Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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What is Racism?

Juan Williams writes an excellent piece in the WSJ arguing that a default disposition to hesitate about criticizing President Obama for fear of being seen as stoking racist passions or for fear of being called racist is, itself, the most pernicious kind of racism. It is patronizing. Patronization is racism because it amounts to an affirmation of the belief that there is something delicate, something precious, and yes, something inferior about a black man and a black president. It suggests an inferiority that calls upon us to cut him some slack and not judge him by the same standards we’d judge any other president because . . . well, what did you expect? He’s black. I hope Juan Williams’ is a voice that is heard and heeded in the coming months and years because racism--even as it masks itself as enthusiasm--ought not to be tolerated. But so far I’d have to say that the hoped for recognition of the end of naked racism begins to look more to me like the transformation of racism into a more esoteric, more clever, and more damaging form of itself.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Does pushing this piece make you a racist? If you were not one, then you would have no problem criticizing Obama as a man right? And have no need to get behind a anti reverse racism movement in the hope that the first time you are critical you are not lambasted as someone wearing their bed sheets.

Quibble: let's agree not to use the phrase "reverse racism." This is precisely Juan Williams's point. He wants us to use one standard for one people, regardless of an individual's color, race, or ethnicity. Thus, racism is racism. Period. What on earth could "reverse racism" mean, anyway? It's wrong when anyone does it. Is there such a thing as a "reverse wrong"? Nuff said.

I once heard something similar (kind of) in the '70's from former NBA star/ color analyst (no pun intended) Bill Russell. Russell was commenting on black head coaches who were just beginning to be hired in the NBA. He opined something like "... we're not equal because we're getting hired, we'll be equal when we start getting fired".

Come on! The enthusiasm we saw yesterday was not masked racism. It was celebration and relief that geez, maybe we've finally gotten past this awkward attempt to have a civil conversation about the nation's future while avoiding mention of the giant blood-stain on the carpet, our history of slavery, followed by Jim Crow. You're young, Julie, and you did not grow up in the South, so maybe you don't understand how some of the white folks watching the inauguration can still remember that awkward day at school when the first black kids joined the class, and how we didn't know what to say to them, and whether our white friends would make fun of us for being friendly. Some of us have carried these memories around like a dead weight for years. That's why we're so delighted to see a black man running for President not because he's black and it's time a black man did but rather because he thinks he has a better idea about how to get things done. That's why we teared up at his very dry, practical, let's-all-roll-up-our-sleeves speech. He's so normal, and matter of fact, and makes us feel that this new state of affairs is just normal business. It's the very fact that we sense his ego needs no protecting that makes us show him such good will. To those of us born before Jim Crow ended, this is what we call grace, and we say, thank you, Mr. Obama, for taking on this labor of Atlas, and thank you, Lord, that it finally happened.

E.T.: Not all of the enthusiasm for Obama is or will be patronizing. I do not think that I suggested otherwise above (and if I did, it was not my intention) and I, too, have been pleased to see that the best man offered by the Democrats got their nomination without respect to color. I was delighted to see him defeat Hillary. Maybe I over-estimate my fellow Americans, but I just wasn't that surprised by it. Perhaps my relative youth makes me less impressed because I can't imagine and don't remember a time when color was ever a really big deal to me or my friends. For those who have other memories, I suppose there is plenty of room for simple enthusiasm about a black man running for and getting elected president and, in the main, it is a proper enthusiasm. But when enthusiasm for what is wonderful and significant in that feat is carried off into the direction of an inability or refusal to criticize the things in him that deserve criticism--or, if one disagrees with the criticism--at least to accept it as fair when coming from others; I think it is then a fair point to suggest that those with such delicate sensibilities expose themselves as patronizers. Williams is right about that. We ought to have moved beyond not knowing what to say to a person because he's black by now. It was only natural to have felt awkward then, I suppose. But you can only accept someone as your true equal when you are prepared to tell him when he is wrong. The best man got the Democratic nomination and, it may be that (considering the competition) the best man also won the Presidency. In the end, however, the true test will be the quality of his ideas and we ought to be able to measure those without regard to their source--and certainly without regard to his color. If there is still a test for America on this tired old race question, I guess it is this. I join with Williams in praying that we pass it. If we don't, then the critics who say that America is still a racist country may have a point.

Fair enuff, Julie. Indeed, friends of my generation and southern background have talked about how our kids think we're are a little too sensitive on the subject of race, a little too bothered by how our kids pick up on dumb slogans/questionable "witticisms" from hip-hop culture and so on--the kids think we over-compensate, looking for racism where it doesn't exist. It's interesting that you say "I can't imagine and don't remember a time when color was ever a really big deal to me or my friends"--it's good to hear that; maybe things really are changing, then.

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