Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Playing the race card

A new paranoid fantasy has begun to emerge among American racists. This new fear is a natural outgrowth of earlier fears, but it represents an interesting leap into a new paradigm.

After the abolition of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan was formed as a group prepared to use violence against blacks who presumed to challenge the supremacy of whites in any way. While the popularity of the Klan has gone up and down since that time, the group still represents the most extreme end of white racist thought. Most white racists publicly profess distaste for the crude violence of lynchings and beatings. Instead they call on the power of the state and the courts to maintain the supremacy of whites. In this they were pretty successful, until official segregation and disenfranchisement began to be challenged through legislation and the courts in the 1960s.

And so racists moved into a defensive posture, resisting all of the many changes that came in the following decades. Affirmative action was an extremely bitter pill to swallow. How can universities and other institutions be forced to try and undo the natural order of things? In point of fact, despite the fears of the racists, the situation of blacks in this country showed only modest improvements. Blacks today still endure disproportionately high levels of unsafe housing, substandard medical care, poverty, and unemployment.

The election of Barack Obama (with millions of white votes) came as a shock to American racists. They had become used to seeing blacks in prominent roles in T.V. and real life, yet they knew that whites were still basically in charge. Racists might grumble about seeing so few white faces on a professional football or basketball team, but at least most of the owners and coaches were white.

Now the most powerful person in the U.S., the president, is not white. While racists, of course, had never worried that all of our earlier presidents might have favored whites, now they fear Obama might favor blacks. The shift in thinking is that racists no longer fear only that they’ll be forced to make more room at their table. Now they suspect that their table has been sold out from under them. Will whites now have to conform to black expectations to get ahead? Is everything topsy-turvy?

Reality won’t get in the way of telling the story of this supposed “reverse racism.” A decision by the Bush administration’s Justice Department, in their final days, to not pursue criminal charges against the New Black Panthers is blamed on Obama. A maliciously edited, phony videotape is uncritically accepted by Fox News and used to destroy a black official in the Agriculture Department. Even efforts to encourage high voter turnout in urban districts is portrayed as some kind of reverse racist trick. The attempts of white Republicans to suppress turnout in these same districts is, of course, applauded as “fighting voter fraud.

The sad truth is that nothing Obama or his supporters actually do will make a difference. I don’t live inside the Beltway, but from what I can see the power establishment in D.C., hasn’t changed all that much. White males still dominate, with women and minorities slowly making small inroads into the entrenched power structure. The racists fear a revolution, the reality is painfully slow evolution.

Appeals to racist sentiment, both crude and subtle, will be a part of U.S. electoral politics this cycle. Getting into an endless pattern of accusation from the left and denials from the right won’t be very constructive. Merely calling someone a racist in sweeping terms invites a misleading response full of irrelevancies. Carefully exposing the specific lies, distortions, or stereotypes, on which a particular racist claim or appeal is based, leaves the perpetrator nowhere to run.

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