Archive for Obama
In a recent interview, Stanford Professor H. Samy Alim discussed his new book, Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language and Race in the U.S. (Oxford University Press, 2012, co-authored with Geneva Smitherman). In case you missed it, here’s the short clip (about 7:00, with an ad I couldn’t remove).
Alim and Smitherman make an interesting argument about “code switching” – that is, moving from standard ‘white’ American dialect to a ‘black’ dialect. This facility with language is both a lightening rod for figures on the far-right in the U.S., such as Rush Limbaugh, and at the same time, lends Obama legitimacy in the eyes of many because it ties him to the legacy of Dr. King.
So, while white liberals like Chris Matthews blather on about how post-racial we all are now with a black president, other folks are not so post-racial after all. Allen McDuffee sent me this disturbing image circulating via a Facebook group dedicated to denigrating Haitians and the earthquake relief effort. While it appears that Facebook has pulled the group once already for violating the Terms of Service (TOS), the group is back and loudly proclaiming its alleged protection under the First Amendment and threatening to contact the ACLU to defend it.
There is no constitutionally protecting right to have a racist group on Facebook. And, given the threat to the president implied by the image linked above, I’m surprised that those who are generating such an image are not under investigation by the Secret Service.
As I’ve said here before, it’s certainly possible to disagree with the policies of President Obama and not be a racist, there is something about linking the threat to Obama with the vitriolic hatred of Haitian people which suggests not only a criticism of Obama’s presidency, or lack of empathy for earthquake victims but a deep well of racist antipathy as well. I guess we’re not so post-racial after all.
MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews was attempting to be effusive in his praise of President Obama’s State of the Union Speech a few nights ago when he declared that Obama was “truly post-racial” because he “forgot that Obama was black” during the speech. Here’s a clip of Matthews’ comments (2:11):
Matthews has gone on to defend his statement, and in an interview with The Grio, Matthews said, “I thought I was saying something wonderful and positive about America.” Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, cleverly points out the corollary, when he writes that “I just remembered Chris Matthews is white.” And, of course, that’s the point. Matthews’ perverse version of ‘colorblindness’ – in which forgetting blackness and assuming whiteness are the standards – is one in which white privilege still prevails.
A couple of articles have inspired me to add a brief word about this MLK Day. (See Boyce Watkins at TheGrio.com) Hopefully, my words are in keeping with both the spirit and beliefs of Dr. King himself.
A year ago this week, I joined nearly 3 million people in the nation’s capital for the inauguration of President Obama. The entire week, especially inauguration day, encapsulated much of what I understand about the “civil rights” movement and Dr. King’s legacy. Being a child of the 1980s, my understanding of Dr. King and the movement is a contested conglomeration of familial discussions, white-frame “civil rights” history, and independent study. Like most people my age, I may well be more in touch with the myth than the memory of King.
The morning of the inauguration seemed to mirror King’s 1963 march. The crowd came from all over the country and braved extreme temperatures (if on opposite ends of the thermometer) with grace and enthusiasm. The millions on the Mall that morning were very conscious of the parallels between contemporary and 1963 events. I saw hundreds of middle-aged and elderly African Americans making their way to the service. Everyone was so appreciative of their presence and sacrifices. I am convinced no Black person over age 60 would have had to so much as touch the ground with her own feet if she did not want. It was truly a remarkable and unforgettable moment.
The event itself was a reflection of what we were all celebrating. In name, we were witnessing a ceremony centered on one man, Barack Obama. In truth, we were actually there to culminate and celebrate a massive, multiracial, cross-coalitional effort that we hoped would produce meaningful and lasting institutional change. Everyone cheered the new president, but we all shared stories of sustained local efforts to mobilize America’s oppressed classes. The mass effort and happy gathering reflect the hopeful imagery and activist narrative associated with Dr. King.
After partying with friends (and strangers), I decided it was time to go home. On the edge of one of D.C.’s many Black neighborhoods, I found myself in need of a cab to get home. After a few blocks, I reached a busy corner and tried hailing a cab. Despite the festive occasion, I received the same treatment we Black men (and women) receive all the time. Cab after cab passed me by and quickly picked up white passengers.
A young white woman, whose name I still do not know, witnessed the entire scene. The hour growing very late at this point, she confidently approached me with a brilliant offer. If I would use my status as Black and male to safely escort her to the next corner where she was meeting some friends, she would use her status as a white female to get me a cab. I quickly agreed. Within 30 seconds of connecting her with her friends, the white woman told me to follow her to a cab. She said she would hail the cab and when the cabbie opened the door for her (a taken for granted response), I was to jump in. Local law, apparently, prevented cabbies from evicting passengers without cause. Needless to say, she executed the plan flawlessly and got me home without at hitch.
The past year, like inauguration day itself, is a microcosm of Dr. King’s life and legacy. Having won symbolic federal victories and peering briefly over the mountain at the potential for meaningful change. We forgot that these victories required massive mobilization and sustained multiracial, cross-class effort. Instead, we allowed white media to attribute the work to one man, and we left that man to carry it out virtually alone. In life, Dr. King never labored alone. But the mythological legacy recast him as a great man, producing systemic change through personal will and determination alone. That myth, now thrown onto Obama, has left Obama to labor alone (to the extent he actually wants to). Obama’s isolation is evidenced by the general failure of the DNC to remobilize the massive campaign volunteers in support of the president’s agenda (see NYT article “Health Debate Fails to Ignite Obama’s Grassroots” and The Washington Post’s “Obama’s Machine Sputters in Effort to Push Budget” for examples.
Part of the reason the multiracial grassroots effort “sputters” also parallels King’s life and legacy. Despite the rhetoric of the times, neither the day-to-day structure of the United States remained then and now. My anecdote about getting a cab makes the case for the moment of Obama’s inauguration. As Dr. Watkins’s points out, “Dr. King was very unpopular at the time of his death” as he tried to realize the goals outlined in his speeches. Whites never fully embraced King in life. Their support for his impotent corpse and white-framed memory would not convince Dr. King.
Obama’s situation is similar. As Harvey-Wingfield and Feagin (2010) document, the majority of whites voted against now President Obama. A recent article in The New York Times () documents whites’ increasing opposition to Obama:
According to an analysis of New York Times and CBS News polls, Obama has the lowest approval rating among whites at the end of his first year in office than any president in the 30 years that The Times and CBS News have collected such data. And the gap between Obama and the others is significant, ranging from 10 to 36 percentage points.
Like Israelites in the wilderness, whites dream of Egypt, a plurality saying Obama is a worse president than George W. Bush.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I hope and pray we will learn the lessons Dr. King taught us. Regardless of what the majority of people say, progressive American rhetoric remains miles ahead of its deeds (see King’s brilliant sermon “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”) and gradualism is not the answer. Only collective action, creative and sustained civil disobedience, and mobilization of people of color and poor–for whom cooptation and/or cessation are not viable options—are the only potential means for achieving and sustaining real and systemic change.
New research suggests that people’s political views influence how they see biracial candidates (h/t Louise Seamster). When it comes to President Obama (who is biracial), supporters tend to view him as ‘whiter’ than those who are not supporters. The research, published in a recent issue of the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by Eugene M. Caruso, Nicole L. Mead, and Emily Balcetis. The researchers used a series of experiments to demonstrate that political partisanship influences people’s visual representations of a biracial political candidate’s skin tone.
In the first experiment, participants rated photographs of a hypothetical biracial candidate. In the second and third experiment, participants rated photographs Barack Obama. What the participants didn’t know was that researchers had altered the photographs to make the candidate’s skin tone either lighter or darker than it was in the original photograph. This is, as Omar mentioned, a very cool study.
People in the study who shared the same political views as the candidate, consistently rated the lightened photographs as more representative of the candidate than the darkened photographs. On the other hand, participants whose political views were at odds with the candidate, consistently rated the darkened photographs as more representative. In other words, if they agreed with the candidate, they tended to see them as lighter-skinned, or”whiter”, but if they disagreed, then the candidate was “darker.”
In the experiments where people were asked to rate photographs of Barack Obama, there was a positive correlation between having voted for Obama in the 2008 Presidential election and rating the lightened photos of him as more representative. Obama supporters, in other words, see him as whiter than those who are not supporters.
These findings are interesting on a number of levels, but most of all the results suggest that our deeply held perceptions of race influence how we interpret visual information. Often times, people talk about race as if it were self-evident, obvious way to categorize people. In fact, race is malleable. Who we see as “white” or not white is shaped by many things, including political views. This is also another example of the kind of colorism that Adia and Ed have discussed here recently. The misbegotten notion that “if you’re white, you’re alright,” is one that profoundly shapes how we see the world.
For more, there’s an interview with one of the researchers here.
Kudos to Rachel Maddow for her story Friday night’s show (see here , beginning at about the one minute mark) about the way cons on radio and TV have referred to President Obama as a rapist. Much of this reporting was based on the research from the folks at Media Matters (see here). Also kudos to Ana Marie-Cox who rightly points out the obvious “that they’re saying this about a black man.”
For example, Michael Savage said on his radio show that
Obama is raping America. Obama is raping our values. Obama is raping our democracy.
Meanwhile, Neil Boortz said (back in June, mind you)
They’re gonna rape us. They’re gonna bend us over and nail us, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.
See here (at 0:16 of the 0:49 clip) for Glen Beck’s rant in which he compares the President to Roman Polanski while “we” are the “little girl.”
Considering how utterly offensive these comments really are, I find it disturbing how little attention they have received from major news media outlets (e.g., the fact that the Boortz quote is nearly five months old now). These statements are straight out of the white racial frame, stoking the centuries-old stereotype of black men as sexual predators. This stereotype lingers on (as these statements show), despite the fact that it is WHITE MEN who are overwhelmingly guilty of interracial rape in four centuries of U.S. history.
Even worse, commentators like Chris Matthews and others continue to give these racists like Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan legitimacy by discussing their latest statements or even inviting them as regular guests on their shows. Meanwhile, they continue to drool over Sarah Palin’s book tour and discuss Lou Dobbs’ hinting at a run for the Presidency. These individuals are profiting off white supremacist fears of a truly democratic society; i.e., one in which non-whites have increased access to the privileges that whites have long enjoyed.
Today, the leading news story is that President Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples.”
Given the vitriol that’s been directed at Obama throughout his campaign and since his election as president, much of it fueled by racism, I predict that this amazing news will prompt a torrent of racist backlash. There’s some precedent for this if we look to the historic example of the reaction when Martin Luther King won the Nobel Prize in 1964. As James Fallows wrote in 2007 (after Al Gore won the Nobel):
“I am old enough… well, there are many ways to end that sentence, but for now: I am old enough to remember, from my school years, the disdainful reaction in my home town to the news that Martin Luther King had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
The reaction was, of course, racial at its root. This was a majority-white, minority-Hispanic small town with very few black residents, which went for Barry Goldwater over Lyndon Johnson in the presidential election that same fall.
But the stated form of the objection concerned not King’s race but his obnoxiousness as a man. He was a windbag. He was pompous and self-dramatizing, He was holier than thou. Plus, he had started getting involved where he didn’t belong, in raising questions about the Vietnam War. Through the rest of Martin Luther King’s life, the father of my best home-town friend always went out of his way to refer sneeringly to “Martin Luther Nobel.”
I’d be happy to be proven wrong on this prediction and see everyone celebrate this award.
I’ve written here before about the various permutations of Facebook racism. Over the weekend, it appears that Facebook racism reached a new low with a poll asking “should obama be killed?” Here’s the screen grab from TPM:
The response categories available for those who clicked on the poll to take it were: “yes, maybe, if he cuts my health care, no.” The good news, if one were looking for it in this story, is that the poll has been removed from Facebook and, according to Greg Sargent at WhoRunsGov, the U.S. Secret Service is investigating.
So much for social media offering a new path to world peace and an end to racism.
The fact this sort of thing appeared on Facebook is connected to the rise in death threats against President Obama (up 400%) and the kind of vitriolic hate speech spewed by radio and tv-talk show hosts such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly. This sort of speech creates an environment in which extremists are emboldened to act and ‘lone wolf’ assassins feel empowered by the collective hatred of the president. This kind of speech is rooted in racism and clearly threatens the life of the president. There can be no first amendment defense for such speech and legal action should be taken against those who created and published this poll.
On Saturday (9/12), thousands of protesters gathered in Washington to express their disdain for President Obama and his policies – particularly health care reform. The crowd was populated by white political conservatives — – organized by a loose-knit coalition of anti-tax, small-government proponents, and widely promoted by sympathetic voices in the blogosphere and on TV and talk radio. The protest was scheduled for 9/12 – the day after the anniversary of the terrorist attacks – as way to mark a point in time when Democrats and Republicans supposedly “shared a sense of purpose and unity and all Americans were patriotic.”
What few, if any, of the mainstream reports included in their coverage of the event was any discussion of the racial composition of the 912 crowd which was overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, white. According to The Washington Independent (the only news source I could find that was talking about this issue), the crowd was “99 percent white.” The reporter noted, “in my four-plus hours at the event, I’d only seen three African-American demonstrators.” When the reporter asked Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the organizers of the event, about the lack of racial diversity in the crowd, DeMint blamed the event’s timing and the media coverage.
“If anyone does a fair analysis of the crowd, it’s a cross-section of the population. It’s probably just the time and organization and the media that promoted it,” DeMint said.
Now, just because it’s an exclusively white-folks event doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s fueled by racism, but it does give one pause. I certainly think it’s possible to oppose the policies of the Obama administration and not have those views fueled by racism. Yet, you can tell a good deal about a protest from the images and iconography that protesters choose to convey their message. And the signs people created and carried provide another kind of other evidence that the rhetorical and visual strategies of the protesters drew on a deeply embedded white racial frame.
While at least one news report (CNN) characterized the signs carried at the rally as “particularly distasteful” (e.g., “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy”), none in the mainstream media have called out the protesters for the overtly racist signs many of them carried. Here’s just one example (via Alternet):
The crudely drawn ‘monkey’ image in the middle of this sign suggests the deeply racist imagery of Obama that appeared during the campaign and has continued throughout his presidency. There are some more of these racist signs posted here. This is the same kind of racist hatred that is fueling the 400 percent increase in death threats to Obama that I mentioned here yesterday.
Although it’s possible that mainstream news outlets are not reporting on the racism at these protests out of some sort of concern for stoking the flames of racism, it seems more likely to me that those deciding on what is – and is not – newsworthy are steeped in a white racial frame that hinders them from accurately perceiving the many ways that the 912 protest is rooted in racism and white supremacy. The combination of this racism and the intense hatred of Obama makes for a dangerous combination.