It's not the first time Rep. John Lewis has been called a "nigger." He's a veteran of the civil rights movement. He's an old hand at that. It's not the first time that tea partiers have sufficiently loosened the mask and let the racism fly. Teaparty.org founder Dale Robertson held up a sign with the word misspelled (!). Then there are the unspoken instances: Obama with a bone through his nose; Obama as "unamerican;" Obama as threat to American values. The demonization of Acorn via misleadingly edited videotape featuring a man dressed up as pimp.
Just yesterday it seems the white mainstream journalistic world was all a tizzy about "post-racial" America in which we could finally live King's Dream (MLK whitewashed to the patron saint of Uncle Remus' adoration of the goodness of white folks), and the majority could finally deem itself free of any racist taint ("Black? Oh! I didn't notice!")--sort of like priests absolving themselves for their penchant for pedophilia. Nevermind the birthers, whose entire existence is based on a racist idea that a black man is not truly American. I saw a bumper sticker that read, "A village in Kenya is missing its idiot." For Bush, it was a "village in Texas." But Obama, born in Hawaii, is banished to Africa, all the more alien and frightening, the way too many have always viewed our unforgivable skin. No, nevermind the birthers, and never mind the statistics:
- "¢ According to a 2003 study by Dr. Marianne Bertrand of the University of Chicago and Dr. Sendhil Mullainathan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, resumes with "black-sounding" names (e.g., Keisha, Tremayne) were 50% less likely to receive a callback than those with "white-sounding" names (Brad, Kristen).
- "¢ In 2001, Douglas Massey and Garvey Lundy of the University of Pennsylvania showed that those speaking "black english" or with a "black accent" were more likely to be told that an advertised rental unit was unavailable than those speaking "white english."
In a ritual of the identity politics that matters in America and which ruled it for most of her history--white tribal identification--white America could stamp itself "Racism Free," sort of like "organic" for fruits. America and (white) Americans were, once more, Pure, as God intended. That image of purity had been mightily shaken by the upheavals of the 60s, principally the civil rights movement, the core of the so-called "culture war." That movement revealed American ideals as lies. There was no "liberty and justice for all." Never had been. Throughout the country's history, the majority of the country passively and actively participated in the lie. A lot of Americans were willing to fight and even kill to preserve it. This was laid out for the whole world to see, in black, white and blood. Conservatives have been fighting the culture war ever since in hopes of ramming that pre-civil rights era sense of purity down America's throat once again. Ever since then, the Republican party has been dining out on resentment.
But something happened on the way to the "organic" grocery shelf. Just as whites were admiring their new "Racism Free" tattoo in the mirror like a pathetically aging starlet her fresh breasts, Rush Limbaugh shed his paper-thin skin of civility and began referring to Obama as a "Little black man-child," playing on "Little Black Sambo." Then Glenn Beck got huge insisting that Barack Obama held a "deep seated hatred for white people." The Tea Partiers followed suit, insisting that Obama was taking away "their freedoms." What freedoms were they losing? The only freedom that Obama threatened was their freedom to rule, as white. He symbolized the end of their tribal world order, in which whites ran things and all the rest followed to heel. That Obama is as centrist as your average 80s-era east coast Republican is neither here nor there.
The deeper point--the ones the tea partiers haven't courage nor the brains to see--is that our technological age has laid bare a core fact of American life: that our corporatist state uses white men and women just like it uses black, brown and yellow ones--as cannon fodder. There is little "upward mobility." Your children probably won't live as well as you, much less better. Your 2nd and 3rd mortgages made them billions and then they bankrupted you. They stole your future itself. But many whites dare not see themselves as today's "niggers," the spat upon, the reviled, the used and discarded. They can't bear that thought, that ultimate degradation. So they spit. They spit at Democratic lawmakers and call the black one what they've become, nostalgic for the day when they had someone else to look down upon, when they weren't yet threatened by the realization that their own white faces lined the bottom of the barrel.
Let them shout and spit and holler "n-word." It's a familiar litany, from George Wallace on. Today's version is just more convoluted. It takes longer to get there, but the destination's the same.