February 15, 2010

Xenophobia behind Wilson's "You lie!"

Russell:  Hate speech without hate

By Steve Russell[W]hy would the Republican congressman falsely call the president a liar? He was pandering to the voters who hate, like the fans of former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo and former CNN commentator Lou Dobbs. Tancredo and Dobbs, and the people who love them, represent the xenophobic side of American politics that started with the ugly things early settlers said about Indians, continued through the removals to Indian territory, and only went more or less underground after the slaughter of non-combatants was caught on film at the horror we call Wounded Knee in 1890. But did the people who spent time with Indians really believe the nonsense about ruthless savages?

All the most successful Indian fighters fought beside Indian scouts, often but not always from tribes with historical grievances against the immediate enemy. Crow scouted against Lakota and Tonkawa scouted against Comanche, but Apache also scouted against Apache. My point here is not to criticize Indians for settling scores but to criticize white people for lying about the people they worked beside.

It’s hard not to notice that the congressional heckler, Joe Wilson, was representing the great state of South Carolina, where hate and hypocrisy are apparently an art form. It was South Carolina governor and then Sen. Strom Thurmond who made a career as a segregationist while carrying on an affair with a black woman who bore his daughter. It was current South Carolina governor and “family values” advocate Mark Sanford who made the phrase “hiking on the Appalachian Trail” an odd synonym for getting horizontal with your girlfriend.

The distance from South Carolina to Washington is like the distance from rural Texas to Austin in cultural terms, and like the distance from the Dakotas to the East Coast in the history of Indian relations.

What strikes me is that much of the hate speech directed towards Indians, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and homosexuals is uttered by people who know better. That they don’t really believe that nonsense often jumps out in their life histories.

In my generation, the late George Wallace was a veritable avatar of racism, proclaiming after an early political loss, “I will never be out-niggered again!” But in his last term as Alabama governor, he not only had recanted his segregationist views, but he went on to set a record for the number of blacks appointed to state office.

There is a major strain of politics in Indian country that is all about Indians as a threat to “equality” for white people, holders of “special privileges.” The major fear points are trust land being off state tax rolls and white people who live on Indian land being subjected to tribal laws.

The dittoheads in this controversy have never considered that when they are citizens of New Mexico driving on a Texas highway, they are subject to the laws of Texas, a “foreign” sovereign. Every time you drive on the land of a pueblo in New Mexico there is a big sign informing you that you are entering the sovereignty of that pueblo. The political leaders who whip up outrage over Indian sovereignty, on the other hand, know this, and they know that the only possible objection to being subject to tribal laws is racism.

Much if not most political hate speech, I am convinced, is uttered for political advantage by people who really do not hate the people they are using to arouse a following among voters for whom they have no respect at all. For those of us subjected to the hate speech, knowing it is uttered by knaves to influence fools is cold comfort.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Conservatives' Pro-White Agenda and Right-Wing Racism Against Obama.