Friday, September 18, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 12: Denial Isn’t Post-Racialism

Is denial the same as being "post-racial?"

My last column (The Hate that Dare Not Speak Its Name, Tahoe Ticker, September 5) has received more response – on my blog, on Facebook, and by email – than anything I've written in a long time. Some of the responses agreed with what I said and felt it was time it was said out loud. Others, though, were somewhat surprising to me.

The first surprise was that the disagreement was (relatively) rational – none of the vituperation that my columns often draw. The second was the level of what I would characterize as denial that racism is a significant factor in the current political climate.

Let me be clear about this: I don't equate disagreement with the President's policies or ideas with racism. President Obama is a Liberal in the best tradition of Roosevelt and JFK, and as such, Conservatives (in the tradition of Goldwater and Reagan) will disagree with him on his approach to most if not all social and economic issues, just as they disagreed with FDR and JFK. No problem there. That's healthy political/philosophical/economic debate.

But when Glenn Beck calls Obama a "racist with an abiding hatred for white people," when Rush Limbaugh casts a school bus fight as "white kids aren't safe in Obama's America" and calls for segregated buses, when protestors carry pictures of the President with exaggeratedly thick lips and pictures of monkeys and apes, long a symbol of racism, that's not healthy or debate, it's racism.

The other argument is that only some of the protestors are racist. One correspondent said that "cherry picking is dishonest" and that by her estimate only 5 to 10% of the protestors are racist. Well, to call out the racist protestors is, in my view, no more "cherry picking" than to call out those who aren't. I never said they were all racists, but I do think it's more than 10%, and I think it needs to be called out.

Racism has always been a factor in American politics. Just as Obama's legitimacy is questioned by the "birthers" against all common sense, opponents of FDR attempted to undermine his legitimacy by saying he was Jewish and calling him "Franklin Delano Rosenfeld." When I see rallies with caricatures of Obama in whiteface or with exaggerated features I'm reminded of Germany in the 1930's where caricatures of Jews with huge hooked noses and long beards were common. That led to rallies where those same drawings were carried, and that led to a populace that looked the other way as 12 million Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and Catholics were murdered.

This is beyond respect for the man or the office – it goes to one of the most vile aspects of human nature, dehumanizing someone we disagree with. When that happens, we need to speak up against it, even if only one person (much less 10%) does it. You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating the words of Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and interned in Dauchau until 1945:

In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 11: The Hate that Dare not Speak Its Name

OK, it's now officially over the top. When President Bush was criticized, or even just teased for his mangling of the language, the Right said "you can criticize the President, but you must respect the office,"

Now those same people, after calling President Obama a Nazi, a non-citizen, and a socialist, are objecting to his doing a broadcast to schools this week. The socialist agenda he's going to spread? Stay in school and work hard.

It's time we called (you should pardon the expression) a spade a spade. The continuing foaming at the mouth on the part of the Right is not about health care, socialism, or anything else. It's racism, pure and simple. While the majority of the country was ready, willing, and able to elect a liberal African-American to the Presidency, a small but vocal minority is proving unable to live with a Black President.

Respect for the office? Irrelevant. This isn't "Advise and Consent" or "24," this is "Blazing Saddles," and "the sheriff's a *****!"

Those of us who still believe in the America of JFK, RFK, EMK, and MLK need to fight this, and the first step of the fight is to call these people out for what they are – racists and bigots, and stop letting them define the ground for the fight. We can fight them on health care, show them birth certificates, and be outraged at their blocking their children from hearing (and seeing) President Obama, but they'll just go from phony issue to phony issue until the real one is named.

The culture of America has changed sufficiently over the past 50 years that it's no longer OK to be overtly racist – the North, particularly the Northeast has been that way even longer, but now even in the South racism is the hate that dare not speak its name (publicly at least). So we get sly references to monkeys instead, and the use of socially acceptable language such as calling Obama a Socialist, a Liberal, etc. (like those are bad things).

We on the left of center did what it took to get Obama elected; now we need to go on the attack against the hate and hypocrisy so that he has a chance to succeed. Remember, there is more than one kind of assassination, and character assassination may be the worst of all in that it kills not just the man's chances, but his legacy as well.