Saturday, August 22, 2009

America's Resilient Racist Underbelly

In the Srednyaya, Akhtuba province of Russia, African-born farmer Joaquim Crima is running for leading office. In a coffee shop the other day - right here in America - one Caucasian customer made his feelings about the matter very clear: "Don't worry. He'll probably end up in a ditch somewhere, just like Obama will."

This racist utterance was remarkable for its openness - its lack of self-censorship. There is obviously more work to be done at the task of marginalizing the hate-mongers among us.

It was probably too good to be true - that America might actually begin to function as a "post-racial" society. With the election of its first African American president, the signs of hope were everywhere. Throughout the grueling vetting process, Barack Obama proved himself to be cautious, deliberate and tolerant, while at the same time revealing a sense of balance between healthy idealism and necessary realism in the debates of the day. But a recent spate of events leaves one wondering what is really behind all the hostility toward President Obama:

• As congressional leaders go home for their August recess, many are taking their case for health care reform directly to their constituents in town hall meetings. In a number of Democratic-sponsored events, forces opposed to reform have taken to boisterously interrupting the proceedings and stifling the debate. The claims that these are grass-roots protesters seeking to be heard doesn't bear out. The facts point to organized groups with ties to the health care industry and conservative lobbying firms sending out virtual rent-a-mobs to intentionally disrupt the goings-on, giving legitimate Republican opposition a bad image;

• Disseminating lies about Democratic health care proposals including one that government "death panels" would tell doctors when to deny care and 'pull the plug' on aging people;

• Senate confirmation hearings over the nomination of Hispanic Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court were rife with remarks by dissenting Judiciary Committee members questioning her integrity and commitment to the rule of law. Some tried to label her a kind of reverse racist for her "enlightened Hispanic woman" remarks;

• A strange coalition of lawmakers, pundits, celebrities and others have latched onto the absurd notion that President Obama was not born in the United States, and therefore is not the legitimate president;

• Ultra-conservative media types - Rush, Glen, Bill-O, etc., - are attempting to demonize the president by giving voice to those offering extremist rhetoric, e.g., comparing liberals and reformists to Nazis and depicting the president as an Adolf Hitler clone;

• Sara Palin continues to make references to "the America I know and love" - presumably the same "real America" she referred to during the presidential election - serving only to mock the America others know and love;

• In an effort to swell their ranks with new recruits, militia groups are stoking fears about the direction the country has taken since Barack Obama took office;

• Labeling the president a "socialist" for his handling of the bank bailouts, auto company bailouts and health care reform, taps into the fears many people were programmed to feel about the very concept of socialism.

In addition, there seems to be a contingent of Americans coalescing into a lot whose substance is nebulous and yet cohesive, leading a chorus of voices with the suspicious refrain, "We want our country back." The clear implication being that a certain someone has taken their country away from them. The unnamed culprit is no doubt the newly elected African American president. What is becoming painfully clear is that many of the people voicing their dissatisfaction with President Obama are merely angry, white people who cannot stomach the notion that an intelligent and popular black person has ascended to the presidency and is now the face of the country. To these people, Barack Obama represents all that they fear. But because overt expressions of racism are not tolerated, cloaking their hatred in a veneer of populist rhetoric deceptively gives voice to their frustrations.

The larger view of these events points to a sea change in the American political landscape. The right wing of the Republican Party is plainly convulsing in the throes of death. Much as a severely wounded animal lashes out uncontrollably just before expiring, ultra-conservatives are lashing out knowing their days of political viability are numbered as well. The inane antics flowing from conservatives at the moment reveals a desperation, knowing they have lost the hearts and minds of the reasonable masses from the left and the right. The resurgence of the Republican Party lies in its moderating influences, not the resurrection of its angry, white faction.

Of course, President Obama is not in a position to call out these malcontents for their prejudice. He can only refer to them as "those who would spread lies and misinformation," leaving the crude task of exposing the racists to those who have less to lose.

There are many white people who fear they are losing their grip on this country. They are correct to point out they are losing their grip on America. Their mistake lies in fearing such an eventuality. That Whites will soon be a minority is a simple reality that holds no promise one way or the other as to whether it will be a good thing or not. What is clear is that those of color who will soon make up a majority will likely be up to the challenge of asserting a more enlightened benchmark for truly democratic reforms.

Though it won't be totally eliminated, racism will no doubt become even more offensive to an even greater number of people once this recent virus runs its course. Then, maybe, the journey toward a truly post racial society can commence.

1 comment:

  1. Bill, you're 100% right. I certainly hope you're right about the extreme right's death throes. They can't come a second too soon.