Friday, March 26, 2010

Racist Opposition to Obama?

Racist Opposition to Obama?

Ever since former Pres. Jimmy Carter said publicly that some of the opposition to Pres. Obama and his proposals for health care reform are motivated by traditional racism – the belief in the pervasive incompetence of black Americans – other commentators have raised similar allegations.

Not surprisingly, the evidence to support these suspicions is scarce. But it does exist.

Comments on the Internet report the racist roots of the opposition to Obama. Many persons report the racist language their family and friends use when talking about the president.

An article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports on the racist sources of opposition to Pres. Obama's health care reform. Subjects to whom the current plan was presented as the plan devised by President Clinton in the 1990ties were not as fiercely opposed to health care reform as subjects to whom the same plan presented as the project of Pres. Obama's

Early on bizarre claims surfaced that Pres. Obama is not an American citizen, as well as the sly insinuations that he is really a Muslim. He is felt not to be like us and therefore not acceptable as leader of the country. Obviously he is not like us; after all he is president and we are not. But the difference racists point to is one that invalidates, incapacitates and makes him incompetent for the presidency-- his black skin and heritage.

Glenn Beck, a Fox Network star, accused Obama of being himself a racist because —Beck avers-- he does not like white people. Obama's origins and identity are foremost in the mind of many. In a saner time, someone like Beck would not get a job. But today . . .

The N-word has reappeared with alarming frequency-- not only from carloads of rednecks at political meetings but most shockingly in the Capitol building in Washington, DC when it was hurled at a leader of the civil rights movement, now a Congressman, John L. Lewis, and Black Congressman, Andre Carson, a week or so ago. (They also called Rep. Barney Frank a :”faggot.”)

Opponents of the new health care bill are trying to reassert states' rights in laws or amendments to state constitutions that make federal law inapplicable in individual states. While the limits of federal over state powers are always subject to negotiation in a federal system like ours, this recent movement to assert states rights uses the rhetoric of traditional white supremacist movements. There is talk of “nullification” and even of “secession” both of which appeared frequently in the rhetoric of Southern states before the Civil War, and came up again in political discourse after the Brown versus Board of Education decision that abolished segregated schools. The new defense of states rights and opposition to Obama's healthcare bill quite deliberately echoes earlier, explicitly racist assertions of states rights.

Racist fears, conflicts and crimes are deeply embedded in all of our history. We can take pride in having struggled against racism but must acknowledge our shame in not having struggled more successfully. The election of Barack Obama is a milestone in the fight against racism but the remaining road is not only long, but has just gotten a lot longer.