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.