Sunday, September 16, 2012

Playing the race card in a stacked deck

Since the moment Barack Obama opted to run for the Presidency, the issue of race has been a factor. There's no way around it. Why? Because people are--as a matter of course--prejudiced. All people, myself included. That's not to say all people are bigots, let alone racists, but we are all prejudiced to some extent. It's human nature. What that means is that we all have preconceived notions or opinions--based upon our own experiences--which inform our actions, our words, our choices in all things.

But we can actively seek to minimize the influence on ourselves of such prejudices; many (hopefully most) of us do exactly that, particularly when it comes to our interactions with others. This is--in effect--what makes civil society civil. In meeting someone for the first time, for instance, we invariably make assumptions about them, based on how they look, act, and talk. Sometimes such assumptions turn out to be correct, sometimes they don't. Still, the rational person seeks to not let those assumptions automatically dictate actions and responses: in meeting a person who is lawyer, we might assume that person is greedy and deceitful, based on our previous experiences with other lawyers, but we can willfully set aside those assumptions and deal with the person based on what they actually say and what they actually do.

When it comes to race, all of this is no less true. Those who are unwilling to set aside their prejudices (and some have far more than others, because of their life experiences) are being unfair, of course. And oftentimes, these are people who we might rightly call bigots, people who hold on to their prejudices in defiance of all reason and all evidence to the contrary, who allow such prejudices to absolutely control their interactions.

But some bigots are even given to justifying their opinions with phony evidence and flawed arguments, thus allowing them to pretend reason is the basis for these prejudices, that such things are not mere opinions but subjective truths. It is from here that the myth of race springs, the idea that one race is superior to another as a matter of course, that each race has particular attributes going far beyond mere appearance. Such people are what we rightly term racists.

It is important to understand the differences here, from simple prejudice, to bigotry, to overt racism. The first is universal, as I have explained, but can be overcome by the individual (sometimes easily, sometimes not). Bigotry and racism both reflect an unwillingness to recognize one's prejudices and even--in the case of the latter--attempts to justify them. Both are damaging mindsets to have in society, though the nature of man being what it is, both will probably always be with us. And when we see either in evidence, we should--in my opinion--point it out, seek to correct it, or at least disassociate ourselves from those who practice it.

Obama--as the first black President in American history--has suffered through many attacks (not in the physical sense) from both bigots and racists. There are people who simply do not accept him because of the color of his skin, who did not and will not vote for him or show him any kind of support for that same reason. In my view, such people are a very small minority, though unfortunately a very vocal one. Such people used legitimate disagreements with the President and his polices to make themselves heard. The Tea Party movement has had to endure this reality; we've all seen the racist signs held up by those who claim to be a part of the movement. And the media--being lazy--is always more than happy to latch on to such images, thus allowing the entire movement to be painted with a large racist brush.

For Obama and his supporters, such a response--broadbrushing the entire movement--was a predictable response. Politically, it was a sound move, an effective strategy. And from there, the Left was able to move to an even larger brush: painting all opposition to Obama as somehow racist. This was predictable too, I guess, though I never imagined it would be both exploited and justified to the extent that it has. In various political discussion, I have found myself on the receiving end of an accusation of racism on more than one occasion. Because such an accusation is a powerful weapon; there is no way to prove it false and simply denying it is insufficient.

But now with Obama's first term nearly over, with a pitiful economy, a middle class steadily losing income as prices rise (hello stagflation), and a foreign policy in near-ruins, one would think criticism would have to be taken at face value, without the racist broadbrushing. Right? Nope, because it remains a powerful weapon and those who make a living out of wielding it have no intentions to give it up.

Jamelle Bouie, writing at The Nation, has a short op-ed about race. He attempts a thoughtful, fair analysis, noting right away that he's not one supposedly given to the above broadbrushing game:
As I’ve said on several occasions in other outlets, the vast majority of conservative anger at Barack Obama is not based in race, but it’s clear that it shapes the nature of their opposition.
Now that's actually a bit like saying "some of my best friends are black," or "I'm not a racist but..." Bouie says the anger at Obama is not based mostly on race, but then quickly qualifies it. It's not "based on race," but race "shapes the nature of their opposition." Not just some of their opposition, but all of it apparently. That's a distinction without a difference in my mind, indicating a coming attempt to fashion an overly intellectualized argument to justify what amounts to just another broadbrush statement. He continues:
The real question isn’t whether race affects our political disputes, it’s how. This isn’t an easy question. Yes, there are clear racial implications to things like Mitt Romney’s false charge that Obama is “ending the work requirement” in welfare and simply cutting checks to recipients. But, when it comes to the role race plays in voting—did Obama lose votes because he’s black—it’s a little complicated.  
In any case, if you’re trying to answer the question of race and opposition to Obama, here’s something to remember: we’re only forty-seven years removed from the official end of Jim Crow. White supremacy was the governing ideology for the vast majority of this country’s history, and—in the broad scheme of things—we’re still in the first legs of our journey toward racial equality.
Bouie may be right, the first may be the real question. But the problem is, he's not interested--nor are any of the other race merchants on the Left--in actually answering that question in full, just in finding a part of the answer he can use as a weapon to wield against ideological adversaries of himself, of the Left, and of the President. I say this because note how the question is immediately re-framed: from the role of race in politics to the role of race in the opposition to Obama.

Hello? Can I get a witness? What about the glaringly obvious--to all but Obama sycophants--other side of that coin? What about the role of race in the support of Obama? A recent poll showed that Obama leads Romney 94% to 0% among African Americans. Predictably, media discussion on this focused on why Romney had no support, what he had done or hadn't done to get such little (zero percent!) support. Almost no one was asking why Obama enjoys such ridiculously high support. Is it possible that race plays a role in that support, that the color of Obama's skin as compared to Romney's skin matters to some percentage of those African-Americans polled?

Yes, of course. But for some reason, this is not something worthy of discussion, even though it needs to be explained in full before one can legitimately wonder why Romney's support is in the basement among African Americans in this poll. Why must it be explained in full? Because it's possible that a significant percentage of this group might not ever support Romney simply because of the color of his skin. Isn't it? Because according to the typical left-leaning pundit, there exists a meaningful percentage of white people who will never support the President because of his skin color, right? The latter group--according to Bouie and others--is something we need to talk about, a question that needs answering. But not the former group. Why is that?

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. For there are plenty of other people whose support of the President is tied to the color of his skin, make no mistake in this reagrd. This group includes--in my opinion--a good chunk of the media elite, who wear their support of Obama as a badge of honor, that somehow proves they are above racial prejudice because they support a black President. And why? Because he's black, over and above everything else. Which makes them? Openly prejudiced at the very least. Quite possibly closet bigots or even racists.

But we're not gonna hear about this part of the question of how race affects politics, because it requires an introspection that so many people on the left are simply incapable of, when it comes to this particular issue. And because race is just too powerful of a political weapon. It has been on the back burners for a while now, but as the Election nears, the race merchants will bring it out again and again if they perceive that Obama is in trouble. The more it appears that Romney might win, the more race will be used as a bludgeon against him.

And that's the real role of race in politics. That's the real answer to the question. People like Bouie are not a part of the solution here, are not even a part of understanding the question, they are a part of the problem.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. On the other hand, there are left-wing pundits who don't feel any constraints spewing prejudiced bile. How progressive of them
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/happy-new-year-puppet-masters/262437/

    ReplyDelete