“Guess I’m a Racist” : Anti-Health Care Ad

In the last day or two, an “unknown political group” has created a video (and loaded YouTube), called “I’m a Racist,” and it’s been getting a lot of attention. The short description posted with the video states ‘We believe the health care system needs to be fixed. However, government intervention is not the answer, nor should we be called racist for not agreeing with Obama’s health plan!’ Fortunately, Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Lacewell, provide a thorough critique in this clip (8:01):

Harris-Lacewell makes an excellent point here when she points out the way the ad reinforces an individualized notion of racism, as a personal trait, rather than an understanding that racism is systemic.

This “Guess I’m a Racist” meme jumped to Twitter and people began updating using the hashtag #youmightbearacist. (Using hashtags (#) on Twitter is just a way for people to have a conversation around a theme, so on an evening when the BET Awards are on, people might use #BET as a hashtag to talk about the awards. But the racism prompted by that hashtag is another story.)

Some of the updates to Twitter with the #youmightbearacist hashtag were meant to be funny and skewer racism, some were not so funny deeply racist. Almost all reinforced the point that Harris-Lacewell makes about the anti-health care ad, which is that they assume that racism resides in an individual rather than operates systematically.

There are a couple of things that are interesting about all this for me. First, the video opposing health care is a fairly slick politlcal ad yet it’s created by an “unknown” political ad. In this way, it’s similar to the cloaked sites that I’ve written about here (and in my recent book, Cyber Racism) in which people disguise authorship of websites in order to conceal a political agenda. This ad is slightly different because it’s being pretty overt about part of their political agenda (opposing health care reform), but because the identity of the group that created the ad is hidden, we don’t know how their stance on this one issue may (or may not) be part of a larger political agenda.

What intrigues me further about this is the convergence and overlap of media. So, the unknown political group releases a video on YouTube exclusively, and the video quickly goes viral and becomes one of the most viewed videos on YouTube. They do not buy air time on television to get their message out, but they don’t have to, because the video gets picked up by Maddow’s show and she airs the video. Then, the meme travels to Twitter, where people both reinforce and resist (sort of) the notion of what it means to be “a racist.” The political battle over race, and the meaning of racism, has moved into the digital era.


  1. Seattle in Texas

    So if one is in favor of the health care reform, then they aren’t racist? It’s that simple? Gee.

    While I hate shifting discussions/questions on race to gender, I am curious how they would have spun the add if Clinton would have won the presidency–I have no doubt she would have been pushing for healthcare reform also…. “I’m a sexist”…”I guess I am a sexist”…*holding a baby* “I guess we are sexist” (and would women say the same thing? just as they had people of color suggesting they were racist?)

    Lame. (Nevermind the people with no health care, poor healthcare, etc.–please)

  2. victorray

    When I saw this i just laughed at how bizarre it is. I kept thinking “finally all these white people are admitting they are racist.” They may think they are being ironic but the evidence points to the fact that yeah, most whites do harbor racist sentiments, reject policies based on racial calculations, all the while confident that racism is the very last thing that could be influencing them. Interestingly, I am not sure if anyone has done this for the health care debate, but Martin Gilens in his book “Why Americans Hate Welfare” shows that states with higher proportions of blacks in the population actually have lower benefits. He claims that this is because whites don’t see people of color of deserving of benefits (i.e. they aren’t real americans or part of the social body that “deserves” help). It would be interesting to see if there was parallel happening across states in this healthcare debate.

    • No1KState

      I had the same reaction. I thought about posting the video to my blog under the title, “You Probably Are, but That’s Not Why.” But I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video in it’s entirety.

      And to a separate point (of sorts), what good does it do for whites to reassure each other that they’re not racist? In the clip I saw on TRMS, there was only one black guy.

  3. No1KState

    One thing I find misleading about the video is that it leaves out all the rally photos with the racist signs. One thing I loathe in recent political discussions is that you got these people using racist imagery and logic, like embarrassing the white race, who at the same time will get self-righteous about accusations of racism. So then it raises the question, what does it take for white people to see racism in themselves and other white people? Not only is the issue confused by narrowing racism to terms of the individual; it gets further confused when kids can put a noose on a tree and adults not see the act as racist.

    Which, for me, brings up another confounding issue with the discussion of racial equality. Jena, LA revealed a lot that went undiscussed, in mainstream media and mainstream liberal blogs – I don’t know about this one. They basically shut down the town; and, the DA gave Jesus rather than the protesters credit for the lack of violence and crime during the protests; yet, the whites of Jena don’t see themselves as racist. And what’s worse, the blacks of Jena say racism is part of the town’s culture, and there have been discrimination and disparities in charges and convections for years. Yet, the white Jenans don’t actually deny the facts, they just ignore the black Jenans claims. And isn’t that one sign of racism and oppression: not listening to the oppressed?

    I wonder how long it will take for a response video to go up? (hint, hint, Jessie)

  4. Erik Love

    I think those of us interested in fighting racism need to be very concerned about the strategy represented by this seemingly innocuous video. This video could presage an effective campaign strategy for wooing white people away from the Obama coalition, and moreover further crumbling whatever support remains for affirmative action and other anti-racism policies.

    Voting for Obama was popularly perceived as the racially transcendent (post-racial) thing to do in 2008. If conservatives are successful, by November 2012, the racially transcendent thing to do will be to vote against Obama.

    This brilliant and disturbing video aims squarely at white people who supported Obama last year, but who have been ambivalent about his policies since he took office. This is a masterful application of the white racial frame to win political support.

    “I guess I’m racist,” if I don’t support Obama’s health care plan. The thinking is: “If Obama thinks disagreeing with him equals racism, well, that’s racist against white people! There are plenty of good reasons for opposing Obama and his policy proposals. I’m not a bigot – I just oppose Obama, I just oppose affirmative action, and that’s OK.”

    I further expand these ideas at New Racial Studies.

  5. Jessie Author

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments here folks.
    @victorray – Yes, Jill Quadango (sp?) made a similar point in her book, “The Color of Welfare.” It’s part of why some have advocated for “race blind” policies, but then… there are a number of problems with those, as we’ve noted here at some length.
    @No1KState – I’d love nothing more than to spend some time creating a high quality, digital video response to this ad. Seriously. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, I guess), I have this day job…on and this blog…both seem to be consuming all the available time at the moment. 😉
    @EricLove – You make an excellent point and I agree completely. There is something really insidious about the rhetorical strategy deployed in this video. And, as you say, those of us interested in addressing racism would do well to take heed.
    Combining these comments above, does anyone know of 1) research that looks at effective media strategies that include anti-racism? and/or, 2) have any suggestions about what a response video might look like?

    • No1KState

      I didn’t forget you Jessie!

      Here’s a post from racewire: http://www.racewire.org/archives/2009/12/new_video_appeals_to_racists_to_unite_against_health_care_reform.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+racewireblog+%28RaceWire%29

      The author points out that: “Basically, it’s a coded appeal to those who have been called a racist­—and those who can’t fathom the notion that so many people may be racist—to unite against health care reform.”

      I’ve been thiking of what a video might look like. I thought of showing images and telling stories of the disparity of health, medical treatment, and outcomes blacks face. Most especially the ways in which racism causes doctors to treat patients differently and the ways racism affects blacks’ physical and mental health. I’m just not sure it would work because it seems no matter how much proof a person has, too many whites refuse to acknowledge racism. They always find some justification or rationalization. Plus, most whites are inclined to blame blacks for “our” problems.

      The most poignant thought of the pieced I shared is this:
      “Clearly, the only reason they made this video is because the president is Black and it makes for a great opportunity to use race as a wedge issue. But they want you to think that they’ve transcended race. How do you say, “how white of them?””

  6. marcg

    The professor explains how this kind of propaganda aims at preventing rational discourse. Maddow counters (while posturing as being in the same camp) by saying that the tactic used in the ad turns the charge of racism into a political epithet ‘used by both sides’.

    By both sides?

    In adding that, Maddow reveals that her racial understanding is only slightly different from those behind the ad. The professor’s analysis, though somewhat restrained I feel, was good. Maddow’s offerings were politically vapid when not backwards outright (that last second comment).

  7. DJohnson

    You are right to be concerned about this ad. It attacks head-on the logic behind much of what is written here: That white racism is the cause of blacks’ problems and that whites should feel guilty about it.

    The ad states this explicitly, which highlights just how absurd it really is. So you’re right to attack the ad as vigorously as you can. If the idea of white guilt is every brought out in the open and subject to the mockery it deserves, the gig will be up.

  8. marandaNJ

    Actually I don’t like this ad much myself because it’s a back-handed way of mixing race with a policy [health care reform] and I don’t see a correlation either way.
    I don’t however believe in assigning blame to the white man for all the problems that the black community faces. Again, the amount of crime evident in poor black neighborhoods is just too great to be attributed to racism alone. Black people who really want to leave the ghetto Can Do So but it takes a personal commitment. A commitment to lead a crime-free life, get an education, say no to relationships that are negative influences, take personal responsibility for being a parent and not leave it up to “the system/society” to fix this.
    Parenting isn’t easy For Anybody, but if the parents don’t have a Total Commitment, no amount of social intervention will adjust this. Many black families have made this successful journey, so it’s not like it can’t be done.

  9. marandaNJ

    I think Maddow is trying to gain recognition for being some super liberal who recognizes racism and attacks it. However, she rarely ostensibly attacks problems, but skirts around them. You are supposed to Infer what her real point is.Even she doesn’t want to appear “too liberal” for fear of losing her audience. Thus, she does what she believes she can present and leaves the rest to the imagination. Stop considering your own notoriety and paycheck Rachel, and stay what you mean!


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