Saturday, August 27, 2011

Race and Politics in the 21st Century

It's somewhat jarring to be reading, say, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and stumble across the following exchange.
In gay conversation over our wine, after supper, he told us, jokingly, that he much admir'd the idea of Sancho Panza, who, when it was proposed to give him a government, requested it might be a government of blacks, as then, if he could not agree with his people, he might sell them. One of his friends, who sat next to me, says, "Franklin, why do you continue to side with these damn'd Quakers? Had not you better sell them? The proprietor would give you a good price."

"The governor," says I, "has not yet blacked them enough." He, indeed, had labored hard to blacken the Assembly in all his messages, but they wip'd off his coloring as fast as he laid it on, and plac'd it, in return, thick upon his own face; so that, finding he was likely to be negrofied himself, he, as well as Mr. Hamilton, grew tir'd of the contest, and quitted the government.
This is not to say that Benjamin Franklin was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, just that he was no more racist than other white people of the time.

People occasionally complain that the meaning of words has changed over time. But it's not just words, it's attitudes that evolve, as well. Ideas and terms that used to be completely acceptable are now things that you want to avoid.

But because it's hard to argue that racism doesn't exist, the right-wing now has to hide, disguise, and lie about their own bigotry in order to keep pushing us boldly backwards into the 19th Century.

Now, you should understand that I'm not trying to claim that all Republicans are racist. But when you're fishing for trout, you go to a river, not a sandbox.

It’s funny how often the right wing has to apologize for calling Obama "tar baby" or "boy, but for some reason, they keep using those very same terms. Why is that?

The answer, of course, is that it’s all about "dog whistle terminology" – the simple stereotypes that racists prefer; terms that they can slip into conversation or speeches to alert other racists that they've found a "fellow traveler."

Our friends at World Net Daily are fond of the stereotype of Obama as lazy. Last week, WND publisher Joseph Farah wrote a column where he said "You won't hear me complain that Obama is taking his 17th vacation in the last two-and-half years... We should be grateful the man has no work ethic. Just imagine the damage he would have done to the country if he did."

That's just another example of the Republican Party’s badly-hidden language of racism. Because, in reality, we know how lazy Obama is, right?

This strategy was explained in 1981 by Reagan advisor Lee Atwater.
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
Sometimes, racism comes with collateral damage. In New Jersey, for example, Assemblyman Pat Delaney resigned from his position representing the eighth district last July, when, not he, but his wife, sent an email to challenger (and former Olympic Gold medalist) Carl Lewis, which included the line "Imagine having dark skin and name recognition and the nerve to think that equalled (sic) knowing something about politics." (I wonder if it equalled knowing something about spellcheck?)

The right-wing efforts to keep race in the forefront of what we laughingly call "people's minds" take a relatively predictable course. They have to present Obama as different from "you and me," like he's somehow alien, and therefore dangerous.

One of the most infamous efforts of recent times would have to be Fox Nation's front page from two weeks ago, reprinting a story from Politico.

Have to give them points for accuracy: Obama's birthday party didn't create jobs. On the other hand, neither did John Boehner's golf game, Haley Barbour's Klan rally or Mitch McConnell masturbating to pictures of sea turtles. But since it was an unreasonable comparison, we'll ignore that part.

The primary slant to the story is the specific mention of "hip-hop" (with its connotations of "scary black thug"). Odd how Fox "News" zips past mention of hip-hop luminaries like Nancy Pelosi, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and completely ignores things like a performance by all-white pop group OK Go.

As Chris Good put it in The Atlantic:
There doesn't seem to have been a whole lot of hip hop at this BBQ, based on Politico's account, except that a DJ played some of it, along with Motown and '70s and '80s R&B -- which sounds, and correct me if I'm wrong, because I don't go to a lot of these, kind of like the musical sampling at a contemporary bar mitzvah party.
Of course, that was Fox Nation, and Media Matters documented Fox Nation’s curiously high number of race-baiting headlines. But it's all part of the same strategy. It's why they kept talking about Obama going to a "black power" church (and why they're going to be talking about it again, coming into the 2012 election).

Because he's black. And therefore, he's a scary thug.

(Incidentally, do a quick google for "obama+thug" - you might be surprised at the number of hits you get).

It's actually an on-going strategy (as you might have guessed from fact that Lee Atwater explained it 30 years ago.) Pat Buchanan, for example, has a long history of making racially-questionable comments, but he recently wrote an article where he made the following curious turn of phrase.
Mocked by The Wall Street Journal and Sen. John McCain as the little people of the Lord of the Rings books, the Tea Party "Hobbits" are indeed returning to Middle Earth -- to nail the coonskin to the wall.
He didn’t just pull that particular word out of thin air – it doesn’t relate to anything else in the article.

Perhaps, if GOP members don’t want to be accused of racism, they should avoid passing around racist pictures. Especially if they've been caught doing the same thing before.

(Incidentally, please stop saying "I can't be racist! I have black friends!" That's not an excuse - that's an old joke.)

But as that great philosopher Lee Papa is wont to point out, the one thing we know about motherfuckers is that they will fuck their mothers.

Being the group of greasy lying assbags that they are, our friends on the right wing will open their eyes wide, wave their hands in distress, and say that their words are being taken out of context, that people are too sensitive (or "playing the race card"), and that liberals take an "innocent joke" and blow it all out of proportion.

And that might even be a valid point, if this only happened once in a while. But when it happens over and over on a continuous basis, that denial starts to stink worse than the decaying corpse of their collective conscience.


Grung_e_Gene said...

Quit saying they are Racist, they say they are not!

Also, conservatives have a lock solid approach to confirm they totally not racist status. When they make off-*color* jokes, and depict the President or first lady as a Witch Doctor, or Ape or Pimp or Terrorist they are actually freeing them of the real chains of victimhood which they have allowed to be placed on themselves.

It's a brilliant approach which allows racists to feel they are being beneficent instead of bigoted.

Malcolm said...

I intended to write about this on my blog, but didn't get around to it. Frankly, with the high number of racist/racially offensive incidents by the GOP over the past couple of years, it's hard to keep up.

The Fox Nation article is what I've come to expect from one of the loudest components of the right-wing noise machine. Did you notice that they closed the comments section for that article? We know they can't have the racism of their sheeple exposed for everyone to see.

Nameless Cynic said...

I'd be willing to bet that the Fox Nation comments section was one of the uglier piles of racist crap outside of Stormfront or Free Republic. And like you said, that's probably why they closed it off.