Monday, November 5, 2012

Making Excuses for the Inexcusable

This turned up on Facebook today:
Something remarkably disturbing occurred today on another site, in response to a post I made..Pay special attention to his "solution" to racism. He wants a "new law".

"Oddly, in a way, what you say is true. He was voted into office by white people. But then when they were dissatisfied with one thing or another and they tried to offer criticism, they were accused of being racist by people who wanted to shut them up. Ultimately, it cause a bone fide racial bias to develop. It then became obvious that there is a serious disadvantage to having a black man (or any minority, for that matter as President). So insidious is this disadvantage that a new law requiring that only a white male can be President would be in the best interest of our country. America is far more racist now than before he was elected, because of it. "
That's Republicans for you, always demanding new laws to fix social problems.  I've often heard this same complaint by bigots of various stripes, usually antigay bigots: Because you're so mean, I'm not going to support your cause anymore!  But they didn't support it before.  One of the great things about the Internet, in my opinion, is that you can usually find and refer to a person's previous comments on a topic.  I never said that ... someone protests, and you can not only show that they did, you can quote their exact words.  This is considered highly unfair by many: how can you hold someone responsible for what they said half an hour ago, when they were so much younger and less mature?  I hadn't realized until I'd encountered this pattern numerous times how much many people rely on the evanescence of spoken words to cover up the stupid or evil things they say.  I didn't say that, they can declare, and with luck they can divert the discussion into an argument over whether they said something.

In the case of Obama, the racist attacks began as soon as he became a national public figure, escalated when he became the Democratic nominee, and continued at a sustained screech after his election.  Since many white Americans have no idea what racism is, they couldn't understand why their principled expressions of criticism (like posting Photoshopped images of Obama as an African witch doctor) were called racist.  Or maybe they were just stupid; the CDC needs to get on the case of stupidity as a communicable disease that has reached epidemic proportions in the past several years.

Here's why I'm not simply being snarky by saying that.  (Though yes, I am being snarky.  It's almost the only defense one has sometimes.)  If one is not stupid, one responds to false ad hominem accusations first with surprise that one's opponent is ignoring the issue, and second by doubling down on the issue.  One does not respond by proving the accusation true.  Consider the following dramatization:
Obama Critic: Obama has killed American citizens without due process, in violation of the US Constitution.

Obama Defender: You hate POTUS because you're a racist.

Obama Critic: I'm not a racist!  Obama is not fit to be President because he was born in Kenya and learned anti-colonialism at his father's knee!  You can tell he's a terrorist because of his name!  Did you see this hilarious picture of the Obama family as a bunch of chimpanzees?  I found it on the Internet and sent it out to the entire municipal e-mail list.
I'm not sure white racism in the US actually became more common after Obama's election; it was more common than most whites acknowledged before.  It might have become more virulent, and it certainly became more visible because it had a highly visible, internationally known target.  But most white Americans think that you're only racist if you actually put on a KKK robe and lynch somebody.  As long as Negroes and Meskins stay in their place, they believe they're amazingly tolerant, given the myriad humiliations inflicted on white people every day.

But if "America is far more racist now than before [Obama] was elected," we anti-racists need to pick  on racism and racists, not enable or pander to them.  ("Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.")  Did I ever mention in these precincts the right-wing Republican former schoolmate of mine who told me on Facebook that Obama had been more racially divisive than any President since Lincoln, "and look what happened to him"?  Blaming Obama for the white racist reaction to him isn't limited to the person quoted by Progressive Centralist. (Whatever happened to the supposed Republican virtue of taking responsibility for one's actions?)  Opposing racism is an uphill struggle, I know.  From long hard experience.

Of course, this doesn't excuse people like Melissa Harris-Perry who have claimed that any criticism of Obama is motivated by racism.  This claim didn't make me turn racist, but it did make me more hostile to Obama cultists, who've done their best to match the Right's pollution of political discourse with malignant irrationality and dishonesty.

If those who merely tried to "offer criticism" of Obama on substantive issues and were accused of racism for doing so, really were interested in substantive criticism and debate, they would work to sharpen up their critical skills. But only someone who was racist to begin with, or just extremely stupid, would start being racist because of such accusations. Way to go, White Middle America!  Let's have four more years of the same!