Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is the anti-Obama movement motivated by racism?

If you watched Letterman the other night you would have seen Barack Obama being interviewed. And he was the usual erudite, calmly confident and even witty man that the rest of us outside the States are proud to have as the Leader of the Free World. Among the questions Dave asked was about whether, as Jimmy Carter has recently suggested, some of the vitriol aimed at him recently was based in racism.

The O-Man deflected it with a great line:

"First of all, I think it's important to realise that I was actually black before the election..."

Smooth. I like that the most powerful man in the world has good comic timing. But was he being genuine?

I would say no. He is either hopelessly optimistic or he's not really telling the truth. I'm not saying its a bad thing that he's not being honest, because he has no other choice in his position.

I've little doubt that as an intelligent guy with a deep understanding of society and race, Obama knows full well that his race is a very significant part of the groundswell of conservative opposition to his administration.

It's just that he can't say it. The trade-off for becoming Everybody's President is that he can no longer take the side of black people against white people, on anything. Remember the Henry Louis Gates affair? (Cops hassle elderly black professor for breaking into his own house, then arrest him for being abusive.) BO didn't accuse the white policeman of racism; he merely said that on face value, the police seemed to be overzealous in their actions, and that such an encounter is complicated by the historical nature of racial profiling in police interactions with minorities.

Of course, right-wing nutjobs like Glenn Beck jumped all over him for that.

When Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the like are brainwashing their large audience and saying that Obama is a racist, an Arab, a socialist, a fascist and so on, its not surprising that people are afraid.

The Right like to pretend that the legacy of racism is done and dusted, and that race and racism is no longer a factor in how things operate or how people think. This of course is absolute nonsense. But to acknowledge that, as Obama has done before, means being accused a number of times of "playing the race card". Thus he has been effectively neutered in any discussion about race, despite being uniquely qualified to talk about it. And his ideological opponents get to make veiled racist comments with impunity.

Does this mean that all the folks attending protest rallies against Obama's health care plan are card-carrying racists? No, not at all. I'm sure some of them even have black friends, not that that means anything. And many of them I'm sure, are purely against his policies.

What we are talking about is a far more subtle and subconscious form of racism. One that is buried deep in the psyche. We all have that to a certain extent, but some people don't know its there. So they are influenced by their own mild racism but don't even know it. For many conservative Americans, Obama is scary, because to them he represents "The Other". He's got dark skin. He's "foreign" - he's got a strange name, he's not really an American like us, they say he's a Muslim. The labels of "socialist" and "communist" that have been bandied around by conservatives about Obama do not seem racial in nature, but they feed into the image being propagated of him being something other than American.

So when many of the anti-Obama brigade chant about "wanting America back" or "socialism" or "fascism", they are drawing on their fear of The Other. Of course, they're not using obviously racist language, which they probably find distasteful, since that's how racists talk, and these people don't see themselves as racist. Which is why any time someone like Jimmy Carter tells the truth about this crap, they can complain that the Left is just shutting down debate by crying racism. Which is why Obama will never be able to really tell the truth about the racism of the Right. His tenure as president depends on him telling himself and his country that it is not racist.

Although seriously, the racial connotations are not hard to see in these signs:
(Hat tip: Evil Slutopia)


UPDATE (26 Sept):

Oh yeah, and I forgot to add this comment by a conservative blogger and Republican activist:

More on the whole "coloured people = primate" thing here.

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