Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If This be Racism!

In one of the first classes I ever taught, which was during summer school, a student accused me of being racist. I just looked right at him and said, "Do you want to try and prove that?" I wasn't going to play his game and deny it, and I knew that he was just grasping at straws since he was always getting into trouble and he needed something to blame other than himself. I didn't worry too much about actually being a racist, as there were plenty of kids of his ethnicity who never got in trouble in that class. Not only that, but there were white people who DID get in trouble. Basically, I knew that his accusation was bogus.

It's my belief that if you're going to throw the word "racism" out there, you had better be able to back it up. That's a pretty loaded thing to just go throwing around. That's why I haven't been very quick to jump on the whole "they're racists!" bandwagon that's being hurled at the critics of Obama. I've been keeping my feelings pretty close to the vest on this one, but it's been turning around in my head long enough now that I feel that I can say something.

Do I think that there's an element of racism to some of the anti-Obama rhetoric? Yes, I do. Now please, don't get me wrong. I am not accusing EVERY critic of Obama of being a racist. I think that the people who are all upset about health care reform are in the wrong, but being against doesn't require one to be a racist. However, I firmly believe that race is a factor in this whole thing. What do I base this on?

First of all, you have guys like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh saying that the health care reform is part of Obama's plan to do "reparations." Yeah, the whole 40 Acres and a Mule thing. They actually said that. First of all, I'm not going to even address how stupid these statements are, but there's no question that this is racist hate rhetoric. No, I'm not saying that if you are against reparations that you're a racist (like one particularly dense conservative blogger thought I was saying). I'm saying that the reason why they bring this up is because they know that there's a good portion of people out there - many of them their listeners - who are racist and fear that blacks are somehow going to take things away from them.

I think that the problem is that too many people have such a simple notion of what racism is. They think that it's all about whether you say the n-word or not when you talk about African Americans. They don't realize that there are subtle shades of it. For instance, when I have students telling me that things nowadays are like the reverse of how they were during Jim Crow (with whites being on the bottom rung of society), that's a form of racism as well. No, they're not ready to wear white sheets, but it's a combination of ignorance and fear that's driving them to say those things - ignorance of history and fear of "the other".

Let's not forget the fact that so many conservatives just love to emphasize the President's middle name. Sure, maybe that's more xenophobia than racism, but it's like they're using his middle name as a reason why people shouldn't support him. You also have to wonder about all of these people who still think that he's a Muslim. Of course, all of them who say that are saying it like it's an automatic negative. I don't know about you, but I'd prefer a moderate Muslim as President over a fundamentalist Christian. Perhaps in that case, it's religious bigotry, despite the fact that it's completely unfounded. Still, if the President was a white guy named Guy Whitey Corngood, I doubt that anybody would be making that sort of accusation even if he had the same upbringing as Obama.

It's obvious that there's a lot of fear - fear that's being stoked by many of these conservative pundits. I've seen those videos where you have people getting all hysterical and saying that they "want my country back!" What exactly are they talking about? What has Obama even done? How is this country any different than it was a year ago with the exception of the fact that our President is a black guy with a Muslim-sounding name? (Sure, there might be a few differences here - but I'm talking FUNDAMENTAL differences.)

The thing is, I'm a white guy. I know the things that a lot of white people say about non-whites when they're not around. The people with whom I choose to spend my time don't do that, but I've been out in the world enough to know what far too many people are like. I don't believe that everybody who criticizes Obama is a racist, but I believe that much of the right-wing discourse is racist in nature.

Today's "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by Fantastic Four #49: "If This be Doomsday!"

1 comment:

Nolan said...

I just keep imagining Senior Black Correspondent Larry Wilmore "playing the race card" all through this. Kudos.