Friday, September 18, 2009

Race in the Mix

Let me state up front that not all opposition to Barack Obama or his policies is race related or racist. That being said, a significant element in this opposition is rooted in racism. Jimmy Carter's statements might be impolitic, which is why the White House disavowed them and insisted that race involved. Obama has to walk a thin line here, so as to be the President of all the people.

But, race is still part of the equation. From Glen Beck's assertion that Obama hates white people to Limbaugh's claims of white victimization, race is continually being inserted by those who for some reasons believe that their country is being taken away from them.

Jonathan Walton has written an important post for Religion Dispatches that lays out some of the issues. There is an argument that we would be a color blind nation, if only minorities would stop inserting their differences into the conversation. In other words, issues of race and ethnicity fall at the feet of the minorities, not whites. The assumption in this is that white culture (whatever that is) is normative. Whites are the real Americans.

Yet President Obama’s enormous success in life, whether as a highly educated community organizer or as America’s commander-in-chief, exposes the paradox this sort of faux post-racialism presents. It’s a one-sided deal for people of color as “post-racial” in effect means post-black, post-brown, post-red, and post-yellow, while leaving the normative racial framework of whiteness intact. Race is the challenge people of color must confront and dare I say, “get over.” But a post-racial America does not demand the same of those who identify with, and claim the social construction of, whiteness and perceived privileges and cultural superiority therein.

This is why, it would seem, Barack Obama’s body standing behind the American presidential seal has a critical segment of America losing its hold on reality—a reality, I would argue, few have ever been forced to acknowledge up to this point. Whether it’s the birthers, tea-baggers, deathers, indoctrinators or “You lie!”-ers they have neither veiled their racial animus nor cloaked their white nationalism. The prevalence of racist images of President Obama brandished by protesters juxtaposed with calls of “taking our country back” are reminiscent of D.W. Griffith’s fictional America as depicted in Birth of a Nation. And the pride with which this segment of society has rallied the troops around its shared sense of whiteness reveals that their skin color is the one true object of pledged allegiance and determinant of professed patriotism. [See Unregulated Capitalism and Christian Fervor: Report from the 9/12 Rally at the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2009].

For some, Obama's success serves as an unwelcome challenge to their own sense of superiority. Thus, he must be demonized as a Hitler, an unwelcome presence that signifies the demise of one's own identity.

Race won't stop being an issue until those of us who are white recognize that we are people of color ourselves. And in many parts of the country, we will soon be part of the mix of minorities, no longer a majority of the people. This will change the culture. But isn't that the point of our national ethos -- e pluribus unum -- one nation and many peoples.

So, what does the present moment tell us? Walton writes:

I believe this applies to our current president and his most vocal critics. If he is framed as the foreigner, incarnate evil and indoctrinating Nazi, many won’t have to acknowledge that he may just be smart, sophisticated and a devout patriot. God forbid. And if he is, what does that make them?

So, who are we?



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"So, who are we?"

A bunch of race baiters I guess.

The best thing to do is ignore them. I can imagine McBeck and McLimbaugh Googling themselves to see how many hits they get and feeling like they're worth a @#*& because they can still cause a stir on both ends.

My eyes are hazel, I'd have to guess at yours- because it doesn't matter. Many woman color their hair, any color they want- because it doesn't matter. I don't care what McBeck or McLimbaugh say or think, because they proved long ago that their views are ubsurd. They're getting the response from both sides they want. Darn, I just added to their Google hits- Thanks. Oh, I took care of it. David Mc