Monday, February 15, 2010

Not post-racial, and I can't figure out why anyone thought it might be

Tonight, Keith Olbermann had, what was in my opinion, a very insightful closing piece about racism and the Tea Party. It was something that I commented on almost immediately last year, when I saw the first rally on April 15 and on through the summer: they are almost entirely white people. Now, this doesn't automatically mean that they are racist. However, their signage continued an annoyingly nearly-obvious racism that was conducted through the campaign: that of painting Obama as some "scary black man" out to destroy America.

I heard, time and again, throughout the summer of 2009 about how this wasn't this woman's or that man's America anymore, and that it had been changed beyond all recognition. While I might not be out in the world as much as I would like, I didn't really see any major differences between the time Obama was inaugurated toward the end of January 2009 and the major Tea Party protests of July and August of that year. The only major difference was the man at the top wasn't a Republican, and that the man had a funny sounding name. Oh, and that he was black.

What I did see, though (especially during the summer), was a lot of older (middle-aged or older) white people, usually overweight, yelling at someone (either singly or en masse) about how "Obamacare" would completely destroy this country. And there were also some people making naive calls for a return to a simpler time. On this last topic, the Daily Show did some really insightful reporting:
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Still, though, no one heard overt racist statements - at least on the national media (well, unless you include the statements made by Glenn Beck about Obama hating "white people" and "white culture"). You heard things like, "he's arrogant" or, "he's uppity" -- terms that I've now come to learn are code words with racist overtones. (True, a person can be arrogant and uppity, but accusing that person of these qualities when he does nothing to deserve it allows this double meaning to peek through more readily.)

More recently, you can hear people saying that the only reason Obama got elected was because of guilty Whites (can we say racial purity tests?) and minorities (why is this not racist?), and at the recent Tea Party Convention, the lead speaker - Tom Tancredo - even called for a "civics literacy test for people to vote in this country" and that "people who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put ... in the White House ... Barack Hussein Obama). For those of you not familiar with "literacy tests" for the purpose of voting, you can either consult the Oracle of Wiki about the subject, or you can try to answer some questions that were used in such tests in the South during the mid-20th Century (remember that these tests were almost exclusively aimed at black voters). No, the point was not to test the person's literacy (i.e., their ability to read what was on the paper). Nor was it to test the person's knowledge of state and federal civics. It was to test - using the cover of civics and literacy testing - the person's ability to answer such arcane trivia, so as to make it next to impossible for the person to actually vote.

As usual, I have gone in a tangential direction, so let me conclude by jumping back to the point I started with: when a group composed almost entirely of white people say they are not racist, then one might raise an eyebrow; the group you are seeing could be from a predominantly white area, after all. However, when that same group starts to use imagery and statements that target the very first black president, calling him every negative name under the sun (e.g., fascist, communist, socialist, anti-Christ, Nazi, etc.), labeling him with terms that are veiled-racist take-downs, and - when amongst themselves - openly call for things that are tied strongly with a racist past, the credibility of the "we're not racist" response wears ever thinner. When the group of people claim to represent the people of the United States, but actually only represent a very specific portion of the country (in this case the white part), then, when added to the previous evidence, it starts to get a little bit more putrid.

For me, when the Tea Party showed up on my radar, I pegged it as likely being a racist group. True, they might not have actively sought out to be whites-only, but their attitude, their politics, and their purity tests have almost guaranteed that they will remain a nearly pearly-white party that therefore cannot speak to the wider audience that is America; that lives in the real world of international relations and having to work together.

By the way, perhaps it's this last thing that is what many of these pasty-faced American protesters felt they lost: the naive sense that America was the best thing in all ways in the world and would always be so, no matter what anyone in the world did. Perhaps the election of a bi-racial president who lived in other countries and had a foreign national as a father - and an African one at that - who also was able to excel at Harvard Law School and was willing to talk to the rest of the world as if they were significant -- in other words, the working reality of the world -- was what had changed about "their America." If that's the case, I say tough cookies.

1 comment:

Hypotyposis said...

1) For heaven's sake please get rid of that disgustingly huge, green "blog clock".

2) I agree with you, and think that "political correctness" might have gained a lot of ground, but that people in the privacy of their homes are probably as racist and xenophobic as they were-not that long ago. (Actually, there's a good case that being overtly xenophobic is tolerable in the U.S.)
The Jon Stewart segment is actually not that much of a parody, as witnessed by the recent poll in GB that showed over half of the population believe rape victims "bear some responsibility" in the crime they were subjected too.
Humans suck.