The Death of the Public Racist


danielleThere was a time when you could just say the N-word on television and no one would have batted a false eyelash. No one. Not in a world where this piece of video was ever deemed appropriate for the evening news:

Many of my own commenters on The Black Snob have noted, some with surprise, that among white Americans being called a racist is one of the worst things you can say (or be). This really shouldn’t be a shock since insanely overt racism was largely driven underground after the Civil Right Movement. By overt, I mean having the comfort to drop a “Martin Luther Coon … er King” on national television. That kind of overt. Where Strom Thurmond could flat out say he didn’t want “niggers” in his state’s swimming pools on the radio. That kind of overt.

For years if you wanted to say something racist it had to be in “coded” language – state’s rights, quotas, etc. You couldn’t flat out say something racist, but now there’s a new game in town. The “reverse racist” game. Now how a “reverse racist” is different from an old-fashioned racist I’ve been unable to tell, other than it appears to be the word du jour about conservative yakkadoodles to describe minorities who they feel are keeping the white man down. Usually said from the comfort of their multi-million dollar radio studios ensconced in their multi-million dollar homes.

The latest crier of “reverse racism” is Glenn Beck, who proudly declared that President Barack Obama is a regular ol’ racist apropos of nothing. He concluded that the president must have a serious problem with white people despite the fact that the president was loved and raised by nothing BUT white people.

I wonder if those white people who birthed and reared the president knew from the time he was but a wee babe that he hated their immortal souls? And does the president hate the white half of himself? Does he, in fact, call himself white racial slurs out of malice while singing the Negro National Anthem? Kind of like black, non-Jewish version of Ryan Gosling in “The Believer?” When he does bad things or makes mistakes does he blame “the whitey within?” Puh-leeze.

The NAACP recently released a statement condemning Beck that echoed my sentiments:

Mr. Beck’s statement was irresponsible and inflammatory at a time when as a nation we are attempting to engage in a constructive dialogue on race. Beck’s statements are an attempt to divide when we need to be united, an attempt to inflame with rhetoric when we need to discuss with thoughtfulness the serious question of race. It is a futile effort to distract from the serious issues of health care, the economy and the environment – issues that President Obama is tackling with foresight and fortitude.How could the President be a racist? A man of both African American and white heritage; a man who inspired millions of Americans to unite across the divide of race, religion and age in his historic run for the presidency. We commend President Obama for having the courage to discuss an issue that all too many Americans consider a third rail.

The “reverse racism” cry seems most used by those who are often called on for being the most insensitive to minorities and women – your Rush Limbaughs, your Glenn Becks, your Sean Hannitys. Basically, if you’ve been accused of being an actual racist at some point, you’re probably busy calling someone, on air, right now a “reverse racist” despite the absurdity of throwing loaded language to hide one’s own psychological projections.

As Kelefa Sanneh writes in this week’s New Yorker:

In the past few decades, though, reverse racism has undergone a similar redefinition, from symptom to system. Some who are skeptical of affirmative action, and of other programs designed to advance non-whites, consider reverse racism to be so pervasive, and so well entrenched, that it can only be described as systemic. (Think of Frank Ricci, the white firefighter who argued, successfully, that the city of New Haven had violated his civil rights.) And, despite Beck’s diagnosis of Obama’s “hatred,” many of the people who worry about Obama’s view of race see him not as personally bigoted but as complicit with anti-white interests and policies.

Considering how shameful and violent America’s racist past is you can kind of see why “racist” is a fighting word among white people. Any given Klan or Neo-Nazi rally and you’re likely to see more whites show up to protest their brand of ignorance than attend the actual rally. The Klan is a haunting old embarrassment, along with being highly offensive. The death of public racism lead to them from having a membership of Congressmen and judges to yokels and nobodies. Even if you ARE a racist, you don’t want to be associated with “racists.” Which is why Beck, et al, are quick to call others racists, throwing stones to hide their own prejudices. That’s why someone like Pat Buchanan is so wonderfully amazing in his unicorn-like ability to say something to the effect of “This has been a country basically built by white folks” with a straight face, mean it and not be a-feared that the boogeyman will get him for being so … well … you know.

While some are wondering if all the “President is a racist” rancor will lead to a return of more blatant and coarser racial rhetoric, I think the stigma of being labeled a racist is still so strong that even those who actual are ones, will never publicly adhere to it. They’ll dance around it. Flirt with it. Make out with it occasionally. But the days of declaring the love that dare not say it’s racist name are over. Because, the only thing worst than being a public bigot among white people is “child molester.” And if you’re a racist child molester … God help you. Even Klansmen hate child molesters. You’re not going to have ANY friends in prison.

Danielle Belton has been writing the popular “The Black Snob” blog since August 2007. She has contributed to the American Prospect, NPR, the Huffington Post and has been featured on Nightline. This column originally appeared on The Black Snob here. Learn more about Danielle here.

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