Monday, October 13, 2008

Don't be resigned to racism

marjorie says...
Three more weeks. As with most Americans I figure, the economic news is weighing heavily on my mind when I consider the presidential race.
All I really want to do is study this situation, which seems decidedly non-partisan to me. Rather, it’s a failure of capitalism which is as non-partisan as you can get. If only I could focus. But I can’t.
Instead I’m thinking about race in America.
As in, Race.
I’m having a hard time with the gross racism that’s all of a sudden burst into the open during this presidential campaign. Call it the Palin-effect.

Sarah Palin said Barack Obama ” pals around with terrorists,” and further added that he’s “not like us” at a rally last week. That set off a round of Republican rallies that literally spewed racial hatred at Obama.
It’s been well-documented and picked over in the press, with Frank Rich summing the situation up in a New York Times Op-Ed:

At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. …
…what has pumped up the Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies, is the violent escalation in rhetoric, especially (though not exclusively) by Palin. Obama “launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist.” He is “palling around with terrorists” (note the plural noun). Obama is “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.” Wielding a wildly out-of-context Obama quote, Palin slurs him as an enemy of American troops.
By the time McCain asks the crowd “Who is the real Barack Obama?” it’s no surprise that someone cries out “Terrorist!” The rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete. It is stoked further by the repeated invocation of Obama’s middle name by surrogates introducing McCain and Palin at these rallies. This sleight of hand at once synchronizes with the poisonous Obama-is-a-Muslim e-mail blasts and shifts the brand of terrorism from Ayers’s Vietnam-era variety to the radical Islamic threats of today.
Like Rich, this turn of events strikes me as inflammatory and dangerous, awakening our worst nightmares based in an entirely ignoble and sad aspect of our nation’s history. One friend refuses to even speculate with me where it might lead, as though even speaking of it might make something horrific a reality. We speak of it only euphemistically.
The ripple effects of the Republican race-baiting are everywhere, even in the comment section at NMI.
As a writer, how am I supposed to respond to people who in their comments on my articles make it a point to reference Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, in their condemnation of him?

“That IS his middle name isn’t it?”
asked the commenter in parenthesis.
Am I supposed to wade into the muck with that person and actually have what might pass as a discussion but is really an outright war of words bordering on a rhetorical violence exceeding any pretense of civility?
If I did, here’s one question I’d ask:
Since when did being an Arab make someone un-American? That is what you mean when you point out his middle name, isn’t it?
Then there are the quandaries we find ourselves in when we descend into these kinds of conversations. For instance, can I point out that Obama is a Christian without compromising my fairness to the Arab community? Doesn’t doing so imply that there is something wrong with being Arab? I think so. And I just did it—but I know it isn’t fair.
In such no-win conversations, knowing myself, it wouldn’t be long before I simply asked the person, “what freaking planet are you from?”
But then, I’d have to back up and acknowledge, oh yeah. You’re from my white America.
Sure, I’m assuming this particular commenter is white, but from the statements made it’s a bet with good odds. Not to mention, this latest phenomenon strikes me as very much a white thing.
I like to think that we’re better today than we used to be. By “we,” I’m referring to white Americans, no one else. And, yes, it’s a collective “we,” rather than an “us and them.” I’m right there in it, along with everybody else.
It saddens me to realize that I do have to descend into that muck of a conversation–even though I’d rather be talking about the economy–because it’s not good enough to simply write those comments off while thinking, “Well, that’s not me. I’m not like that.”
In his Times Op-Ed, Rich says McCain bears responsibility for the racialized hatred bubbling up. But I think the responsibility is more widespread than that.
It’s not good enough to simply point fingers at the people from whom those impulses bubble up at any given moment in our long history with racism. Don’t be resigned to the worst impulses in our community. Push back on them. And maybe in three weeks we really will see a new day in America.
Cross-posted at the NMI.