by Mark Knox

The question of whether opposition to President Obama’s policies and plans constitutes a kind of subtle (or not so subtle) racism has been discussed much in the media of late. Even former President Jimmy Carter has entered the fray. And frankly, I’m getting a little tired of it. The implication (and sometimes outright accusation) that because I strongly object to what President Obama is doing that I therefore must be motivated completely or in part because of racist feelings is really starting to tick me off. In other words, I’M TIRED OF BEING CALLED A RACIST!

I’ve recently read two columns that seriously offer the idea that at least some of the rhetoric is racially motivated. But both columnists are guilty of arguing from the part (i.e., there is racism in the U.S.) to the whole (i.e., therefore, all or most opposition to Obama is racist) when they tar political dissidents with the racist label.

The first column was titled, “Play the Race Card” in Newsweek by Raina Kelly. [http://www.newsweek.com/id/215742] She begins by clearly stating her point, “…some of the protests against President Obama are howls of rage at the fact that we have an African-American head of state.” She then goes on to mention two Republicans who verbalized some in-poor-taste “jokes” that could rightfully be considered racist. But using these two incidents as proof of her main thesis is weak. She then says, “When ‘Tea Party’ leader Mark Williams appears on CNN and speaks of ‘working-class people’ taking ‘their’ country back from a lawfully elected president, he is not just protesting Obama’s politics; he is griping over the fact that this country’s most powerful positions are no longer just for white men.” Now in this quote, Ms. Kelly just doesn’t get it. She’s taking the “us” and “them” implied in Williams’ statements as “us = whites” and “them = African-Americans.” Let me tell you, Ms. Kelly, it isn’t always about you!
Let me translate – when someone in a town hall meeting or Tea Party meeting says something like, “We’ve got to take back our country!” it means this: “WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES HAVE TO TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY FROM THE CORRUPT POLITICIANS AND BUREAUCRATS!” This has nothing to do with race. People are fed up with their elected leaders being out of touch with reality, not listening to constituents, and spending money they don’t have like it’s going out of style.
In her three examples, noted above, two are legitimately racist in tone. But neither of them is a condemnation in racist rhetoric of his policies; they’re bad jokes in poor taste. The quote of Mark Williams is a condemnation of policy, but you can’t make the implication from the first two racist examples that the third is racist.
The second column was in my local paper, The Hendersonville (NC) Times-News by regular columnist Stephen Black. [http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20091017/SERVICES03/910171002/1112/OPINION04?Title=Check-the-motive-of-frenzied-Obama-critics] In this column he responds to a reader who’d questioned an earlier column, and in this he clarifies that “If…you truly disagree with the president yet have not fallen into the trap of hysteria, I have not called you a racist. I do call your fellow Republicans who act like a pack of dogs going after a fox racists plain and simple.” So, in Mr. Black’s interpretation of things, if you are angry, “foaming at the mouth” (his words), displaying “over the top behavior,” then you are a racist.
Well, Mr. Black, might the level of what you call “hysteria” be a function of the level of frustration people have and of the degree to which the President is committed to taking this country in a radical direction, and not a function of racist feelings? If you see something happening that is, to your mind, clearly wrong, wouldn’t it be normal to be passionate and yes, even angry about it?
To his credit, President Obama himself has not charged his critics with racist motives. In fact, his response to the question on the Letterman show was funny and clever: “I think it’s important to realize that I was actually black before the election.” [Whether or not he should do more to discourage charges of racism is a subject for another time.] But the point is well taken. If this country is as mired in racism as people claim, then how in the world did this man ever get elected? The fact is, the vast majority of people who oppose the President and the Congress – even some who get riled up at town hall meetings – have no issue whatsoever with an African-American President of the United States. Or any other race, for that matter.


It’s easy to play the race card. You don’t have to prove it. You just have to make a few generalizations and broad accusations, and you immediately put people on the defensive: “…but I’m not a racist.” The fact is, charging people with racism when there is no racism just desensitizes people when there really are incidents of prejudice. When everything is racist, then what do you do when there really is discrimination? For you’ve cried “wolf” too many times, and now nobody is listening.

[For the record, Mark is “mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore.” But he’s not a racist.]


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