H & R
Those of us who contend with racism each day of our lives (and you know who you are) flinch with each race-baiting statement from candidates and their proxies…statements that inflame and obfuscate rather than conciliate and clarify, statements that speak to our most selfish and least positive impulses. However vehemently McCain, Obama or Clinton reject, decry, abhor, denounce each verbal fart (hardly silent but deadly, fer sure) the open sore of racism will continue to ooze and poison our country.
Like we really needed more shit to shovel. There’s no point in turning a cheek and hoping this too will pass. We must confront racism with courage and candor – with ourselves, our families, friends and co-workers. Racism is endemic in America…and everyone needs to step up because bias against gender, age, religion and sexual preference is similarly toxic and ongoing.
You can all read and write and perhaps should look up the definitions of racism, bigotry and prejudice. There are two questions I’d ask you to take home and consider:
1. What conduct do I believe is racist?
2. Do I consider myself to be a racist?
I am a person of color; my ancestry is African, French and Choctaw. Here’s my litmus, regarding racism.
When we regard any individual as somehow less worthy than ourselves, inferior (not because of their education or intelligence or wealth or power or skill) but simply because of their genetic history, then that is racist. I consider less worthy those who are thoughtless, lazy, unprincipled and unreasoning…but someone of any race could resemble those remarks. So color me an asshole, an elitist or judgmental…but I’m no racist.
You call someone a racist these days and you will generate a level of outrage and indignation that is stunning. “How dare you?” “Some of my best friends are…”(fill in the blank) If it’s such an appalling characterization then why is racism so prevalent? Ask any of those “best friends” about their social interactions and prepare to be amazed.
Not that they hear nigger or wetback or gook on a daily basis (tho some do), it’s about the constant stereotyping, paternalism and suspicion that accompanies minorities as they go thru life.
I question the validity of exit poll statistics because I think that their responses reflect their concerns about being judged. Americans know racism is a negative. We would all aspire to be better than that…or at least to be perceived as better than that. If you called David Duke a racist, I suspect he’d smirk and say, “Damn skippy…and proud of it!”
There is no hypocrisy in that acknowledgment. “Yeah, maybe I am a bigamist, maybe I am a pederast, I may be an anarchist, but I’m willing to cop to it.” And you know what, I can roll with that. I may not want to have a beer with you but I can respect that you’re up front about it. What I can’t respect is the posturing of racists who want it both ways: they want the positive regard of society even as they diminish that same society with their racist contempt.
OK, enough abstraction, lets talk specifics. Today’s sermon regards Geraldine Ferraro’s recent statement, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” Ferraro is regarded as a liberal Democrat, she’s been in national politics for more than 25 years and this ain’t Gerry’s first rodeo. She knows that anything she says will be parsed and will ultimately reflect upon her candidate.
After her remarks were made public and the shitstorm ensued, Gerry artfully re-configured her remarks, suggesting that her intent was to compliment racial progress in America. Had she said anything resembling that, I don’t think she would have caused such tsuris. I happen to believe that Gerry said exactly what she meant in that initial interview and I regard her revisionism with cynicism. But what I found riveting was her demeanor as she defended herself- nasty, menacing, confrontational. Do we really need to see some elderly white woman on TV snarling at her critics? How could this possibly benefit Hillary, a candidate already demonized by her detractors as vindictive and vengeful?
I’d never before regarded Ferraro as a racist…now I’m not so sure. Especially after I learned that she’d used essentially the same words 20 years ago regarding Jesse Jackson’s candidacy. “…because of his radical views, if Jesse Jackson weren’t black he wouldn’t be in the race.”
Ok, this is not a screed about Geraldine Ferraro, this is a screed about racism. She just happens to be this week’s poster child. When you make statements intended to engage your audience’s pre-conceptions about color, your statements are inherently racist. And you should know that. Consider Kelly Tilghmans recent gaffe on the Golf Channel regarding Tiger Woods…”Golfers that want to beat Tiger Woods should lynch him in a dark alley.” She was trying to be hip. Kelly and Tiger are long time friends. But that was a racist statement. Do you understand why? And if you don’t, what about that is confusing?
Americans who rarely encounter racism in their lives (and by that I mean white Americans) are often insensitive to and uninformed about the impact of their thoughtlessness. Asians, Latinos and other minorities struggle daily with this disconnect. They think, “Should I correct this, should I overlook this and why do I have to deal with this shit?” Because you live in America…and racism is engrained in our cultural DNA. Let’s stop the pretending, let’s engage the discussion, let’s strive to marginalize this unhappy reality.
I can remember a joke from my childhood about the NAACP – that it stood for “Niggers Ain’t All Colored People.” By the same token, racists ain’t all white people. I’m speaking to the multitudes of Americans of all races that are essentially decent and fair-minded but too often thoughtless and irresponsible about their communication. That carelessness empowers those wishing to spread dissention.
Can someone make a racist statement yet not be a racist? Yeah, but you only get one bite of that apple. And you better learn something from the experience. Cynics that play the race card do considerable harm. They know better, they know the damage their words cause yet say them anyway, placing their personal agenda above the common good. And then have the prust to protest, “Hey, come on, you know me! I’m no racist!” Bullshit. Stupid is as stupid does.
Now does this mean that humor is off limits? Sorry, I love to laugh and if something is funny I’m gonna giggle, I don’t care whose ox is gored. But I do know the difference between stereotyping and reality. Not everyone else does, so you better pick your moments… and remember that you mock the ethnicity of others at your peril…
I don’t care who you vote for this fall, I just hope you vote, because the problems we face seem without end. If you want to question Obama’s policies, then question them. If you want to ask how his race might inform his judgment then ask that. Obama’s race, Hillary’s gender, McClains age are all legitimate topics of discussion and they should be approached honorably, head on, not obliquely, not with insinuation and subtext. And once addressed and answered then let’s move on. Life’s too short and America’s list of honey-do’s waaaay too long
We’ve come a long way, baby…and we’ve got a long way yet to go.
Here’s a blast from the past: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
13 March 2008