Wednesday, November 25, 2009

7277: The Specter Of Racism.

From The Chicago Tribune…

Race haunts politics
Will it ever be OK to go there without name-calling?

By Clarence Page

He takes it back. In a recent interview Attorney General Eric Holder conceded that, if he had it to do over again, he might have chosen another less incendiary word than “cowards” in his now-notorious Black History Month speech to describe the way Americans tend to avoid candid talk about race.

I wasn’t surprised. Public backlash over his use of the C-word gave him a fast lesson in why so many of us Americans have become too cowardly to talk candidly about race. We’re afraid of being called “politically incorrect” or outright “racist.”

Yet, we can’t shrug off the baggage of history that easily. Questions about race keep coming up, since race continues to be a subtext of our politics like little land mines of “gotcha” moments—like the one on which Holder stepped.

You can hear it in the question that haunts the mostly white makeup of populist conservatives in the anti-tax tea party rallies, the August town hall protests and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s book signings: How much does race have to do with it?

A racial streak always has haunted populist politics. But in most of today’s uprising by populist conservatives, race is only a marker, if a highly visible one, for other differences that have defined American politics since at least the 1960s.

If there was ever a time we should be talking candidly about race it is now. Yet, it is considered bad manners at best or even racist at worst to ask how much of today’s protests of President Barack Obama’s policies might be motivated by race. People are touchy for at least three good reasons: One, race is so hard to quantify; two, the protests are more ideological than racial; and three, most Americans have little tolerance for outright bigotry anymore.

Polls offer limited help. Obama’s approval ratings have fallen in the November polls by Gallup and Public Policy Polling while Palin’s have risen. At this rate, they might even meet somewhere in the high 40s, a Drudge Report headline trumpets.

But what’s race got to do with that? Much of Obama’s fall results from recent bad news on the employment and Afghanistan fronts and much of Palin’s rise results from her highly touted book tour. Still, since almost all of Obama’s decline has come from white voters, while his numbers among blacks and Hispanics have stayed virtually the same, many still ask how much the difference results from the issue of race.

In some cases, the nuances as to what’s racist or what isn’t draw distinctions without much of a significant difference. Take, for example, the anti-Obama billboard that auto dealer Phil Wolf erected recently in Wheat Ridge, Colo. In big letters it says, “BIRTH CERTIFICATE” and “PROVE IT,” a reference to the goofy movement that questions Obama’s natural-born citizenship despite overwhelming evidence. It also features two cartoonish images of Obama wearing a turban and reads “President or Jihad?” and “Wake Up America! Remember Ft. Hood.”

In interviews Wolf has said he’s convinced Obama is a secret Muslim, a view that Pew Research Center polls have shown about 11 percent of the population shares. Would they feel that way about a white president with Obama’s background? Frankly, it’s not hard to imagine, considering the paranoid streak in American politics that has nurtured worse myths about previous presidents.

Maybe that’s what my friend and MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews was thinking when he blurted out during coverage of the 1,500 people waiting for Palin at a Grand Rapids, Mich., bookstore that “they look like a white crowd to me” and “not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it is pretty monochromatic up there” and “I think there is a tribal aspect to this thing, in other words, white versus other people.”

Conservative bloggers took umbrage at that, for all the understandable reasons of racial ambiguity that I listed above. You’re not a racist just because everybody around you happens to be of the same race as you. Yet, as political demographics take shape, there is a tribal aspect to politics. Birds of a feather flock together, social scientists tell us, and so do people.

Today’s American tribes gather for reasons of shared values, interests and attitudes more than race or other shared ancestry. Yet, our ancestral differences play a big role in shaping our present-day attitudes. That’s why we need to talk more openly and candidly about race, if we can only find the right language to do it.

1 comment:

Preston said...

The man behind the sign is either an idiot, crazy or a racist (maybe all three). We won the election and now these sore losers will continue to spew their hate with lies. They remind me of the Birthers losers, who even “Fake News” Bill O’Reilly has smacked down like the true flies they are.