Sunday, October 12, 2008

Looking for Republican leadership to talk about racism

Recently there have been a series of disturbing incidents that have come to light at some McCain-Palin rallies around the country. In a Washington Post article, Dana Milbank chronicles someone shouting "Kill Obama" as Palin pumped up the crowd, and then you have this incident:

Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

And over at OpEdNews, documented incidents of racism, threats to Obama, and really disturbing footage at rallies in which people say that Obama is a terrorist, a muslim, an Arab--and one in which a man holds a Monkey with an Obama sticker on it--this is all just too, too troubling:



[IMPORTANT ASIDE: What is VERY disturbing and under-reported in all of these accounts is the assumption people are making between Arab/Muslim = terrorist. First of all, if Obama was a practicing Muslim or Arab American, that would be FINE. Arab and Muslim Americans are NOT un-American and they are certainly NOT terrorists and it is a function of post-9/11 racism that makes the link between people of Arab descent and Muslim beliefs to terrorism. After all, white supremacist groups like the KKK have been engaged in domestic acts of terrorism during much of the 20th century, and have done so under the umbrella of Christianity. Yet we do NOT assume all Christian Americans are a legacy of this heritage of white racism and white supremacy nor do we assume that if one grew up an Evangelical Christian in the Southern region of the U.S. that one is automatically linked to domestic terrorism. I find the links between Arab descent and Islamic religion with terrorism or being "un-American" patently offensive.]

To his credit, John McCain has tried to address some of this ugliness. A New York Times article discusses how McCain tells his supporters that they shouldn't "fear" an Obama presidency and when another woman says she is afraid of Obama because he is an Arab, McCain shakes his head, says no, and tells this woman and the crowd at this Minnesota rally that Obama is a decent family man. And I appreciate that McCain is trying to calm down his crowd and be respectful towards his fellow running-mate, but in a lot of ways, this is reaping what you sow. In other words, certain members of the Republican party have been clamoring to have McCain and especially Palin attack Obama's character and trying to link him to "terrorists"--of course what they are doing is old-fashioned rabble-rousing, with the added element of institutional and historic (and recent) racism on their side.

So this is what I want to know. Where is the Republican leadership? I'm not just talking about John McCain and Sarah Palin and their campaign. I'm talking about others, like the primary candidates, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and the Bush administration. Where are THEY on calling on all Americans but especially McCain supporters (especially members of the Republican party perhaps since I'm assuming this is the demographics at these rallies) to be better than this rhetoric of hate and fear and prejudice. One Republican representative from Illinois has called on Palin to stop attacking Obama, saying that this campaign should be "better" than these tactics. But where are other leaders and politicians saying that McCain supporters, especially white McCain supporters (because honestly, (A) That's the majority caught on tape making these remarks (B) That seems to be the majority demographic at McCain/Palin rallies) should be at the forefront of talking about racism and prejudice and denouncing these acts.

Finally, here's a 13 plus minute MSNBC clip analyzing these ugly elements from recent days:



[Final Note: I'm not saying that all Republican or John McCain supporters are racist or more prone to racist tendencies. Obviously with the recent discussions of independent voters and die-hard Democrats struggling with their own internalized racism, we know this isn't the case--even with Obama's supporters of all hues, there's bound to be a fair amount of internalized racism. But as someone who has been to two different Obama rallies in the last year and a half, I have to tell you that I have not witnessed the kind of animosity and hatred that seems to be bubbling up in these clips. And at a rally during the primary that was held at Southern U., when Obama talked about John McCain and people booed, he told them that John McCain was a good man--and that he wanted his campaign not to devolve into the typical character assassination--for us to concentrate on the future and on a positive message of hope and change. And I think, for the most part, that has been the tenor of his campaign.

Also, this just in (4:57pm EST): an Op-Ed piece by Frank Rich in The New York Times that essentially echoes many of the things I've written above, except that I'd disagree with Rich about McCain being someone who is a stranger to racism.]

12 comments:

Evan Carden said...

My two cents: The republicans have decided over the last decade or two that being a party of hope, or even relentless/stupid optimism ("It's morning in America"?) was a lot of work for minimal returns. Being a party of fear worked really quite well for them in the last few elections and that's the card they're playing.

They tried to get people scared about terrorism, but since they've spent the last few years bragging about how much they've done to protect us, that makes them look stupid.

They're trying to scare us about the economy, but apart from a small percentage of party loyalists, no one in their right mind believes that the Republicans can fix this problem (thank you Phil Gramm, I and all other supporters of Senator Obama owe you and your gigiantic, stupid mouth a debt of gratitude. Of course we're usually too busy 'whining' to say so. Please accept my most humble thanks for your assistance in electing our cantidate.).

That leaves racial fear, since if they try to play environmental fear than they'll look like they're playing to the left and they can't have that. The Republican cantidate must be ideologically pure! And since, despite his fairly virulant sexism, Senator McCain can't actually bring himself to launch the most vicious variety of attacks, they have Governor Palin do it.

The Republicans have also long mastered the art of not doing what the Democrats do (critizing each other in public) though this is changing with their new round of incoming congressman.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/03/AR2008100302401_pf.html

Genepool said...

This was doomed to be a campaign based on race over issues from the start. There are people on both sides who will vote with race as a deciding factor without a thought given to either candidates policy or personal beliefs.

I'm not a fan of either. I don't believe either candidate will make much of a difference or do more to fix our awful economic situation or our foreign policy.

The Federal Reserve will continue to run the economy regardless of how much "bail out" money we keep throwing at lenders. Lenders who created loan types specifically to take advantage of people. Neither party has a grasp on the problem, and frankly, I think a smart man would be terrified to even address it. That's how much power the Federal reserve has. We are bailing out a boat with no bottom.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dmPchuXIXQ

I'm really looking forward to my children paying off these huge loans over the course of their lifetimes in inflated taxes.

Back to issues of race, of course there are going to be people who react this way. Well, not really reacting, they have been racists their entire lives. Fear is just making them more vocal and being in a crowd gives them the courage to speak out. Mob mentality.

In closing, either way I see just more of the same old crap regardless of who gets elected. The slogans are different, the packaging is tailor made, but the contents are sure to be a disappointment. I hope I'm wrong.

Greg said...

Jennifer, thanks for your first aside, about the insidious way "Muslim/Arab" has been equated in the with "radical terrorist" in the national imagination (and perhaps beyond, in some European countries, for example). BTW, the parallel you draw between this particular conflation (Muslim/terrorist) and the domestic terrorism of the KKK under the guise of Christianity is brilliant. But what's so insidious about this link is that even well-meaning, self-professed liberal, Obama supporters perpetuate the connection by spouting "He's not Muslim!" instead of calling out the underlying racism by saying "Muslim doesn't equal terrorist!"

And when McCain countered that woman who said Obama was an "Arab" (bless his heart; his intentions were good), his response was that he was not; he was a decent family man. That's right... because Arabs can't be decent family men? Obviously, he was addressing the underlying content of her statement (the sentiment that he was an evil terrorist), and in so doing, condoning the racist surface forms she used.

This connection is so underreported likely because many journalists themselves fail to see how it functions (in fact, they often perpetuate it by "setting the facts straight": Obama is not a Muslim, etc.); and even if they do recognize it, the corporations who run much of the media probably don't want them pointing out how insidiously racist and xenophobic Americans can be.

As for Evan's comment about the politics of fear that have taken over the Republican party, all I have to say is, it's no wonder so many Republicans are also conservative Christians -- fear seems to be something these people cling to. That said, I'm quite afraid, myself, these days...

Paul said...

For reals! I totally agree with your IMPORTANT ASIDE--the conflation of Arab with Muslim with TERRORIST needs to be tackled explicitly in a way that even McCain's response doesn't do. Instead, he substitutes other loaded keywords like "family man" which clearly do a kind of ideological work but are problematic in their own right. (Would an unmarried man or woman be unsuitable to be President? What about divorcees?)

Genepool said...

I'm doubt McCain meant any slight to single persons or people living alternative lifestyles when he called Senator Obama a Family man. I think old-timers just equate family men as men who have taken on additional responsibilities and have a vested interest in our politicians making good decisions as it would affect their children and family unit.

Disclaimer: This in no way implies that single or gay couples have no vested interest in politics or domestic policy as a whole, but merely a possible explanation of the term "family man" as used by Senator McCain. I am not a spokesman of, nor related to or authorized to speak on behalf of Senator McCain.
My use of the term "old timer" was in no way meant to discriminate, belittle, offend or otherwise affect in a negative way any persons of advanced or advancing age. I apologize for any offense or discomfort, real or imagined, the use of this term may have caused. =P

Jennifer said...

Oh Genepool--you slay me!
(that's a wink from back in the day when you weren't' such a curmudgeonly and cynical and conservative old guy...come to think of it, back in the day you were a curmundgeonly, cynical, and semi-conservative young guy, so maybe it's an evolutionary process for you to have grown a bit more conservative (or maybe it's libetarian?) and old (although if you are old, I suppose that means I am too).

More serious analysis will come, but my professorial duties are calling right now.

CVT said...

I agree with Genepool (a bit) here: that this election had no hope of being anything other than about race. That's it. Either America is LESS inherently racist than I think it is, or it is JUST AS MUCH (or even more so) than I think. That's it. To think that it could ever be about anything else is patently ridiculous.

Because the fact is: if Obama was the exact same person (in terms of political record, etc.) in a white body, there would be no need for an election. This thing would be over already.

But he's NOT white. And so I am terrified about how this election is all going to go down.

Because, Genepool, you're wrong about it being the same no matter who gets elected. Completely. If Obama is able to win this thing (which I doubt), the amount of hope and triumph and positive reinforcement it would give to Americans of color is beyond comprehension. To think that this actually CAN be a country FOR US, as well. That hope and positive feeling would far outweigh any harm that could come to the economy (for people of color, at least - and damned if we don't deserve to feel like this is OUR country, just once).

On the other hand, if Obama loses the election (which I expect, because I have no faith in white America), it tells all of us defeated people of color that we were right all along. That America IS racist at its core, and that we have no hope of standing on the mountain (and neither do our kids or grandkids).

Now tell me that the outcome doesn't make a difference.

D.J. said...

Here is my thing about the Barack is a muslim lie. Verh easy to dissaprove if you do three minutes of research. Barack is a practicing Muslim but he attended Trinity Unity Church of Christ for twenty years. Trinity is not a Muslim church hence he cant be a practicing muslim.

Jennifer said...

First of all, thank you to everyone who left comments--this is what I love about writing a blog--that it can generate such a lively and interesting discussion.

I have to say I have very sharp students. The Muslim/Arab connection to Obama and the critique, of that, with respect to the false belief/association of Muslim/Arab Americans with terrorism actually came up in class by one of my students as an analogy. We were discussing the case of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American civil engineer who was murdered by a white American auto employee (one who was currently unemployed at the time of the murder I believe). And I posed the rhetorical question of whether it could happen again, since it was about 26 years since the Vincent Chin murder has happened (1982) and we would like to think that we've made some/alot of progress.

And one of my students talked about the spate of ugliness that has cropped up at some McCain/Palin rallies and that she felt that Arab Americans were the new racial group to be targeted--and another student supported her assertion by reminding students of the anti-Arab and Muslim violence that happened in the wake of 9/11 (esp. the murder of the Sikh man in Yuba City, AZ, which echoed the Vincent Chin case).

So yes, it can't be stated enough times that the associations with Muslim and Arab Americans to terrorism or being un-American are something we need to be on the look out for--and that we need EVERYONE, most especially the leadership of our country, across party lines, to denounce this kind of bigotry/racism/false association.

I suppose I should also add, as a fine point, that we should also be mindful that not all people of Arab ancestry are Muslim and that not all people who practice Islam are of Arab descent (ie: there are Syrian Christians and there are Chinese Muslims).

Finally, I want to just echo a point that CVT raised--I do think that if Obama wins, he isn't going to walk on water, Wall Street isn't going to skyrocket, and peace will not be restored in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. In other words, Obama is a man not the messiah.

However, I DO think that as a symbol, he presents a very powerful and compelling image to hold up to people, in the U.S. and around the world. That a nation that has been so mired and steeped in a history of racism and white supremacy could reach a point where it elects an African American man to be the first "black" president of the United States.

Which means, that Obama could actually be that symbol of hope and change that his campaign claims. But maybe more than that it is this: We could be that symbol of hope and change. Not mindlessly, not simplistically, and not without human error cropping up. But it might mean that we can try to be better than we are and to inspire others to be better too.

And isn't that something worth voting for?

Jennifer said...

First of all, thank you to everyone who left comments--this is what I love about writing a blog--that it can generate such a lively and interesting discussion.

I have to say I have very sharp students. The Muslim/Arab connection to Obama and the critique, of that, with respect to the false belief/association of Muslim/Arab Americans with terrorism actually came up in class by one of my students as an analogy. We were discussing the case of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American civil engineer who was murdered by a white American auto employee (one who was currently unemployed at the time of the murder I believe). And I posed the rhetorical question of whether it could happen again, since it was about 26 years since the Vincent Chin murder has happened (1982) and we would like to think that we've made some/alot of progress.

And one of my students talked about the spate of ugliness that has cropped up at some McCain/Palin rallies and that she felt that Arab Americans were the new racial group to be targeted--and another student supported her assertion by reminding students of the anti-Arab and Muslim violence that happened in the wake of 9/11 (esp. the murder of the Sikh man in Yuba City, AZ, which echoed the Vincent Chin case).

So yes, it can't be stated enough times that the associations with Muslim and Arab Americans to terrorism or being un-American are something we need to be on the look out for--and that we need EVERYONE, most especially the leadership of our country, across party lines, to denounce this kind of bigotry/racism/false association.

I suppose I should also add, as a fine point, that we should also be mindful that not all people of Arab ancestry are Muslim and that not all people who practice Islam are of Arab descent (ie: there are Syrian Christians and there are Chinese Muslims).

Finally, I want to just echo a point that CVT raised--I do think that if Obama wins, he isn't going to walk on water, Wall Street isn't going to skyrocket, and peace will not be restored in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. In other words, Obama is a man not the messiah.

However, I DO think that as a symbol, he presents a very powerful and compelling image to hold up to people, in the U.S. and around the world. That a nation that has been so mired and steeped in a history of racism and white supremacy could reach a point where it elects an African American man to be the first "black" president of the United States.

Which means, that Obama could actually be that symbol of hope and change that his campaign claims. But maybe more than that it is this: We could be that symbol of hope and change. Not mindlessly, not simplistically, and not without human error cropping up. But it might mean that we can try to be better than we are and to inspire others to be better too.

And isn't that something worth voting for?

spartakos said...

Pardons, I know it's a little late, but I just wanted to respond to cvt. When you say:

If Obama is able to win this thing (which I doubt), the amount of hope and triumph and positive reinforcement it would give to Americans of color is beyond comprehension. To think that this actually CAN be a country FOR US, as well. That hope and positive feeling would far outweigh any harm that could come to the economy (for people of color, at least - and damned if we don't deserve to feel like this is OUR country, just once).

...I totally agree with you. But when you say:

On the other hand, if Obama loses the election (which I expect, because I have no faith in white America), it tells all of us defeated people of color that we were right all along. That America IS racist at its core, and that we have no hope of standing on the mountain (and neither do our kids or grandkids).

...I could not disagree more.

Honestly: do you refuse to acknowledge that there might, possibly, be some legitimate reason not to vote for Obama other than racism? That if he loses, it could be simply that a large portion of America doesn't agree with his vision for political change and policy?

I myself don't agree with hardly any of Obama's political policies...but I'm thinking of voting for him nonetheless, because his value as an agent of social/cultural change may be more valuable than what he does governmentally (real power's in the legislative, anyway). But that doesn't mean there aren't good, sound reasons to vote against him.

Don't you think putting people in a "vote Obama or be accused of racism" dilemma is, well... intellectually dishonest?

Jennifer said...

Hi Sparatkos,
I don't know if CVT is checking on comments from this post, so I figured I'd take a stab at addressing some of the points you brought up in your comment on his comment.

I guess the first thing I'll say is that I applaud you considering voting for Obama based on what you see as his effectiveness as a change agent. I think there are many people, esp. Republican, who would not take that into consideration if the core values of their political party weren't represented by a candidate's position. And I do think that the symbolic import of an African American, mixed-race man, with ties to Kenya as well as Kansas, would go a long way in terms of raising our international credibility and standing with the rest of the globe.

And I agree with CVT that the impact of an Obama presidency in terms of him just being elected could be monumental for American youth of all races but especially Latino and African American young men who may feel disenfranchised and like the deck is stacked against them because of racism in this country.

That's the thing about racial paranoia/hypochondria--you're never sure if the person being rude to you at Costco is just being rude because she's having a bad day or because she has a problem with Asian people. Or the teenage kid at the coast staring hard at you in a restaurant isn't staring because you are the only non-white person in the restaurant or because he's got some eye affliction.

You are absolutely right that there are valid reasons not to vote for Obama based on politics. In terms of political ideology, many of his positions and platforms are solidly within a Democratic paradigm--raising taxes on wealthy Americans in order to pay for services for middle and working class Americans, pro-choice, pro-environment in terms of aggressively looking at alternative energy and being cautious about drilling.

I think where CVT may be coming from, and I share his opinion in a muted form, is that it's hard not to think that entrenched racist beliefs may not play a part in people's voting patterns.

We can see this in some of the coded language coming out of the McCain camp--a rhetoric of "welfare" is suddenly popping up. And trying to link Obama to Ayers through bringing up connections to domestic "terrorists" is similar to shouting out his middle name "Hussein" -- all in an effort to link him to a Muslim/Arab = terrorist connection (which I've already covered in this post).

I think there may be a good chance that Obama will lose and that it cannot all be said to be based on racism, but I also think that it's hard not to go there when you look at American history and you see instance after instance of racism popping up and being used to oppress African Americans (and I mention this group in particular because of the heinous nature of racism that has impacted this particular racial group in the U.S.--I mean, the Tuskeegee experiments ALONE would have me wondering if I can ever trust a white doctor again).

There is a lot of misunderstanding across the racial divide--this is one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog. Because I don't think everything should be boiled down to race/racism, but I do think we need to try to figure out why some of us want to go there--and again, a lot of it has to do with a certain level of paranoia that you just can't shake (if you couldn't tell, the above examples in this comment happened to me this weekend) and so it's hard to separate the real stuff from the b.s. sometimes.