If It Walks Like a Duck and Talks Like a Duck: Racism, Bigotry and the Death of Respectable Conservatism
By Tim Wise
How many times can a man be the butt of racist humor, or likened to black dictators, or accused of seeking racial revenge upon white people, before it is no longer outrageous or the playing of some mystical, magical race card to assert that, indeed, the people doing these things are really just race-baiting white nationalists in conservative garb?
How long, in short, before we call that which walks and talks like a duck, a fucking duck?
And yes, please, I realize that not all of these criticisms are explicitly about race (though most quite obviously are), but even those that seem free of racialized content at first glance, continue a process of othering, whereby the president becomes not just someone with objectionable policies, but someone who actually wants to hurt you, to destroy your country, to pillage the values you hold dear, to crush you and everything you believe into dust. One would have to look far and wide to uncover any rhetoric that apocalyptic said about previous presidents. Even Bill Clinton, whom the right dearly loathed, never was characterized as a would-be dictator, whose re-election would potentially spell the end of America, or whose presidency was seen as literally endangering the republic. Indeed, even when Clinton proposed health care reform that was about as moderate and lukewarm as Obama’s, those who opposed the plan never accused Bill of advocating death panels, or using health care to exact racial revenge on whites, or looking to take money from old white people and spend it on health care for undocumented immigrants. Interestingly, the extent to which Obama has been effectively othered thanks to racial resentment, actually causes whites to oppose his health care reform plan, even while they profess support for the very same plan so long as they’re told it was Bill Clinton’s.
Just like they know what they’re doing when they dishonestly blame the economic crisis, and especially the housing meltdown, on poor people of color, who received home loans for which they weren’t qualified thanks to the presumed meddling of civil rights activists. Although there is literally no evidence to support the bogus claim that the Community Reinvestment Act and other lending regulations caused the crisis (indeed the vast majority of bad loans weren’t even written by CRA-covered institutions, and those loans that were covered under CRA tended to perform better than others), by connecting economic insecurity to people of color—to financial “affirmative action” if you will—the right hopes to create synaptic and memetic links between white pain and black gain.
So too with their baseless claims that people-of-color led organizations like ACORN were responsible for massive election fraud in 2008, and their suggestions that such fraud may even have stolen the election for Obama. Though the claims are the stuff of ignorant and paranoid fantasy (the only fraud uncovered was registration fraud, which ACORN itself discovered and reported, and which involved registrants filling out cards with names like Donald Duck—unlikely to result in actual vote fraud unless Donald actually managed to waddle into the booth), they push oversized buttons of white fear and trepidation that those people are stealing your country from you!
And to consistently contrast the president with the founders, as the Tea Party is so quick to do, is hard to countenance other than as an implicitly racial message about how the nation has changed, and not for the better. After all, other presidents have created government programs every bit as large or larger than anything implemented by the current administration; they have created far higher taxes, and added much more to the deficit. Yet it is this president, whose beliefs and actions we are to see as uniquely breaking with the nation as the founders envisioned it. And more to the point, we are to revere without comment that bygone nation, making no note apparently of the founders’ racism, sexism, or classist elitism. Indeed, to critique the founders for their prodigious shortcomings in this regard is seen as an unjust and evil calumny. The nostalgic reverence for people who openly held to a belief in white supremacy, who believed in restricting the franchise to white male property owners (as do at least some among the contemporary right wing), and who in all regards intended to establish a white republic, with liberty and justice solely for a few, is an inherently racial message. Whether it transmits that message loudly, like a cell phone on full volume (to borrow a metaphor from Michael Eric Dyson), or quietly, like the same phone on vibrate matters little. The call is received, and the message is left in the inbox of an anxious white polity.
When you look at the persistent racialization of anti-Obama rhetoric, and the lost cause-type nostalgia that is so central to the modern conservative narrative, it is very difficult to ignore how whiteness and implicit white supremacy forms the cornerstone of the Republican Party and especially its rightmost wing. And when you then examine the particular strategies being employed by the right to help “take the country back” from the interloper they feel has hijacked it, such as limiting early voting (because it tends to increase turnout among folks of color and the poor), or the Voter ID craze (which won’t actually stop mythical fraudulent in-person voting but which will disproportionately effect turnout among people of color and the poor who are less likely to have photo ID), the relationship between white anxiety and modern conservatism becomes even clearer.
Fear of a Black President
As a candidate, Barack Obama said we needed to reckon with race and with America’s original sin, slavery. but as our first black president, he has avoided mention of race almost entirely. In having to be “twice as good” and “half as black,” Obama reveals the false promise and double standard of integration.
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
No amount of rhetorical moderation could change this. It did not matter that the president addressed himself to “every parent in America.” His insistence that “everybody [pull] together” was irrelevant. It meant nothing that he declined to cast aspersions on the investigating authorities, or to speculate on events. Even the fact that Obama expressed his own connection to Martin in the quietest way imaginable—“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”—would not mollify his opposition. It is, after all, one thing to hear “I am Trayvon Martin” from the usual placard-waving rabble-rousers. Hearing it from the commander of the greatest military machine in human history is another.
By virtue of his background—the son of a black man and a white woman, someone who grew up in multiethnic communities around the world—Obama has enjoyed a distinctive vantage point on race relations in America. Beyond that, he has displayed enviable dexterity at navigating between black and white America, and at finding a language that speaks to a critical mass in both communities. He emerged into national view at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, with a speech heralding a nation uncolored by old prejudices and shameful history. There was no talk of the effects of racism. Instead Obama stressed the power of parenting, and condemned those who would say that a black child carrying a book was “acting white.” He cast himself as the child of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and asserted, “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” When, as a senator, he was asked if the response to Hurricane Katrina evidenced racism, Obama responded by calling the “ineptitude” of the response “color-blind.”
Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others. Black America ever lives under that skeptical eye. Hence the old admonishments to be “twice as good.” Hence the need for a special “talk” administered to black boys about how to be extra careful when relating to the police. And hence Barack Obama’s insisting that there was no racial component to Katrina’s effects; that name-calling among children somehow has the same import as one of the oldest guiding principles of American policy—white supremacy. The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld. The larger effects of this withholding constrict Obama’s presidential potential in areas affected tangentially—or seemingly not at all—by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes.
In America, the rights to own property, to serve on a jury, to vote, to hold public office, to rise to the presidency have historically been seen as belonging only to those people who showed particular integrity. Citizenship was a social contract in which persons of moral standing were transformed into stakeholders who swore to defend the state against threats external and internal. Until a century and a half ago, slave rebellion ranked high in the fevered American imagination of threats necessitating such an internal defense.
In the early years of our republic, when democracy was still an unproven experiment, the Founders were not even clear that all white people should be entrusted with this fragile venture, much less the bestial African. Thus Congress, in 1790, declared the following:
With the Republican convention about to begin, Romney made a birther "joke." Along with his flat-out lie that Obama is cutting work requirements for welfare recipients, Romney is playing the race card openly. He knows the only way he can win is to appeal to white America.
Another posting nicely (and sarcastically) sums up Romney's racial appeal:
Pin the Tale on the Honky
Romney isn’t using birthers and bigotry against Obama. It just looks that way.
By William Saletan
Stephen Douglas's assertion--that “this government was made on the white basis”--is still what many Americans believe. They agree with Douglas that blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Indians aren't "real Americans" and don't deserve to run the country. That role is reserved for the people who supposedly founded America: white Euro-Christians.
True, not all conservatives are racists. But America's conservative party as a whole is racist, or racist enough. The constant slurs about Obama's race, religion, and patriotism are the proof.
For more on conservative racism, see Republican Official Prefers Custer to Indians, Sikh Shootings Reflect White Supremacy, and Racists Hate and Fear Minority Babies.