Thursday, July 22, 2010

Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Racist...

The events of the last week or so provide a good lesson in knowing when to just shut the fuck up. A week ago--was that all it was?--the NAACP released a statement calling on leaders of the Tea Party movement to repudiate racism in their ranks. The immediate reaction was mostly eye-rolling. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a very good, strong argument in favor of the resolution, but I think the reaction of most white people was probably something like "Oh, there they go playing the race card again," and even my reaction was "OK, yeah, there's clearly a lot of nasty shit going on there, but what exactly do they think they're accomplishing with this?" And I think if the Tea Party folks had just rolled their eyes and gone on with their lives (and to be fair, I guess that's what most of them did), that's the impression most of white America would have been left with. But some people just love finding uses for extra rope, and within 24 hours, Mark Williams, head of the Tea Party Express, responded to this charge of racism with the most blatantly racist diatribe I can remember ever hearing in American public life, a satirical letter from the NAACP to Abraham Lincoln. A few days later, professional scumbag Andrew Breitbart posted "video proof of NAACP racism" in the form of a video of Shirley Sherrod speaking at an NAACP event, edited so heavily that she seemed to be saying the exact opposite of what she was actually saying. The full video was posted within hours, but by that time Sherrod had already beenn asked to resign by the Obama administration.

I repeat that, if these right wing assholes had just laughed the whole thing off, the reaction of at least most white people would have ranged from indifference to annoyance at the NAACP. Instead, the story that the right wing base is inherently racist is pretty much unavoidable. And it continues into the third big story of the last week, which began when Sarah Palin tweeted "Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." When it was pointed out that, uh, refudiate isn't a word, she responded with ""Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!" At this point, you'll have to allow this language geek a quick digression.

I actually agree with the body of Palin's tweet here, with a few caveats. First, she's obviously bullshitting--she wasn't coining a word, she just didn't know how to spell "repudiate," and probably got it confused with "refute"--but it's the kind of bullshit that I respect, like when you're debating a friend, and you call him on some bullshit, and he comes back with a response, and you know he's bullshitting, he knows he's bullshitting, but it's a creative response so you just kinda laugh and say "good save." Second, while Shakespeare certainly did invent some words, the extent of this is a bit exaggerated. Here's a list of Shakespeare coinages. Now, Shakespeare didn't just come up with the word "accused," for instance. It just means that the earliest incident of that word being printed in English that we can find was in a Shakespeare play.

But the important point, lost underneath all this "haw haw, what a rube!" silliness, is that Palin is openly promoting a racist, unamerican and stupid position. Racist because she is equating all of Islam with the fundamentalist terrorists who conducted the 9/11 attacks, the equivalent of equating all Christians with the religious terrorist who assassinated Dr. Tiller. Un-American because it goes against the basic idea of religious freedom and equality that this country was founded on, implying that Muslims cannot be a part of mainstream America, that there is a state-sanctioned religion in our country. And both un-American and stupid because it goes against another basic American principle, the melting pot. I believe in the principle that, if radical Muslims move to America, they will find our society preferable to theirs. They will find that they prefer sex to repression and making money to fighting Jihad. This is the strength of our country, it's why we will win this fight, because our way of life, the liberal way of life, is just obviously better (and we will lose this clash of civilizations if we instead go their way, and let religious fundamentalism, police state authoritarianism and militarism take over our country).

It's also a flat-out lie, because the Mosque in question is not to be built on the former sight of the towers (I hate calling it Ground Zero, as if what Osama Bin Laden accomplished on the sight means more than the erection of two gigantic towers or the bustling commerce they hosted), but two blocks away and not even within view. And why does she even give a shit what happens in a city that she believes is not even a part of real America anyway?

This is a mainstream right wing political figure, most likely the frontrunner for her party's 2012 presidential nomination, fanning racist resentment and promoting an openly, unambiguosly racist position in public (Newt Gingrich is going along with it as well). I should also mention this idiot running for state house in New Hampshire (???), who probably speaks for a lot of racists when he says he's not a racist because "The word does not have a specific definition. If someone says, 'You seem to hate people who aren't white,' I say no, so I can't really be a racist, because I don't hate them. I just don't want to live around areas that are heavily, predominantly non-white."

This is not some subtext overly sensitive liberals are inferring from ambiguous statements. This is open racism in the mainstream of the Republican party. And regardless of how you feel about government regulations of commerce, progressive taxation or social programs, I don't see how anyone can stand by and watch this happen. It is just not acceptable in this country. Which is a shame, because we are facing some crises that I think the Democratic party is ill-equipped to deal with. Huge cuts need to be made to entitlements, and public sector unions need to be aggressively confronted. It would be great to have a functional opposition party right now. But we just don't.

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