Friday, May 04, 2007

Obama and the Race Zombies

-- by Dave

It really shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose, that Barack Obama's run for the presidency is bringing out innate racism of so many right-wingers these days. After all, so many of them have had to suppress their Inner Theodore Bilbo for so many years now, it's bound to come squirming out when given the opportunity -- and nothing draws them out like liberal blacks running for political office. Making it the presidency drives them into another sphere altogether.

So far, we have been regaled with the oft-repeated "Hussein" note, the Fox smear of Obama's Muslim background, followed by Limbaugh's astonishing riff on "Barack the Magic Negro". That these reflect a barely concealed racial animus mixed with general white xenophobia should be obvious, and notably, these are all occurring on a national scale, within ostensibly mainstream media sources.

For right-wing audiences, cues like this signal just how far they can take things themselves. So on the public level, the result of this kind of talk is a regular outpouring of old-fashioned racist bile, permission having been granted by leading right-wing voices.

That may be why CBS has had to disallow comments on any of its Web stories about Obama:
Today informed its staff via email that they should no longer enable comments on stories about presidential candidate Barack Obama. The reason for the new policy, according to the email, is that stories about Obama have been attracting too many racist comments.

"It's very simple," Mike Sims, director of News and Operations for, told me. "We have our Rules of Engagement. They prohibit personal attacks, especially racist attacks. Stories about Obama have been problematic, and we won't tolerate it." does sometimes delete comments on an individual basis, but Sims said that was not sufficient in the case of Obama stories due to "the volume and the persistence" of the objectionable comments.

You also have to wonder if a similar problem was afoot with the recent announcement that the Secret Service was now protecting Obama.

This trend is what I've been calling the "new racism", which is all about
staking out positions that, if not overtly racist, at least seek to resurrect some of the hoary mythology of the era of white supremacy. As with most of right-wing race rhetoric of the past twenty years, it's all done with a certain level of plausible deniability, couched in "jokes" or abstrations that let the speakers feign indignation when the racism is pointed out; the current trend is only slightly more overt in its racism, but the underlying sentiments aren't hard to read.

It's a step beyond wink-and-nudge racism -- or, perhaps, more like that point in the winking and nudging when the winker begins nudging harder and harder.

We get it, we get it.

A lot of it is building off memes that have been floating about the right for some time now: racism is a dead letter and doesn't really exist anymore, multiculturalism is a travesty, and efforts to defeat racism are racist themselves.

This resurgent racism likes to cloak itself in the pretense of rebellious individualism standing up to the oppression of overbearing "political correctness," or else in academic-sounding terms that fling about misinformation regarding the sciences and sociology to construct a pseudo-rationale for what they euphemistically like to call "race realism."

But pull the cloak aside, and the same old, decrepit racism of a century ago is there, festering like a decaying zombie who refuses to die.

And as the summer goes on, and the presidential campaign picks up steam, and Obama solidifies his already formidable position as a front runner ... well, expect to see a lot more of those zombies crawling the streets of our public discourse.

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