The Obama Race Card keeps being played
Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. recently wrote a piece with the implication that racism has played a significant role in the criticism of President Obama and, to a lesser extent, Attorney General Eric Holder. His question itself is valid, despite it not being a new question. There is a certain element within the broader Left that will always play the race card or, as Pitts quotes George Will in his piece, they will continue to “pound the table” in the absence of law or facts on their side. To “prove the point” Pitts asks the question: What would protest to Obama look like if it were motivated by racism?
As a caveat, it should be noted that the author is a fan of Mr. Pitts’ columns, having read them for at least the last fifteen years, and even having the pleasure of hearing him speak once at Pensacola Junior College many years ago. That admiration for his writing style and ability is undiminished, but some of his viewpoints bear scrutiny considering their dissonance with reality.
Having reiterated a litany of allegedly racism-motivated anecdotes as proof, Pitts poses the aforementioned question. So, what are we to make of this proof? I would like to address some of these instances individually.
Some of Pitts’ issues rest on the idea that some words are unusable when referring to a black man because they automatically expose the speakers (if they are white) of being racist. This is problematic, since it undermines the very notion of equality that is the professed goal of the Civil Rights movement, but addressing the idea of words-for-me but not-for-thee is another whole article to be written. With this concept in mind it follows that when Mitt Romney referred to President Obama as a “boy who doesn’t tell the truth” and then followed it up with a story about being a parent and having several male children that he had caught in lies over the years, he was motivated by racism.
Likewise, Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) called the President “uppity”. Except, what Westmoreland actually said was “Just from what little I've seen of her and Mister Obama, Senator Obama, they are a member of an elitist class individual that thinks that they're uppity.” And since the word “uppity” is one of those special words that whites absolutely cannot use when referring to blacks, then despite the fact that the full quote puts the word in a context of upper-class elitism and is conditional based on Westmoreland's limited familiarity with the individuals mentioned, he was motivated by racism.
Even Ted Nugent’s rant when fully quoted, although it does use coarse language including “mongrel subhuman” seems at least as motivated by anti-communist sympathies as they are about race. In strict lexical technicality, the word mongrel is not completely incorrect, since Obama is of mixed race parentage, though it is in bad taste. It was also simply mean-spirited, but it was supposed to be. Americans do not suffer our politicians lightly.
In another example of selectivity, Pitts notes that Republican Congressman Joe Wilson's outburst of "you lie!" during Obama's State of the Union Address in 2009 is evidence of racism. This is an odd assertion since it revolved around a specific policy issue, and since both the White House Press Secretary Joe Gibbs as well as Donna Edwards (D-MD) of the Congressional Black Caucus seemed to disagree. It would also be of interest to know if Politifact is racist, given that they gave Obama the Lie of the Year award for his promise about keeping your health plans if you so desired.
There seems to be a rulebook of what can be said, by whom, and at what times. Breaking these rules makes one a racist, and unfortunately, the people who tend to break the rules have no access to the rulebook. The author would like to respectfully request a copy of this rulebook.
The simple(er) truth is that political figures are burned in effigy all the time, and have been since the country was founded. Does the fact that some (very few, at that) anti-Obama posters depict him as either a bone-through-the-nose native, or a pimp, mean that these individuals (and their fellows at the rally) are racist? Here, the answer hinges on your definition of racist.
I would imagine that Mr. Pitts, along with so many in our society, would describe anything that takes into account the race of the person being disparaged as racist. This goes counter to the actual definition of racism, but it also creates another problem. It makes everything potentially racist.
Human beings are visual creatures, so unless we are blind we see race and color. Americans live in a world of stereotypes that, like it or not, are part of our popular culture. It would be odd indeed if protesters against George W. Bush had depicted him as a bone-through-the-nose native or a pimp. The stereotypes that permeate society do not pair up the image of a white man with a headhunter from the South Pacific a century ago without some serious contriving. And, Mr. WhiteFolks notwithstanding, the stereotype of the pimp is not usually that of a Caucasian. This is why Bush stereotypes and insults were typically of either him with a Hitler moustache or being portrayed as the idiot/hick-southerner/cowboy. They were stereotypes that conformed to his whiteness (and his being associated with Texas). That does not mean that black critics of Bush were motivated by his being white anymore that it means critics of Obama are motivated by his being black.
If, however, you use the word racism for what it really means: the belief that one race is inherently superior to another, then the race card can be played only sporadically. It is impossible to make windows into men’s souls, so we can only go off of their speech and actions. In context, the comments and actions Mr. Pitts cites as evidence of racial animus is shaky and inconclusive at best.
But the door of inconclusiveness swings both ways. The author will concede that there are some racists in America and that they object to Mr. Obama primarily based on his race. On the evidence, however, they are a small minority. Mr. Pitts, on the other hand, should concede that the criticism and disdain directed against Mr. Obama is animated very largely by objection to his policies, statements and actions.
And the real question that should be asked is this: If Obama were white or if John Kerry had been elected in 2008 and were doing everything the same way as Obama, would the GOP (and much of non-GOP America) still be dead-set against most of his policies. It is difficult to imagine a world in which Kerrycare gets the kind of support from the GOP that Obamacare lacks, even for an imaginative writer like Leonard Pitts.