Sunday, August 24, 2008

How Racism Works

I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The one and only Carolina. I'm Tarheel born and Tarheel bred.

And I. Hate. Duke.

Hate. Duke.

I can't stress that enough. Sure, I have friends who graduated from Duke. A friend of mine is working on a doctorate degree from Duke. I may even attend Duke's grad school myself. But let me be clear.

I. Hate. Dook.

Hate'em. Hate'em. Hate'em.

It doesn't take much to rouse my hatred. Just hearing the word "Duke" pushes my buttons. Just seeing the image of a blue devil makes me wretch a little.

A lot of the time, all it takes is for me to see that deplorable Duke blue.

I can be somewhere talking about something else, say, men in general. The new pieces of eye-candy on prime time TV. I hate Gary Dourdan was killed off CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But I love that Hill Harper is on CSI: New York. He is delicious! And what can I say about Shemar Moore other than gorgeous.

Then, as soon as I see that dook blue, whether it was a car that drove by or just a passer-by, my. skin. crawls.

Because I. Hate. Dook.

And what's funny is that I used to be a Duke fan. I used to think that Dean Smith's teams were excessively cocky and cheered anytime they got beat. Then it came time to apply for college. I applied for Carolina after a campus visit. The campus felt like home. I decided not to apply for Duke after I saw their thick application. Duke wanted to know too much. My response was, "Mind your own business." It only took a few months at Carolina to come to hate. Dook.

Now, here's how racism works. First of all, we've been steeped in white supremacy in America for centuries. It doesn't take long for European and Asian immigrants to learn that African Americans are socially a level beneath. Even immigrants from Africa and the Caribbeans know to keep their distance from American blacks. Right?

And there are lies and myths about African Americans that have been around for centuries. We're lazy. We're insolent. We hate "whitey." We're wasteful. Because of affirmative action, we get things we don't deserve. We complain. We're liars. We're cunning. By the same token, we can be easily fooled. We're easily scared. And even though we have amazing rhetorical skills, that's all we have: rhetorical skills. There's not much backing up the bluster. We're irresponsible, whether that comes to work or family. Then there're the contradictory myths of the scary black beast and the weak black "boy."

Historically, military leaders have been reticent to put African Americans at the front lines of war, believing we'd be too scared to fight. Even during the Civil War where we had the most to lose or gain. Every since then, our "love of the country" has been questioned.

But, historically, the trait white Americans have been loathed to see in African Americans is self-sufficiency. Independent black folks have historically been hated and feared. As much as some members of mainstream America complain about the amount of government assistance African Americans receive, mainstream America just doesn't know how to deal with a black person who's not accountable to some white person, preferably a white man. Read a history book. Check out some of the more recent, accurate scholarship on racial history from post-slavery to the 1950s. Most of the black men who were lynched hadn't committed any crime aside from running successful businesses. Educated black people who spoke eloquently were labeled "uppity" and were seen as definitely "out of their place."

So, what's my point? How does racism works?

It works kinda like my disdain for Duke. No one has to say, "Don't vote for Obama because he's black." Just look at him. You know he's black. John McCain doesn't have to point out that Obama doesn't look like any other person on the dollar bill to run a racist campaign. He just has to use code words. Then, when Obama tries to bring racism to the sunlight, McCain can cry "race card" as though he, McCain, is the victim.

So what do they say to be racist? They say, "Look, he's presumptuous," walking around Europe like he's already won the presidency. They say, "Look, you don't know that much about him." Cause you can never know too much about black people. (Oh, and in the past, is was seen as white people's duty to know everything about any particular black person.) They question his patriotism. I've heard/read comments about how he's an "empty suit" and how he "just tricking, cunning voters." All these are negative traits that are historically attached to blackness.

That's part of the reason Barack Obama is running from blackness in some ways. That's why he couldn't risk seconding the truth Jeremiah Wright told about America. That's why he had to reject an endorsement from Louis Farrakhan that he didn't even ask for!

They even accuse him of "elitism." A black man in America an elitist?! Take a moment to consider the facts. Black men are more likely to be in prison than college. Even for equal experience and education, they earn less than white men. The unemployment rate for black men is about twice that of the unemployment rate for the general population. Obama's the only black person in the Senate. He attended ivy league schools for both undergrad and law school. And while "ivy league" may be off-putting to people who weren't accepted, do you really know anyone who could go to such a school and wouldn't? And would you call that person an elitist or extraordinarily smart?

Now, let me be clear. It is not the case that any and every criticism of Obama comes down to racism. If you really think taxes should be low for wealthy people, that government should be privatized, that the Iraq Occupation is going great, those are all non-racist criticisms of Obama.

But if you're issue is that he's an "empty suit" or "all talk, no action," which just isn't true; you haven't been listening; that's based on racism. That's what McCain's "celebrity" attack ads are about - black people can be famous, but never serious. And make no mistake about it, black people can be racist against other black people, too. That's why Joe Watkins is always shucking and jiving, shilling for the Republican Party even if he has to lie and deceive himself. (And let me say here, my criticism of Joe Watkins, who happens to be a pastor, isn't that he's not fallen in line with black America, but that he's lying and being deceptive to the disadvantage of black America. If his criticisms were based on policy and not deception, I wouldn't be mentioning him. And while I'm on Republican shillers, Brad Blakely is an imbeccile.)

But the criticism that is most racist is the notion that he's "presumptuous" or "arrogant." I didn't hear such criticisms about Hillary Clinton while she continued to run a primary campaign even after it was clear she'd lost. I still don't hear such criticisms about either Clintons even now while they dominate the convention and refuse to get their supporters under control.

And even after John McCain upstaged the president by making a statement about the Georgia/Russia conflict before Bush did, I don't remember much criticism about his presumption or arrogance. I heard a few comments that by sending his own delegation to Georgia, he was coming close to upstaging the president in an unattractive manner. But nothing about presumption.

If you're accusing Obama of elitism on the bases of his eating arugula and shopping at Whole Foods . . . you're just delusional.

If you're afraid that he's gonna sign an executive order demanding all white Americans everyday give a black person $100 bucks, you're just racist.

So, here's some advice to help you be sure you're views of Barack Obama aren't marred by racism. Cause quite frankly, mainstream/white America, you've never been clairvoyant at recognizing racism even when it knocked on your door wearing a "I hate darkie" t-shirt, holding a noose, and introducing itself as racism.

First of all, keep your critique to policy. There's nothing racist about a policy disagreement. Second of all, keep your critique based on truth and facts. Obama's vote for the FISA act was not a flip-flop. All along, he's said he's about compromise and getting things down.

And finally, before you voice your criticism of Obama or except someone else's, ask yourself and others, "Would we be criticising him for that if he were white?"

To make my point about the racially-biased difference in descibing people as "presumptuous," Jon Stewart.

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This isn't too complicated. If you disagree with me, I'm more than happy to have an honest discussion. I'm quite open to learning new facts and ideas. I'm dying for a conservative to explain their ideas in a sensible way.

But, I do have rules, and they also apply to those who agree with me. They just get the benefit of my already knowing the fact they'll be referring to.

So, here're the comment thread rules:

1 - Use facts.
2 - Refer to policy.
3 - Don't rely on theories and conjectures. Show me how, for example, a public health insurance option will lead to "rationing" of health care.
4 - No unfounded attacks on any entity.

If you break those rules, I will edit your comment to my own whimsical satisfaction.

Lastly, perhaps most importantly, I'm not going to entertain too much pro-white/racism-denying discussion. I want this to be a space to discuss strategies to fight racism, not space where I have to fight racism. I want anti-racists to be able to come here for a mental respite. If what you're interested in doing is attempting to demonstrate the fallacy of anti-racism by repeating the same ole comments and questions and accusations we hear all the time, please do that somewhere else.

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