I sat across from my breakfast mates, an older married couple who made no bones about their fundamentalist Christian worldview or their disdain of all things liberal, and listened as they litanied their most recent complaints about “what’s happening to America.” Of diametric perspective, both politically and culturally, we’d nonetheless found common ground as good neighbors, meeting for coffee and conversation upon occasion. We generally, and wisely, kept to discussions of family and friends, neighborhood anecdotes and the value of good fencing materials, but every once in a while the creaking noise of political dissonance crept into the dialogue. This was one of those times. He started.
“They’re turning us into racists.”
Before I could ask who, how or what, he launched into a impassioned diatribe I’ll paraphrase to the best of my then pre-coffee recollection:
“I used to be a racist. I worked really hard to stop being a racist. And now I’m afraid I’m becoming a racist again, cuz that’s what I keep gettin’ told!”
Perplexed, I dug deeper, again asked who was telling him that and why and he was quick to answer:
“People! Anybody who’s talkin’ to you about Obama. Cause you can’t say one thing against this president without someone calling you a racist. It’s gotten to the point that I actually think I am becoming a racist again and that makes me really mad.”
Ho boy. I suggested, rather firmly, that one either is or isn’t a racist and no one can make you one if you’re not. When he replied with:
“I’m sure getting the message that I am from all your Obama supporters!”
I countered with:
“Well, if you’re against Obama because he’s black, you’re a racist. If you’re against Obama because you don’t agree with his legislative views and it honestly has nothing to do with his race, odds are you aren’t.”
She jumped in at this point:
“We’re against him because he’s trying to take away all our guns, for one thing, and when we speak out against that, of course we’re labeled racists.”
Before I could even address that weary gun fable, our waitress approached with oatmeal bowls and the distractions of brown sugar and walnuts, and the hell-bent-for-trouble conversation was blessedly stunted.
But there it was, the latest 21st century cultural manipulation: The Pretend Victimhood of Racists.
Now, I’m not saying my neighbors are bona fide racists – despite their plaints otherwise, only they know the truth of that – but it’s clear a good many out and proud racists are getting creative in their never-ending quest to justify, disguise or, now, even hijack the cloak of victimhood from the true victims of racism, those actually being discriminated against because of race.
Which is an insult to our intelligence. Because, please; it’s not hard to tell the difference between people who simply disagree with political policy regardless of race, creed or color, and those who hang effigies of Obama from billboards, send out images of the President in African garb, or tell him to “put the Quran down”; those who question his citizenship or categorize his social programs as “gifts” to the “freeloaders sucking off the teat of government.” Those who claim we need a white, Republican president to make life better for black people. Nah… they’re not racists.
While this transparent shell game has been floated previously by racists hiding within the ranks of various right wing parties, it got a big push this past week by notorious political pretender, Joe the Plumber (whose real name is Joe Wurzelbacher), still working to be relevant in a post-Palin world. Joe was so moved by “America Needs a White Republican President,” a piece written by conservative blogger, Kevin Jackson (who, as a black conservative, hosts a blog called The Black Sphere), that he cross-posted the article on his own blog, Joe For America. Purporting to be a stand-up piece about the scourge of reverse-racism, this ill-disguised racist screed opens with:
“Admit it. You want a white Republican president again.
“Now before you start feeling like you’re a racist, understand you are not.
“Wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American.”
Do we need to point out how utterly delusional that statement is? At least to anyone who’s not a racist? I didn’t think so.
Mr. “I’m not a racist” Jackson then goes on to list all the ways in which Obama and “lefty racists” have diminished blacks in America, juxtaposed with the brilliance of Republican Ronald Reagan in advancing the cause (I’ll let you debate that), followed by how reverse-racism has allowed racist blacks to get away with dissing white presidents without being called racists, while conservatives of every color are labeled as such for their criticisms of Obama. He make the COMPLETELY ‘unracist’ comments that “most black liberals are racists” and “guilty white liberal racists turn a blind eye” to the plight of the needy, concluding with:
“I long for the days of a white president, because under white presidents, at least black people had pride. Liberals have stolen pride from blacks, and they have no intention of giving it back.
“At least if we had a white president, black people might have a shot of regaining a modicum of respect.
Oh, poor, poor Mr. Jackson… so confused about race politics and identity that he seems to be suffering from a case of Stockholm Syndrome. He wants the big, white Republican daddy to come back home and make everything right for the poor little children who can’t seem to find their way with one of their own – albeit, liberal own – at the head of the household. Though he seems to be conflating party affiliation with race, he’s nonetheless convinced, just as many white racists are, that the “true America” is one headed by a rich white man.
How regressive. How demeaning. How utterly condescending. And how wrong.
Jackson manages to knead together all the themes and memes of racism into one big hunk of steaming dissemblance and distraction, baked up in an attempt to liberate those on the Right who are racists from feeling like racists… all while he’s actually being one.
As I told my breakfast mates, you either are or you’re not. No one can make you a racist; nor can anyone absolve you from racism if you’re propagating it. Because, and no pun intended, it’s black and white. You can’t be gray about racism. You can pretend all you want, but in your heart of hearts, you know. You know the words, the codes, the images, the language; the implications.
You can say, “we need a Republican president”; you can say “a liberal in the White House is a mistake”; you can say “Reagan was the bee’s knees because of his conservative policies,” or “Obama sucks because of his liberal principles” and NOT be a racist.
But when you say, “I long for the days of a white president, because under white presidents, at least black people had pride”; when you say, “At least if we had a white president, black people might have a shot of regaining a modicum of respect,” or when you say, “Wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American”… you are a racist.
We are in difficult times and it’s important that everyone with a conscience step outside of party petulance to do what’s right for each other and for the country; to frame the debate – and then act – with the greatest good in mind. But while we’re doing that, let’s not confuse or conflate the very real and painful issue of racism in an effort to disparage the president and his party.
Because, let’s be clear: what any open-hearted, evolved citizen of this country wants is a compassionate, ethical, culturally and globally aware president, irrespective of race, color, ethnicity or gender.
THAT, Mr. Jackson, is what makes us American.