In its simplest form, racism is the idea that ancestry in a group, either self- or outsider-defined is determinate of a number of factors that allow for a hierarchy. This may or may not be institutionalized by the government, either expressly, or by maintenance of status quo ante factors.

And this definition is probably fairly textbook, but when people use this word, they mean all kinds of different things.

First, there is no such thing as race in biology. So, to the extent that it exists, its a “nuture” concept, not a nature one. This means to me, significantly, that it can be overcome with “nuture.” (It also belies the problem of arguing that being gay is genetic—so I can’t be gay because I don’t have a certain gene??)

Second, the term is used by one group to mean any decision that takes race into account as a factor. It’s used by another to denote the perpetuation of attitudes or institutions that have created racial hierarchies.

The use of the form term has been the basis of “color blind” arguments against affirmative action, civil rights laws, and so on. “Haven’t we learned,” they say, “that making judgments on the basis of race is wrong?” Those with slightly more good faith think that the best way to get to a race neutral society is to abolish the distinctions and let it work itself out.

The trouble is this country was founded on Racism, grew on Racism, and has never remedied Racism against Africans or Indians. People who espouse “color blind” rhetoric simply ignore the fact that a large part of the population was not given equal opportunity, denies that this should have any relevance in our times. It is a huge coincidence, they must believe, that blacks are disproportionately poor. Hmm.

So, it upsets people when President Carter says that the “YOU LIE” (everything conservatives say is in all caps—if you don’t believe me, look at a newspaper comment section) was based on racism. They think this means you cannot criticize a black person. They do not understand how saying Obama is not telling the truth is racist. Color-blindedly, he is either telling the truth or not.

Now, let’s set aside the fact that none of the health care bills have provisions for allowing “illegal aliens” coverage. Let’s set aside that that term in and of itself is part of a different racism. Let’s set aside the fact that it’s a bad policy to exclude anyone from coverage because it makes the pool smaller. Let’s set aside the fact that the basis of the comment of “lying” is that the new law simply wouldn’t allow for emergency rooms to kick people out based on their nationality, which is the status quo. We’ll leave aside the fact that the reform is about insurance coverage, not treatment (because this is too complicated for most people).

Leaving all of that aside, is telling Obama YOU LIE racist? Not on its face. But there is more to this than “its face.” One of the most common attributes of the “color blind” society is to equate class with virtue. Not that your money makes your virtuous, but that your virtue will make you money. All these blacks, they say, must be poor because they are breaking the rules. They don’t go to school. They don’t work. They just collect welfare. They commit crime. They all go to jail. The welfare queen image. Children out of wedlock. You know the drill.

Therefore, it is a failure of virtue, not a failure of society or 400 years of institutional racism. So, blacks are implicitly held to a higher standard. Whites are poor because the government overtaxes them and won’t let them do things because of snail darters. Blacks are poor because they lack virtue. So, how does this relate to Obama and racism? Obama’s only “black” feature is his outward appearance. Kind of. He’s basically a mulatto Urkle. He’s a nerd. He doesn’t “talk black”—knowwhatIsayin’? But yet the apoplectic reaction to his presidency is unmatched. Even the anti-Clinton histrionics (which, as the “Sister Souljah Moment” showed, was at least in part due to Clinton’s affinity for blacks) do not match this. Clinton was wrong; Obama is out of the question.

People think he was born in Kenya. People think he “pals around with terrorists.” He’s a secret Muslim. He’s the antichrist. et cetera.

He is held to a “higher standard”—an impossible standard—because he is black. We all know it. The “color blind” believe somehow that he is a case of reverse discrimination. And there have been times when Obama was advantaged by his race in electoral politics, especially in the Democratic primary—because politically correct is the flip side of “color blind.” The former explains too much with race, the latter too little. The former explains race as an individual punishment for a collective liability (you share in your ancestors’ guilt!) and the latter explains race as an individual liability the results in collective punishment (my son didn’t get into college so that a dumber black kid could go!).

Liberals are much more likely to engage in the soft bigotry of low expectations. Conservatives unabashedly engage in the hard bigotry or unreasonably high expectations, to use the parlance of the outgoing decade.

Was the YOU LIE done because Obama was black? Maybe not. But the place in the man’s heart it came from is a fire that burns on racial resentment.

2 thoughts on “"Racism"”

  1. An excellent post, but at the risk of hairsplitting I would argue that Obama was not advantaged in the Dem. primary by his race, but by his stated opposition to sending troops into Iraq as well as the perception among the base (jury’s still out on this one) that he represents an alternative to the sclerotic, business-as-usual, Lanny Davis wing of the party, widely perciecved as having capitulated to the GOP during Bill’s term in office.

    Also, given that Carter is a) from Georgia and b) willing to call a spade a … (ahem) voice uncomfortable truths, like when he referred to Israel/Gaza as “an apartheid state” — well, if he thinks it’s racism I’m inclined to take the man’s word for it.

    Also: http://www.sadlyno.com/archives/25856.html


  2. @dfsale: I don’t deny that he was advantaged by his position on Iraq; in fact, I think that is why he got the support he got in the beginning. So many people simply ruled people out on that basis. But in such a close race, he needed a lot of little differences to add up to a win, and I certainly think his race was an advantage, not a *dis*advantage in that race.


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