Monday, August 3, 2009

Stephen Colbert on "Neutral Man"; Obama the "Racist"

If you've at all followed the racially sticky confirmation process of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, you'll appreciate this incisive bit of satire from Colbert Nation. He plays with the very common yet usually unconscious assumption that the majority (white folks, in this case) is the standard, and therefore neutral.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Neutral Man's Burden
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTasers

In case you're having trouble viewing that, try here.

A prime example of the "Neutral Man" thinking that Colbert was alluding to is the following slice of Fox and Friends in which right-wing commentator Glenn Beck describes Barack Obama as having deep-seated racism against white people.

There's a lot of people on the conservative side of US politics who think that way, and they'll bring it up anytime Obama speaks the truth about race. In this case, Beck is referring to the arrest of black professor Henry Louis Gates, after Gates broke into his own home and apparently was abusive towards the policemen who attended the scene. Obama commented on the case, saying that the police acted stupidly to arrest Gates when it was clear it was his own home, and that nonwhites face harsher treatment by the police than whites. Both these things are true. Yet for someone like Beck who sees his own white privileged point of view as neutral, this is a sign of Obama's racism.

Likewise the controversy that surrounded Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright a while back for comments he made condemning America's history of perpetuating injustice against its own people and in other countries. The "controversial" elements of that speech that get played and replayed as evidence of Wright's racism, are actually pretty reasonable.

"God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.
"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye... We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

Those are uncomfortable truths to hear, but truths nonetheless. Because the US actually did do all those things. I challenge anyone to argue with that passage. But white America saw that as racist anti-American radicalism.

Likewise, Michelle Obama's comment in 2008 that "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback."

Again, white conservative America was shocked by this. What kind of an American would not be unconditionally proud of their country?

Hmmm... perhaps black Americans whose ancestors were bought and sold, or who were denied the right to vote. Or Japanese-Americans, interned in camps during WW2 solely because of their heritage.

To quote Chris Rock: "If you're black, America is like the uncle that paid your way through college....but molested you."

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