Denying Our Racist Realities: An Old White Sport

Slave Quarters
Creative Commons License photo credit: Corey Ann
Denying this country’s racist foundation and continuing racist reality pays some of the salaries for many in the mainstream media, as well as in academia. This election has given them new energy in what might be called “racism denial” propaganda. For example, the leading corporate newspaper, the Republican-oriented Wall Street Journal, has asserted that Obama’s election is a tribute to how open and democratic the United States now is:

A man of mixed race has now reached the pinnacle of U.S. power only two generations since the end of Jim Crow. This is a tribute to American opportunity, and it is something that has never happened in another Western democracy — notwithstanding European condescension about “racist” America.

After this crowing about U.S. moral superiority over European countries, the editorial added this:

While Mr. Obama lost among white voters, as most modern Democrats do, his success is due in part to the fact that he also muted any politics of racial grievance. We have had in recent years two black Secretaries of State, black CEOs of our largest corporations, black Governors and Generals — and now we will have a President. One promise of his victory is that perhaps we can put to rest the myth of racism as a barrier to achievement in this splendid country. Mr. Obama has a special obligation to help do so.

Note that this conservative editorial writer is explicitly recognizing that Obama ran a successful campaign because he did not engage in the “politics of racial grievance.” That is, Obama ran to fit within a colorblind do-not-talk-about-race version of the dominant white racial frame, and this writer praises and values that effort. Numerous others are claiming we are now in a “post-racial” era.

In addition, this writer emphasizes that a few African Americans have recently served as tokens in highly visible political positions (only one elective), and this token reality can be viewed as an indication that white racism is no longer a barrier to high achievement. More than that, the writer calls aggressively on President-elect Obama to lead the effort to kill the “myth of racism.” This is an old effort that white leaders have engaged in for centuries, of ferreting out a few blacks to serve white interests and whitewash the reality of systemic racism.

The intensity of this denial of white racism’s continuing impact suggests that something racially significant is going on beneath the surface of this argument, in the white minds that run the Wall Street Journal. Is there a concern here that under Obama there might be a renewed discussion of U.S. racism and an aggressive enforcement of our weakly enforced civil rights laws? The irony of the argument about the “myth of racism” is lost on this writer, who earlier admitted that most whites did not vote for the first “mixed race” (not “black”!?) presidential candidate.

About the same time that I was reading this Journal article, I ran across an article in the South Florida Times (published in mid-October 2008) on Senator McCain’s major slaveholding ancestors—one that did not get much media attention at the time. Although he has so far been unwilling to acknowledge it, Senator McCain’s ancestors were major slaveholders, in a rural area community of Carroll County, Mississippi. Indeed, the white and black descendants of the McCain slaveholders now have a biannual Coming Home Reunion. McCain’s brother and other white relatives have attended, but Senator McCain has not attended or even acknowledged invitations to attend. Some of his distant black relatives have suggested strongly that McCain has tried to hide this family history. South Florida Times researchers discovered that McCain has many black relatives.

As the South Florida Times reports:

Sen. John McCain’s great, great grandfather, William Alexander McCain (1812-1863), fought for the Confederacy and owned a 2,000-acre plantation named Waverly in Teoc. The family dealt in the slave trade, and, according to official records, held at least 52 slaves on the family’s plantation. The enslaved Africans were likely used as servants, for labor, and for breeding more slaves. William McCain’s son, and Sen. John McCain’s great grandfather, John Sidney McCain (1851-1934), eventually assumed the duty of running the family’s plantation.

The paper also notes some of Senator McCain’s own racist history:

In addition to distancing himself from his black family members, John McCain has taken several positions on issues that have put him at odds with members of the larger black community. While running for the Republican Party nomination in 2000, he sided with protesters who were calling for the rebel battle flag to be removed from the South Carolina statehouse, only to alter that position later. “Some view it as a symbol of slavery. Others view it as a symbol of heritage,” John McCain said of the flag. “Personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage. I have ancestors who have fought for the Confederacy, none of whom owned slaves. I believe they fought honorably.’’

Well, actually his family did enslave lots of African Americans. The intimate connections of the US present to our highly racialized past must be constantly denied and ignored in order to maintain the post-racial ideology, a new spin on the old white racial frame that helps whites like the editors/writers in newspapers like the Wall Street Journal continue in their racism denial mode.


  1. jwbe

    >A man of mixed race has now reached the pinnacle of U.S. power only two generations since the end of Jim Crow. This is a tribute to American opportunity, and it is something that has never happened in another Western democracy — notwithstanding European condescension about “racist” America.

    This isn’t America’s success but Black success.
    It also indicates exactly nothing when it comes to the reality of racism.
    I wonder why such whites who celebrate the election of Obama as “America the greatest nation with opportunities for all” can ignore the fact that America for example executes Black people even if they are innocent or at least not guilty via evidence.
    But celebrating symbolism is more interesting than addressing human rights violations I guess. Lecturing Europe or how to call it and also ignoring different histories [oops, this would include the ability of complex thinking] is more exciting than looking into the own mirror. How can a nation celebrate the beginning of a genocide (Columbus Day), can be proud of history (slavery) and illegally invade souvereign nations – it can do it because it has the power to do and to define the rules and who is “good” and who is “bad”.
    I am looking forward to the day when America will finally pay reparations to African Americans and will abolish death penalty. This would be real progress.

  2. Shari

    I have to clench my jaws to read most press on the election and race. Denial and claims of colorblindness are truly an American tradition. If you can make a group invisible by colorblindness, you can allow the institutions of race to do the rest.

    I googled until my fingers hurt looking for any writer any where to discuss in Salazar’s Interior Department appointment that he hold the fate of all Indian nations in his hands. Not one mention of his duties regarding native peoples or his record on them.

    Not only does he have jurisdiction over the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but Interior also determines what can be done environmentally in areas adjacent to reservation lands. He is more important than Barack Obama to native people. But, they are not even mentioned in the discussions of his appointment.

    I did find a single article about Daschle’s departmental jurisdiction over the health of American Indians, it was from Giago at Indian Country but it was posted on the Huffpost blogs.

    If we allow enough “colorblindness” everyone else will become as invisible as the first targets of white racism, American Indians.

  3. Seattle in Texas

    I appreciate all of the points noted above and was hoping others would share their thoughts on the post above–putting my other thoughts aside such as there are homes quite similar to the picture that people live in only about 30-45 minutes from where I live… and other stuff…I wanted to say quickly though, jwbe, the mirror is mighty ugly over here and our education systems seem to serve more as an intellectual labotomy machine for the U.S. masses (especially K-12) to perhaps put it one way…but believe it or not…we do have a few people who actually do think over here (and take great risks when they do so…as our history has shown, even death…). But here is a contemporary U.S. American who deserves much support and respect in my opinion (an article from several months ago):

    And more information on Lt. Watada (check out the resister profiles for others…though so few!): http: //

    As of for reparations…yes…likely? Not any time soon so far as I can see….

  4. Seattle in Texas

    Thank you 🙂 And, to help substantiate your point on state executions in the U.S.? Here’s the line up for those to come in the state I am currently residing in: 🙁 As you can tell from the racist dialogue above the executions go far beyond the walls of death row here…. You know and cops have (well back in WA state, they have both rubber bullets and real bullets…anyway…no excuse)

    Also, I think that reparations need to extend beyond slavery as during Jim Crow, not only did African Americans get the shit work, etc., they got fined millions for violating madated segregation laws and ordinaces that were only later to be deemed illegal and unconstitutional during the 60’s… And jwbe, you can clearly see how the same exact racism continues to persist in this nation…continued fines, arrests, deaths, segregation, KARTINA VICTIMS (directed at the person who responded to the IOWA flooding post last evening) etc. It’s a white supremacist society–period…. Anybody who would argue less is either a white supremacist or a supporter of white supremacy…and of course imperialism….

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