Calling it what it is: Racism

We’ve been more critical than not of Maureen Dowd.  Here’s a time when, in my opinion at least, she’s reached the right conclusion:

I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race…

But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.

And the Wilson who shouted “You lie” at the president?

The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.


14 thoughts on “Calling it what it is: Racism

  1. Not only that but did you hear the constituent interviewed on NPR who thought the reaction was fine because the Senator had only “called a spade a spade”?

  2. 1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
    2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
    3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

    Which of these constitutes what Wilson did when he said the words “You Lie”? Oh, and you have to prove it…

  3. DB, I have removed your original comment. If you look at our policies, we do not allow abusive discourse such as you engaged in.

    Your question above seems confused. No comment can constitute a belief about human races, a policy or emotions of hatred or intolerance. No one here is saying that a comment can constitute one of those things, so that cannot be what is meant by the reference to racism.

    What does it mean? Well, disrespect for the presidency on a completely unprecedented scale is being manifested, and it is being shown even by people deeply involved in our formal political structures at a very high level. No one has even done what he has done before. So how does one understand this singular event? Even when the democrats thought Bush was bankrupting the country. trashing the constitution and waging wars based on lies, they didn’t behave in formal contexts with such disrespect.

    So what in Wilson’s background could explain this assault on the dignity of the presidency? Hmmm. His evident love of the confederate, his previous acts of disrespect for black people? Well, looks like a good hypothesis to me.

    Think of another recent event and the people who didn’t want to have their children hear the president talk about education. Why did they fear he would commit a significant breach of office and use time given to him for public service to try to indoctrinate children? Why are they are so suspicious of this very brainy black man.

    We’re looking here at very familiar tropes of racism.

  4. And let me point out that if I say a white man insulting a black man is racism, my doing so does not make me a racist, according to your definitions. Even someone who has no tolerance for white on black insults is not thereby, by your definitions, a racist. Among other things, the scenario does not ground the generality of (3) or the acommpany beliefs about inherent differences of (1). That’s really important, since in effect people defend against racism claims by calling others racist. Your definitions help us to grasp what is wrong about that.

  5. Dan Burkard, No, we don’t have to “prove it.” What we can voice is a strong suspicion that racism is part of the recent reaction to President Obama. People are behaving bizarrely, and that hypothesis goes a long way to explaining it. If we couldn’t use the word before we had proof, racism would be able to fester unchecked, until the unlikely day that people outright said “I can’t look up to a black president.” If that’s not what people are thinking, let them prove it by acting more respectfully.

  6. Jean, the point about festering unchecked is very important, and it’s one I’m struggling with now in a very different context. In part, there’s a burden of proof issue here, and at the very least at this point the burden should be on those who say it isn’t racism.

    But what your comment brings out particularly well is that there’s a also cost we also have to consider. Racism and sexism do fester, and in some contexts they have a constant supply of victims. Maureen Dowd actually quotes an another congressman who quotes his father as saying in effect that silence is complicity.

  7. This has been on my mind lately. At my kids’ school, they had to have parental permission to see the president speak, and there must have been something like 20% of parents who did not give permission. This was 2 days after the original broadcast, so those parents had plenty of time to learn that Obama wasn’t going to be reading from the Communist Manifesto. You have to wonder–what could make them not want their children to see this president encourage kids to stay in school? Would they have felt that way about another democratic president, like BIll Clinton? Could it (sshhhh!) have had something to do with race? I was very happy to read Maureen Dowd come out and voice this unmentionable possibility.

  8. Hi JK, a salon article that Jender links to makes the same point.

    Jender, those articles are so good; I was going to copy a para or two but there were too many great comments. I hope people will have a look.

  9. I have to say, I find it slightly bemusing that a single shout of “You lie!” is considered such a deep slight to the entire office of the presidency. Granted, it wasn’t respectful, or warranted, but the way Parliamentarians banter in the UK makes Wilson’s outburst look like a love letter.

    But generally, I agree that a lot of the accusations about Obama stem from a framing of him as Other, which is largely based on his race.

  10. NS, interesting comment. It used to be commonly said that a faulty of the American constitution is that the president ends up being both PM and the person embodying the worth/dignity of the nation – e.g., the monarch. This leads me to wonder which would happen if it were discovered that the real heir to the throne was the result of an early secret royal affair and was in fact half African/half black. And also to think the office of the presidency has now been well and truly besmirched.

    “Besmirched” is a favorite term of Texas politicians, as in “We are all besmirched by Bill Clinton.” You have to imagine that said with a drawl by someone who looks like Wiley Coyote.

Comments are closed.