Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Negro Dialect

So a new book claims that a couple of powerful, old white men are closet racists, which of course is a victory for conservatives. Go figure.

OK, the sources seem sketchy, but I don't really doubt that it's possible that Bill Clinton used some racist language talking about Obama, and I barely care. The funnier bit is Republicans trying to say that Harry Reid, using old man language to talk about what's just obviously true (that Obama is electable because...well, I don't think his skin tone really has as much to do with it as his not using "negro dialect." Another way to think of this is that it's impossible to imagine America electing a black man who conducted himself like, say, Teddy Roosevelt.) is equivalent to Trent Lott saying America would have been better off if we had elected a segregationist president in the 60's. TNC's take on this is the best and funniest I've read, no reason for me to go any deeper into it.

At the time, by the way, I actually defended Trent Lott in an argument. I just didn't feel like it was absolutely clear that he had thought the statement through, or that he meant what it sounded like he meant. In light of the behavior of the right wing over the last year, I find myself reevaluating that opinion, but I want to share an example.

Last summer, I went down to Georgia for vacation. I was posting updates about my trip on Facebook. I stayed a few days at my parent's beautiful cabin in the mountains, ate some good soul food, was generally enjoying The South, and making posts to that effect. I had a friend whom I worked with, who was from the South. Unlike me, she hates L.A. and wants to move back to the South badly. She's also a conservative, for what it's worth. And she was replying to my posts, saying how much she loved the South, how badly she missed it. So one day, we end up going to this horrible Chinese buffet, where they had the T.V. on showing America's Funniest Home Videos, with the volume up so all the patrons could enjoy the show, and I posted something like "Experienced the dark side of the South tonight." And she replied "There's no dark side to the South!"

Now two things: I was kinda blown away by that statement, and I didn't respond to it. I didn't respond because I knew that those words didn't mean the same thing to her that they meant to me. I'm sure my friend doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about how the ghosts of history inform the present-day South, and parsing the racial subtexts of contemporary culture or whatever we liberals do with our brains. She just meant that the South is a great place to live, and it's not terrible like L.A. It didn't occur to her, I'm sure, that she was endorsing a history of white supremacy and racist terrorism. And maybe we forget that a lot of white people just don't spend a lot of time thinking about race, and thus don't see statements like this through that lense.

Obviously, my friend's situation is pretty different from Trent Lott, he being a life-long politician and all, and maybe I was cutting him a little too much slack at the time. These guys are proving themselves to have more of a "dark side" than I even guessed.


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