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.


Anonymous said...

If a debate is to have any value, it should clarify one's view backed up by a series of facts that can be verified. When anyone's intent is to obfuscate and demonize, we no longer have debate, we have something approaching propaganda. I appreciate your commitment to clarity in your blogs.

Terro said...

Please note, Ed, that I guessed that perhaps up to 10 percent of the population might be racist (not necessarily the population of those who protest President Obama's policies).

I do agree that it is important to protest policy and not stoop to ad hominem attacks, but it's also true that protest is often vigorous and especially at the street level stretches "civility." Sometimes, as it would have been in Nazi Germany (where we are not), I think that is quite legitimate.

You might remember, also, before condemning the tea party participants harshly, the protests against George Bush's policies that stretched civility quite a bit further than have the tea party goers.

And finally, it is nice to have a blog forum where people can discuss rather than rant.