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March 10, 2012 10:59 AM Return of Anti-anti-racism

By Ed Kilgore

In trepidation over the sheer nastiness (and emptiness) of the Derrick Bell “scandal” that Andrew Breitbart’s indeological heirs were so exercised about this last week, Kevin Drum reminds us of how prevalent this sort of thing was in the not-too-distant past:

July and August of 2010 were a festival of xenophobia and racial rage from the news organs of the right. Among the topics that generated wall-to-wall coverage on a serial basis that summer were (1) the New Black Panthers, (2) Arizona’s new immigration law, (3) the “anchor baby” controversy, (4) the “Ground Zero” mosque, (5) the Shirley Sherrod affair, (6) a new upwelling of birther conspiracy theories, (7) Glenn Beck’s obsession with Barack Obama’s supposed sympathy with “liberation theology,” and (8) Dinesh D’Souza’s contention — eagerly echoed by Newt Gingrich — that Barack Obama can only be understood as an angry, Kenyan, anti-colonialist. Plus I’m probably forgetting a few.

Kevin is concerned that since 2010 was an election year and 2012 is an election year, we’re going to see a reprise of what he calls the “summer of hate.”

What strikes me about the Bell “scandal,” however, is how relatively little it seems to have to do with Barack Obama. The “story” has very quickly moved on from Obama’s anodyne introduction of Bell at a 1991 Harvard protest, to Bell’s supposed “racialism,” and to the “racialism” supposedly suffusing academia and for that matter, educational affirmative action in general (perhaps in anticipation of a new Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions). Sarah Palin’s bizarre suggestion that affirmative action is the same as apartheid is a remarkably common view.

But it almost seems like what our wingnut friends most want is to poke the stick at racial issues so that can scream about the horrible indiginity of being accused of racism, as though they are seeking insulation against future charges of race-baiting. My concern is that’s a sign something a lot worse than video of Barack Obama with Derrick Bell could be on the way. You can go back and forth as to whether this or that element of the contemporary Right is guilty of racism (you cannot, after all, look into everyone’s heart). But there is no question that anti-anti-racism is at epidemic levels, as we are seeing right now.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • MattF on March 10, 2012 11:13 AM:

    You can try to parse the frenzied right-wing rhetoric about Obama, or you can just point out what's obvious: a large proportion of it is about Obama's race. Is that racism? Well, call it what you will.

  • Julie on March 10, 2012 11:19 AM:

    Considering the mainstreaming of bigotry and the major increase in hate groups, I'm very concerned about another horrific incident like Oklahoma happening.

  • zeitgeist on March 10, 2012 11:22 AM:

    the Bell "controversy" should be titled Low Hanging Topical Fruit.

    they have a video of a Harvard student hugging (and one of those half-assed side-hugs, no less) a Harvard professor. How shocking!

    so really the only thing they have is that Bell was a professor of. . . wait for it. . . Critical Race Theory. Ooooh! Scary sounding! Whites, tremble in fear! (Just don't look at the course catalogue at your own state college. I bet you'll find it there, too.)

    Which is to say, absent blatant white "negrophobia" (to put it just a little more nicely than is really called for), there is no point to their efforts to push this story at all. Everything turns on the word "race."

    I'd say they've shown their hand pretty well, even if their faces remain covered with white hoods.

  • Julie on March 10, 2012 11:24 AM:

    Considering the mainstreaming of bigotry and the major increase in hate groups, I'm very concerned about another horrific incident like Oklahoma happening.

  • Julie on March 10, 2012 11:29 AM:

    Sorry about the double post. Craptcha is being cute today.

  • Marc on March 10, 2012 11:43 AM:

    Sarah, like Ed Henry who exposed Obama's wish to raise oil prices so that he can lose the election, exposes Obama's wish to re-enslave Blacks so that they cannot vote for him.

    Ipso Facto!

  • TCinLA on March 10, 2012 11:43 AM:

    What has happened is a central symbol of the country - the White House - is now occupied by a man who these people said would never sit there: a black man. It brings to the forefront all the fear and loathing they have felt since 1961 (beginning of the modern civil rights movement on a national level), their resentment of having to "pay" for the sins of their ancestors through affirmative action over the past 40 years, and their loss of the one thing that made even the least of them "better than others": the accident of their birth as white. "Whiteness" has been the ideology and the standard that they have believed all their lives, that they took in with the air and are unaware of, and now all those expected standards - the "others" would conform to their view of the way things should be and not "get all uppity" and would "know their place" - and it hits them on such a visceral level that even those who have not outwardly expressed it before find themselves expressing it now. White people have been the "favored ones" since the country was founded, and now their favoredness is under challenge and they see it going away within the lifetimes of their children and it terrifies them.

    And yes, as the old saying goes, "You ain't seen nuthin' yet!!" as to how low and scummy this campaign is going to get. These people see themselves defending the last ditch of The Way Things Were And Should Be.

  • Barbara on March 10, 2012 11:43 AM:

    I accidentally found myself on Breitbart's site earlier today (don't ask, I had to take a 30 minute shower afterward) and they are now attempting to link Derrick Bell with Farrakhan. And then of course Obama ---> Farrakhan by extension.

    We need to have a version of Godwin's Law for Black people holding political leadership positions: when you bring up a link to Farrakhan, and said person is not a member of NOI, your contribution to discussion has ended.

  • Anonymous on March 10, 2012 11:43 AM:

    This brouhaha has made me realize something. I don't know much about Derrick Bell or critical race theory, but I'm guessing that I would disagree with part, probably a large part of it. A lot of liberals, including African-Americans, do. What occurred to me is that while I might find myself disagreeing with Bell, I can not imagine myself ever getting mad at him, or treating his work as fundamentally evil or beyond the pale. It's impossible for me to get that mad at someone who's been historically disadvantaged, provided he's acting reasonably civilly, even if he makes arguments I disagree with.

    It's kind of the same as reading a thoughtful conservative - I will usually disagree, but I can't be angry if the conservative is making reasonable points in a reasonable manner. I do, of course, get angry when non-thoughtful conservatives spout off (looking at you, Rush, and too many others to mention), partly because they have set out to make me angry and partly because they're not dealing in good faith.

    And that's what disturbs me about all the BS emanating from hardcore conservatives. Their anger is out of all proportion to whatever "sins" Bell is guilty of, they are not treating him with any minimal respect, even though he has more than earned the right to the respect of all decent people. This has to be racism. If I'm strolling down the street and a white guy bumps into me by accident and I let it pass, but when a black guy bumps into I go into a rage about how he needs to watch where he's going, wouldn't you suspect that I was reacting to something other than a careless bump?

    I know conservatives have it tough these days, but it's not as tough as they think. Unjust allegations of racism (of which there are a few, though the majority are probably true) are just not the same as 175 years of slavery and apartheid, lynching and discrimination, though to hear conservatives caterwaul about the supposed injustices they have to bear, you'd think their suffering is equal to the suffering of blacks. It isn't. The inability of hardcore conservatives to see this is at best a failure of basic empathy, and at worst, racism.

  • Geoff G on March 10, 2012 11:48 AM:

    I'm not sure what the proper etiquette is, but I didn't intend to post as Anonymous. Here's the same post under my own name.

    This brouhaha has made me realize something. I don't know much about Derrick Bell or critical race theory, but I'm guessing that I would disagree with part, probably a large part of it. A lot of liberals, including African-Americans, do. What occurred to me is that while I might find myself disagreeing with Bell, I can not imagine myself ever getting mad at him, or treating his work as fundamentally evil or beyond the pale. It's impossible for me to get that mad at someone who's been historically disadvantaged, provided he's acting reasonably civilly, even if he makes arguments I disagree with.

    It's kind of the same as reading a thoughtful conservative - I will usually disagree, but I can't be angry if the conservative is making reasonable points in a reasonable manner. I do, of course, get angry when non-thoughtful conservatives spout off (looking at you, Rush, and too many others to mention), partly because they have set out to make me angry and partly because they're not dealing in good faith.

    And that's what disturbs me about all the BS emanating from hardcore conservatives. Their anger is out of all proportion to whatever "sins" Bell is guilty of, they are not treating him with any minimal respect, even though he has more than earned the right to the respect of all decent people. This has to be racism. If I'm strolling down the street and a white guy bumps into me by accident and I let it pass, but when a black guy bumps into I go into a rage about how he needs to watch where he's going, wouldn't you suspect that I was reacting to something other than a careless bump?

    I know conservatives have it tough these days, but it's not as tough as they think. Unjust allegations of racism (of which there are a few, though the majority are probably true) are just not the same as 175 years of slavery and apartheid, lynching and discrimination, though to hear conservatives caterwaul about the supposed injustices they have to bear, you'd think their suffering is equal to the suffering of blacks. It isn't. The inability of hardcore conservatives to see this is at best a failure of basic empathy, and at worst, racism.

  • James on March 10, 2012 12:03 PM:

    I too worry about what the rightwing extremists are cooking up. They generally start in April of the election year, building up to screaming crescendo in Sept and October. It always, always catches the Dems flat-footed.

    Already you see lists of items which accuse Obama of being anti-Bible. See here: Daily Kos: Biblically hostile president?

    And you are right: there is surely some ugly, ugly racism and race-baiting to come. And by the way, yes. The contemporary right is racist. Why dance around the word? Because they don't like it? They don't like it because it's the bare, ugly truth, that's why. Keep calling them on it. Flaming racism and race-baiting is their game.

  • Memekiller on March 10, 2012 12:19 PM:

    People have been overlooking the fact that Joel Pollak, a South African immigrant involved in post-apartheid politics,(and who has a black wife), the heir-apparent of Breitbart, argued that Bell is a "white supremacist." Paired with Palins declaration that Obama wants to return to the days of slavery, we have to assume this is conscious strategy. I hope liberals are tracking down Pollak's book - the confluence of racial politics, and Jewish views of Israel, means the growing pains undergone by the US South are very fresh on his mind, and he probably knows better than anyone how to exloit racial politics better than any native citizen.

    The fact that the mainstream media, who simply finds the contention Bell is a "white supremacist" too absurd to debate without appearing like liberals, are pretending this is about Bell as "black radical" is precisely the point. Pollak is taking the pro-equality stance, hiding behind a black wife and bravely leading the charge against Obama's return of slavery and Bell's hatred of black people. It's the objective, sensible media that then has to translate this into black radicalism for the public, unintentionally keeping Pollak's hands clean for injecting it into the discourse.

    Wolf Blitzer discusses black radicals, Palin is just leading the charge against bringing back slavery. So Blitzer is doing all the heavy lifting.

  • Kathryn on March 10, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Anybody watch Bill Maher last night in particular Alexandra Pelosi tape from Mississippi? No desire to mock the folks on her part and really there is enough mean spiritness in the world, no need to indulge in that. Suffice it to say, it's another world, to me the major take away is decades of insularity and a deficit of critical thinking ( education) that seems profound. Racism as raw as if the Civl War just ended, a total reliance on religion and the comfort of a heavenly reward, hatred of the federal government (extension of carpetbaggers, I guess), really a stew of hatred and resentment and victimhood also.

    It is so entrenched and passed down from generation to generation, it seems hopeless.

  • Jo Hargis on March 10, 2012 2:31 PM:

    I did see that Maher segment and it was quite stark. Doesn't surprise me one bit though. I live in rural east Texas and that kind of thinking is quite common, especially among the older folks. I suspect it's just a matter of generations dying out for some of it to go away. We'll never be rid of it completely, as there's always some bigot raising his kids to be bigots.

  • Karl in Minnesota on March 10, 2012 2:56 PM:

    The discussion needs to start with the premise that being called a racist is now agreed by all - left, middle and right - as a bad thing. This was not true in the Jim Crow days of segregation. Supporters of segregation did not then think that being racist was bad, because their entire culture depended on distinguishing along racial lines and putting one race in a disadvantage position to the benefit of the white race. The acceptance of much of the civil rights movement is captured in the right's objection to being called racist. There is no longer demands for separate schools or drinking fountains or bathrooms. The legal structure of segregation is not likely to return.

    The catch is that in view of this progress, right wing whites do not want to be seen as racist on account of having accepted the end of legal segregation; but in their hearts and minds they still see and feel about blacks as the "other". If the "other" wants to share their values and life styles, such as a Herman Cain, this is acceptable and offered as proof that they are not racist. But if the "other" rejects right wing ideas and culture and chooses to participate in mainstream culture shared by a majority of whites, blacks and all others, the right wing cannot accept or even tolerate this and concentrates its distaste upon the "other" meaning blacks. It does not think that its is being racist, but the continued obsession with racial differences and the focus of its venom on persons in the "other" must be seen as what it is - racism.

  • Kathryn on March 10, 2012 3:18 PM:

    Good comments Karl in Minnesota.

  • ripuree on March 10, 2012 3:47 PM:

    What all of this amounts to is that many whites still think that they OWN BLACK PEOPLE, and therefore as their property, we have no right to our: voices, minds or lives. Because, if they were truly worried about RADICAL & INFLAMMATORY sentiments being imposed on impressionable minds they would have long held the Dictionaries and Bible responsible for; dictionary meanings of black as: Evil, Wicked, Without Morals, Worthy of Condemnation etc. while the Bible suggests that black people could be a cursed race of God, while Jews are Chosen.

    When the racial sins of the Founding Fathers are brought to their attention, they want people to see it as actions consistent to the sentiments of the times. Yet they dare to even espouse that black people (who are still living with covert institutionalized racism; established from foundations in the Bible and Books of Learning) should be mindful of hurting everyone else's feelings, and never highlight our enslavement which still goes on By Other Names. And regardless of how increasing "For Profit Prisons" are reintroducing our hurting youths (some of whom use drugs to ease their pain) to The New Jim Crow.

  • Lerhra on March 11, 2012 12:44 AM:

    First of all, I wish to commend TCinLA, for the succinct and precise presentation of this issue. Racists are scared, because the latent notions of white is right, white is might, white is privilege, and are being challenged like never before. We, the US, have preached Democracy to ourselves and the world, as the path to civil society. Our teachings have come full circle and demonstrated that they work. One person one vote, the content of one’s character, not the color of the skin, is what matters in our beloved ideal democracy. We went to wars; Vietnam, WWI, & II, in defense of this ideal. However, we were never completely truthful to ourselves and others; we harbored and practiced a secret “Qualified Democracy”.

    We are now challenged to uphold the ideals of our social contract, as we have preached it, and we are seriously deficient. Our democracy is under affront; state legislators are blatantly changing the rules and reverting to the comfort zone, where democracy was a contrived game and tool that benefited and sustained whiteness as a right, might and privilege.

    You see, these racists, who unfortunately, have surfaced as Republicans (mostly, hiding behind the tea party) with the support of some Democrats, as silent partners, are throwing slangs such as "take our country back". They are bent on voter suppression by demanding the return of the literacy test. In the Senate, they are resorting to a new 60 vote majority necessary to pass a bill. They are gradually instituting "Sharia Law", (which they claim to hate passionately) in which the women of this country, like those in Afghanistan and Iran, will have to seek approval from men or their men, on their gynecological needs/issues.

    It worries me that, Women, like Sarah Palin, have forgotten that, it was not long ago that women were not allowed to vote in this country and that thanks to the gallant fight of the African in America, they were also given the right to vote. She and her valiant tea party compatriots have forgotten that, the white male, in all his rightness, might and privilege, did not consider Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and poor Sarah Palin as equals.

    The brand of democracy, subscribed to by the tea party, is equivalent to the Hanbali school of thought of the Hadith (Moslem world view), it is orthodox and restrictive of those rights to happiness ordained in our constitution. The tea party wields the arm of Sharia. It demands of its women to be seen, not to be heard and that is why, in the 21st. Century, a Congressional Committee, lead by Chairman Issa, will dare, with impunity, hold a hearing on Women’s Health and contraception without entertaining the voice of a Woman.

    The Hanbali don't make sense and they don't care. In a young Republican forum, at the University of Valdosta, GA, noted Republicans explained the concept of welfare and social security in terms of GPA. Getting SS and welfare is like reducing the GPA of brilliant "white students" and giving it to "minorities", to enable the later to stay in college. For minorities to stay in college or graduate, they need the forced benevolence of smart white kids. In fact they added that affirmative action in college admissions can only be attained by taking off points from the GPAs of white students and giving it to "others".

    With the election of President Barack Obama, new light shines on our Democracy; ours is truly the envy of the world. Unfortunately our democracy is being eroded in the U.S; the rich and powerful are bent on recreating a state of "qualified democracy". The idea of one person one vote is only feasible if you belong to a certain race.

    How soon we forget, not long ago, others were considered "fractions of people" in the U.S. antebellum democratic reality. The Supreme court, in the last 14 years has committed gross malfeasance and even misfeasance; first in not exercising due authority in “GEORGE W. BUSH, et al.

  • M. Paul on March 11, 2012 1:31 AM:

    While reading these great comments I have to wonder if "our wingnut friends most want is to poke the stick at racial issues " find that the hornets nest they disturb might in fact open wounds that need to be drained in order to heal properly.

    M. Paul

  • carol reom on March 11, 2012 8:52 PM:

    I really don't think most of the wingnuts are capable of really deep thought or analyzing just where they are in thinking about racism or right or wrong. They accept the thinking of their party and church as absolute and they don't have to sort things out for yourself. If you take authorities word ( in this case church and party) you're set and safe with no brain strain and you have been brain washed. This is mob mentality . It takes a very strong person to break away from this sort of thinking if you have been raised in that sort of cocoon.