There was a point in my life when I used to think racism was the sole property of the political fringe Right. Lately, I have been disabused of that notion. Actually, that disillusionment has been hitting me for a while, almost from the start of President Barack Obama's term. I do want to clarify something: there are legitimate criticisms of this President, and not every criticism of his is racist. But what has been deafeningly racist is not so much the disagreement but the disrespect.
Disrespect of the President - the first black President (what, you're uncomfortable that I mention that fact and made it bold? Well then get ready for a lot of discomfort.) - has reached a pivotal point from the fringe Left. Why does it matter more coming from the Left? Because the Left is supposed to be better than this, and because the racism on the fringe Left permits the racism on the Right. Every time a Right-wing fringe person says something racist, they can point their fingers right back and say, hey, look what the "Left" did, so why isn't it okay for us?
But let's get back to the scathing, bold, unapologetic disrespect against the first black President coming from the Left. First, the seething undertone: the dumb, spineless, stupid, black guy doesn't know what he's doing; he needs to do what the smart, spine-y, know-it-all, mostly white armchair activists tell him to. I mean, what does the black man who grew up in a single-parent household and spent much of his adult life as a community organizer in the inner cities know about the plight of the poor and the downtrodden? He needs to listen to us primarily white "progressives" who've never done much more than donate to the occasional food bank to help the poor.
And when we tell him to, he needs to sacrifice the jobless, the working poor, the middle class and struggling students at the alter of some grand "principle" we want to uphold. If he makes a different decision, we are going to sit in front of our keyboards, or behind our TV cameras and throw insults at him in terms that would be unthinkable for us to use against a white president, much less a white Democratic president. We're going to blacken the black President's face while we pick a clip that whitens a white Republican Leader's face and put them right next to each other.
We're never ever ever ever ever to have his back on anything. We're simply supposed to "pressure" him. We're always to find something to be unhappy about. What does the first black President know about governing anyway? The images being presented against the black president in the terminologies are creepy, to say the least. You see, President Obama is a black man who's at the least being broken, is bent over, on his knees, by being beaten and whipped by... you know, and he can't get out of it because the black man just doesn't know any better. Or because he's a closet Republican. I mean, it is just not possible that a black man who dedicated his pre-political life to finding poor people jobs could ever go to the negotiating table with the interest of those people at heart.
But wait, that's the problem, right there. The damn problem is the damn negotiating table. Get rid of it. We want government where one side never has to negotiate with the other. We should be purer than the driven white snow, and if our black president would just listen to us and govern by insulting the other side and call them the Taliban (and also, write books about calling them the Taliban), then, well, then there would be no electoral difficulty. Why does this black man still keep being polite to those who just like to beat him? What's wrong with him?
As "rootless," a contributor to The People's View said in another place in 2008 (emphasis mine):
Our progressive campaign experts "know" that Obama, a black man who was a known superstar at Harvard Law and worked for Alinsky's inner city community organizing group is so stupid and naive that he believes that political progress can be made by holding hands and "singing kumbaya". I heard this enough to come to believe that it must be based on racism - the poor dumb black guy needs to have some white progressives explain that there is racism. "Gee thanks, guys" he should gush, "without your incisive analysis, I would never have known."I guess in the minds of the fringe Left, Carol Moseley Braun was wrong. I guess it does matter to them - at least at a subconscious level - whether your ancestors (or people who look like your ancestors) came to this country on the Mayflower or a slave ship. After all, President Tom can't do anything right, can he?
This has essentially been the message of the Left talking heads whose mission it has been to undermine the first black president of the United States. There has been a covert if subconscious campaign of racially charged language to disrespect the President. Now I don't know if in their seething anger they have simply abandoned any notion of racial sensitivity or are consciously playing on this theme of racism. And to believe that conscious racism is worse than subconscious racism is not to understand racism.
Racism's roots are subconscious. Conscious racism can be directly confronted, and if the perpetrator is a person of reason, corrected. Subconscious racism is far more pervasive, permeates through channels that are not obvious, but are just as effective. Subconscious racism is much harder to confront, because in many cases, it is the result of carelessness, and those who are careless will have none of it. It involves not simply assuming that the first black president is naive and stupid but also not weighing his life's work, his evident brilliance, and the social, institutionalized racism that prevents him from behaving in certain fashions white presidents would be free to. New York Times op-ed contributor, Ishmael Reed, also puts it well (the whole article is worth a read) to bloggers and media types who would like Obama to become the second rhetorical heir of any of a number of white Presidents:
One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. [...]
What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. [...]
When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.
Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.