Totally blatant racism in US politics

A lot of people (including me in comments here) have speculated that it seems open expressions of racism are less acceptable in US politics than open expressions of sexism.  Some, like Gloria Steinem, have made the poorly argued and, frankly, offensive claim that sexism is obviously a bigger force than racism.  Well, it seems even advocates of the milder claim about open expressions of racism are wrong (via Pam Spaulding at Pandagon).  

During an appearance yesterday on talk radio — at almost the same time as Obama co-chair Jesse Jackson Jr. questioned Hillary’s tears — New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo used some words with a very troublesome racial history, apparently in reference to Barack Obama.“It’s not a TV crazed race. Frankly you can’t buy your way into it,” Cuomo said, according to Albany Times Union reporter Rick Karlin. He then added, “You can’t shuck and jive* at a press conference. All those moves you can make with the press don’t work when you’re in someone’s living room.”  

So, next time you want to make some big generalisations about the relative force of racism and sexism in US politics based on one case, it might be a good idea to think twice. (At least I put a big ‘so far’ into my comment, but I still shouldn’t have speculated that way.) And Gloria Steinem, you should already have been deeply embarrassed by what you said, but even more so now.  New theory:  folks will use whatever hateful ideology they’ve got against someone they take to be serious competition. 

*For those unfamiliar with “shuck and jive” (from Pandagon):

“To shuck and jive” originally referred to the intentionally misleading words and actions that African-Americans would employ in order to deceive racist Euro-Americans in power, both during the period of slavery and afterwards. The expression was documented as being in wide usage in the 1920s, but may have originated much earlier. “Shucking and jiving” was a tactic of both survival and resistance. A slave, for instance, could say eagerly, “Oh, yes, Master,” and have no real intention to obey. Or an African-American man could pretend to be working hard at a task he was ordered to do, but might put up this pretense only when under observation. Both would be instances of “doin’ the old shuck ‘n jive.”

This is very much *not* an expression in ordinary, benign usage today in America, and it immediately conjures up racist connotations.

7 thoughts on “Totally blatant racism in US politics

  1. Many thanks, Jender. I really regret my own comments on that; I now think that the perspective from which one speculates about relative quantities of evil is not likely to be a perspective from which one can genuinely discern evil.

  2. And then there are all the allusions to lynching. The latest appears to be on the Golf Channel, as Kelly Tilghman said that one way for young golfers to stop Woods is to “lynch him in a back alley.”

  3. The racist remarks are very, very troubling, but their presence does not suggest (nor prove) that sexism is even more pervasive.

  4. Jender: Yes and no. I see nothing wrong in carefully analyzing how hate manifests itself, if only to better understand it and then, ideally, eradicate it. Sometimes this means making comparisons, but responsible comparisons.

  5. American Colors: The Spin on Skin
    The United States is uniquely ignorant in its obsession with race. All societies have institutionalised prejudice in one form or another; older societies have gone through many cycles of creating and dismantling hierarchies as various coalitions wrestled with the economic and social spoils available.
    The idea here is to consider the American case as an anthropological absurdity rather than a comparative assessment of its moral status vis-a-vis related prejudice.
    The first thing that struck me as absurd about American popular and institutional notions on race is its conscious connectivity with skin color. In reading through anthropological texts, the orthodoxy suggests that genetic differentiation intra-species was superficial (in terms of nose bridge structure/hair texture/skin color) and that the quasi-science of race nevertheless was defined in some non-superficial matrix : Austric, Caucasian, Mongoloid, etc., based on climatic and other adaptive contexts.
    In the US, the census and many employment documents show a pervasive sense of politically/socially defined race categories exclusively and ignorantly based on skin color! So racial categories are white/black/yellow, etc. The sense of self/other is eurocentrically derived…so, the polite phraseology for blacks is african-american, whereas for whites, it is not european-american. So people from the Indian subcontinent who may be Caucasian or Mongoloid are called Asians (race category!). Thankfully I have not seen a category of “brown/yellow” in census documents; perhaps a young society cannot think in a less simplistic dimension than black/white in formulating prejudice hierarchies.
    There is a definition of freedom and equality that seems inconsistent with the above, but is savagely upheld as being true despite the commonality of superficial race discourse across American society. A typical American is quite content to comment negatively on European or Asian (old society) class and caste hierarchies as laughably sophisticated prejudice in opposition to his/her own sense of freedom/equality in American society. The next moment, that same naive citizen will speak in the most ignorant manner about race categories in terms of skin color. This is ingrained at all levels in language, media, government, and in personal lives. A society founded on the massacre of native populations, and the systematic enslavement of other human beings must naturally be racist, but what is amazing about American racism is its focus on skin color as a defining characteristic of race, in defiance of all scientific and anthropological evidence.

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