Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Racism You Can't See

Note: This entry is one of those original Facebook notes. It was posted on Thursday, May 15.

By now you may have read the article in the Washington Post by Kevin Merida or at least heard about it. It deals with the topic of racially motivated incidents of hate experienced by volunteers working to help elect Senator Obama. You can find the article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/12/AR2008051203014_pf.html.

These are the highlights:

  • Comments like: “I'll never vote for a black person”
  • Doors slammed in face
  • Students campaigning on a main road being called racial slurs by passers-by
  • ”One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: 'Hang that darky from a tree!'”
Now, these are very specific, tangible examples of racism and racial hatred. Racism is being shown toward those who refuse to vote for Senator Obama because of the color of his skin, and to those, black and white, who are volunteering for him.

But I personally believe there is another type of racism mentioned in this article. Merdia notes that the Obama campaign has not made much fuss about these issues. Now, surely there is more than one reason for this. One tactical reason is that they do not want to discourage people from volunteering. However, there is another reason. As an African American candidate, Senator Obama has to avoid appearing as complaining about racism too much. This is a more subtle form of racism, one that few notice and even fewer are willing to admit exists.

Traditionally, the media, when it comes to racial relations, is only concerned with the first manifestation of racism: calling someone the N-word, police brutality, blatant racial discrimination in the workplace, and the like. However, the second form is much more controversial, because it strikes at the heart of racial relations and what it means to live in a racialized society such as ours. The fact of the matter is that there is a double standard. If Senator Clinton or Senator McCain decried the attacks on Obama volunteers or vandalism of his campaign office, they would be seen as noble. If Senator Obama were to do it, he'd be another complainer, another Sharpton, another Jackson. It would be seen as “race-baiting” which I'm sure some people would accuse me of just for writing this letter.

It is this double standard in the way we assign credibility when discussing race that is key evidence of the existence of white privilege in this country. For a better understanding of the very real but very controversial topic of white privilege, check out Unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. This article addresses the way in which, in this society, whites area aloud to say certain things that others just aren't allowed to say without being cast in a negative light. It is, I believe, the chief reason that Senator Obama, as well as countless silently angry black journalist (Eugene Robinson from MSNBC come to mind) have had to bite their tongue on a number of issues this election season.

You can even look at the fallout over spiritual leaders. Senator Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, claimed that, following September 11th, the U.S. needed to consider what impact being an international bully has on incurring the wrath of peoples of other nations. He's been branded as anti-American, and virtually all of the news media asked when and how – not if – Senator Obama would “denounce” him. Meanwhile, one spiritual adviser to Senator McCain, John Hagge, claimed that the Hurricane Katrina tragedy was a result of the wrath of God. He believes that God destroyed New Orleans because “homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.”(read here: http://thinkprogress.org/2008/03/11/mccain-hagee-hewitt/) Where are similar calls for McCain to denounce and reject Hagge? Or how about Rod Parsley, who believes that America was founded to destroy Islam? Or the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who blamed “gays” and “abortionists” among others for the attacks on 9/11? Why no calls for Senator McCain to throw these men under the bus, men whom he has publicly held in high regard, being fully aware of their statements? Why only such a call for Rev. Wright? Who's take on 9/11 makes more sense, Falwell or Wright? But how gets lambasted and daemonized by the media?

But, no one wants to talk about this. To acknowledge that there is such a double standard would mean to acknowledge the existence of white privilege (for those of you who watch FOX “News” you may better know it as “reverse racism,” which is an oxymoronic concept that determines it's own lengthy note unto itself). If white privilege is real, than that means that we as a nation must re-evaluate everything, because it means that everything is in some way, shape, or form racialized. This means everything from how we choose presidents to how we choose spouses to how the cast for the Oscar Meyer commercial I just watched was chosen. It means that race is involved not only when a white police officer shoots an innocent black victim, but also if the officer was black, or if the victim was guilty of a crime. It means that race is involved in what I lean in school, who teaches it to me, and if I retain the knowledge. Essentially, it means that race is inescapable because it has been so deeply entrenched into modern American culture. Sadly, that's not a notion that many are willing to accept, despite the evidence for it, because they believe in the phone, romanticized view of America that they were taught in school, or at best they believe that we have “turned the page” and “gotten past all that.”

Race in America is like termites. If you only look at what can be seen, you'll never think anything is wrong. It's only once you peel back the layers that you realize how extensive the damage is. We have yet to peel back the layers.

1 comment:

RCC said...

great start, kevin, keep it up. i'm looking forward to more posts.
keep in touch,