosophical, and moral good, from those who believed chattel slavery was a cancer in the body politic and a moral catastrophe. It took four bloody years, but the Good Guys won. Someone made a picture of it.
So, if reading this post made you “uncomfortable” I’m not the least bit sorry. I think there’s a better use for my capacity for sympathy and sorrow – for the victims of that heinous act of domestic terrorism by a horrid racist in South Carolina.