(Hat Tip: POU commenter and Twitter fam Trose)
In response to Joan “Miss Ann” Walsh’s “Are white liberals abandoning the president?”
PUMA bitchassness op-ed, a Salon commenter by the name of “Jcwtts1″ broke it down like a fraction on why white liberals like Joanie just don’t get when it comes to race and racism.
Let me begin in the simplest way. Race and Racism are two different things. What happens in discourse, especially internet discourse, is that those two issues become conflated.
This is dangerous for both sides. On the one hand, you have the dismissive white response that is typical. “Just because I criticize the president doesn’t make me a racist.”
But on the other side, you have an equally troubling trend to classify something (ex. discourse, comment, language choice, meme, etc.) as racism without unpacking it or without fully comprehending the term.
Racism is a charge which is a conversation ender. It stops discourse and should, because of this, be used sparingly and only in the most obvious and egregious cases.
However, racialized speech, which is speech that is often dehumanizing, condescending, and aggressive- passively so quite often, must be examined in terms of who is saying it, and what is being said.
Sounds a little confusing? Let me humor you and Joan with specifics:
1) The President is a coward.
This meme exists in the progressive ranks almost as pervasively as the meme that he is a Muslim and wasn’t born here exists in the GOP Tbag ranks.
Why do I liken this expression of frustration with two examples of “Othering” done by the hard right? Because like those examples of otherness calling the President a coward is racialized speech.
History lesson. The first black cadet at West Point was dismissed in his fourth year for cowardice after being strapped to a chair and tortured all night by white classmates who couldn’t imagine him graduating.
The argument against integration of the military was that blacks were cowards. That we lacked the fundamental grit to stand up to hard fighting. All evidence to the contrary in every war fought. From the black regiments of the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI and WWII, black soldiers were some of the hardest hit, used and bravest. A history that is almost impossible to convince people of, because of the hidden stereotype of racialized thinking and speech. So calling the president a coward is like calling an accomplished woman “a chick” or “a girl”. It is condescending and aggressively so. And it is NOT an accident of speech.
2) His name is not Obama, it is President Obama, and the number of white commentators on TV, in print, and on the blogs that refer to him this way is legion. I heard an hour of Fox News where they referred to President Bush and Obama. Not President Bush and President Obama. But President Bush and Obama. It struck me that white commentators didn’t care to afford the President the respect he EARNED by winning the election.
The Right has spent three years being casually disrespectful of the President, and instead of rallying around him and being hyper sensitive to it or hyper respectful, progressives, White Liberals, have gone right along with the practice. Even one-upping the right on sites like the Huffington Post where they have even gone so far as to call him a dick.
3) Women vs Black — starting with Gerry Ferraro the argument has been:
a) Which is tougher?
b) What can women get from the President? And…
c) How sexist is he?
These subtle messages of discontent in the face of all the facts that refute the claims is part of the larger historical white woman/black man meme. It is a convoluted but racialized binary and it exists, pervasively, persuasively, and dominantly in the liberal psyche.
The constant chatter of white liberals about a primary challenge aside, it is the Hillary love and nostalgia that is most offensive to blacks, men and women. The argument about how “tough, strong and competent” Hillary is as a juxtaposition to how “weak, cowardly, and incompetent” the president is smacks of something more than simple political hyperbolic speech.
4) The LGBT community was insane. From the threat to wear sheets to the first inauguration, to the “Truman integrated the military with the stroke of a pen,” to the “he should get it because he’s black,” ism of their entire argument. It has been the wild west out there and it has come at a cost.
5) By any metric that is reasonable, the President has been wildly progressive. Wildly. We can take legislation apart piece by piece, level by level, and he has been strong on every core progressive metric, including education, civil rights, health care, energy, unions, women’s reproductive health, women’s rights, immigration, and core issues like credit card reform, financial reform, needle exchange, etc.
Let me explain – President Obama took office in 2009 without 50 locked votes in the senate. I know everyone thinks we had 60, but not only did we NEVER actually have 60, those votes we did have were, for a couple of basic reasons, unreliable. Start with the hyper blue of the Blue Dogs:
Lincoln, Landrieu, Drogan, Conrad, Johnson, Bacchus, Byah, Lieberman, Tester, Nelson.
Those senators represented states Obama lost by an average of 10 electoral votes. For every close state like Montana, there is a blow out state like Arkansas. Byah (Indiana) and Lieberman (Connecticut) O won, but Lieberman’s hatred was personal and impossible to bridge. So, the entire process of passing legislation is complicated by these ten votes.
Add to that Ted Kennedy was dying and not voting. Byrd was dying and rarely voting. Franken wasn’t seated until June.
That begins the President’s term with 45 reliable Dem votes. We’re OK because the GOP only has 41 republican votes. But those 10 senators had out-sized power. The President was wildly popular out of the gate but he had lost many of those senator’s states by double digits. They had no reason to back his play. So, he started the process compromised and the only thing that could make it worse was to lose these tough close fights.
Add to that the unprecedented number of filibusters and why the GOP filibustered. They determined, because Rush told them to, that it would be better for the country to FAIL than pass anything that might be good for the citizens. They said it clearly. They booed his acceptance speech for the Nobel (Peace Prize), they cheered when Chicago lost an Olympic bid, they violated the Logan Act, demonstrably, by engaging in negotiations with Israel to the detriment of the US Foreign Policy of the President of the United States.
Through all of this the progressive wing was silent or was half hearted in their defense. They had a list of must haves that was insane and unreasonable, and any deviation from that was treasonous.
I understand clearly why the average progressive didn’t get this, didn’t understand this. But my question to you all is why didn’t the pundits, the people paid to observe and write about politics, why didn’t they get what was happening and fight back? Well, there are a couple of reasons.
The NYTimes, the people who would normally lead this kind of charge, spent three years savaging the president instead. Rich, Krugman, Dowd, etc., savaged him. Add to that the progressive blogs, likewise, spent almost every column inch attacking the President rather than supporting progressive policies or attacking the GOP. Part of this was because they had all been so completely (with the exception of Dowd) in the bag for Hillary. But part of this was racialized thinking. Robert Reich has been particularly insane as has Glenn Greenwald, but Greenwald’s attacks are principled in that he is a purist and true believer and he can’t be swayed no matter the president or person. Reich isn’t that, he is a critic for the sake of profile it seems, and he is the least reasonable person of the entire bunch.
Finally, blacks are a key constituency in the Dem party. We are taken for granted, however, and there are long term consequences for that. O won this last time because Donna Brazile halted a coup by women and Hillary supporters. She said, plainly, that blacks would flee the party. It worked, and it had real consequences.
Blacks are quiet for the most part because we got the girl here. We won and we’re taking yes for an answer but the anger and frustration the black community feels towards white progressives is real, and it is major. It is a game changer and perhaps even a coalition ender.