To the Right, the Only
Racists are Reverse Racists
Hey, did you hear the one about the poor, put-upon white guys,
baselessly accused of racism, when legions and legions of racist people
of color get away with it every day? If you've been paying attention to
conservative media in the last few years, and especially the last few
weeks, I'm sure you have.
Throughout several recent controversies – the Philadelphia kids kicked
out of a pool so as not to "change the complexion" of it, the Henry
Louis Gates/James Crowley mess and the "wise Latina" debate connected to
Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings – the response from the right
has been what it has been for most racial brouhahas of recent years: To
downplay any and all accusations that minorities are in any way hurt by
racism, while pulling the victim card whenever whites seem impacted.
The goal, simply, is to say that racism by minorities against whites is
a huge, huge problem in America, but that racism by whites against
blacks is no problem at all, not a big deal, and a case of
victim-mongering by the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
This has been a conservative movement trope for years: In every racial
controversy, white people are always right. It's never that big a deal,
people talking about racism are always overreacting, and there's never a
bigger villain than Al Sharpton. Don Imus wasn't actually racist.
Neither was the Boston cop who e-mailed that Henry Louis Gates was a
Meanwhile, the idea is put forth that accusing someone of being racist
is somehow a worse thing than actually being racist. You'd think
there were some epidemic of white people unfairly being called racist,
and that this in itself is the only form of racial inequality there is.
When was the last time a white person was called racist on Fox News or
conservative talk radio? Especially the virtual parade of minor
Republican officials – including the newly elected head of the Young
Republicans – who have been caught sending racist emails and cartoons
about Obama in the last few months?
It's an interesting phenomenon that no white person likes being called
racist – even people who indisputably are. It's the "I'm not a racist,
but . . ." problem – the cop who called Gates a "Banana-eating jungle
monkey" had in the same correspondence, of course, stated "I am not a
It also seems that the bar of what makes one a racist is different for
whites and blacks. For instance, according to the right-wing ethos, any
black person who so much as brings up the topic of race in any public
statement is either "racist" or "obsessed with race." However, a white
person can throw the n-word or "jungle monkey" around and still not be
racist at all.
Sonia Sotomayor, who to the best of my knowledge has never uttered a
single negative word about white people, has been called racist by
conservatives from Rush Limbaugh on down, while Glenn Beck this week
accused President Obama of being a racist who possesses "a deep-seated
hatred of white people." This of course means that Obama hates his own
vice president, most of his top advisers, the majority of people in his
administration and tens of millions of people who voted for him, on top
of the grandparents who raised him and his own mother.
Obama's positions on race have been abundantly clear for years, both in
his book Dreams From My Father and last year's race speech, both
of which have been disseminated widely. Obama is in favor of racial
reconciliation, mutual understanding and harmony among the races. To
think that he's some kind of black supremacist would be like reading the
Communist Manifesto and concluding that Marx was a rabid
I know why Fox and others do this – their viewers eat it up. As the
Republican Party and conservative movement become more and more white,
the Southern strategy lives on and on, and race-based fearmongering
becomes a bigger and bigger part of how they win. But there's no doubt
that the right, on this stuff, is every bit as into
"grievance-mongering," and "obsessed with race," as the worst caricature
of Al Sharpton.
There is racism in the world. Things are better than they were – much
better – but a whole lot of prejudice remains. And due to historical
context, racism coming from whites towards minorities has a very
different connotation than the other way around.
If you're white, there's a remarkably easy way to avoid being called a
racist: Don't be one. Don't go out of your way to bash minorities. Don't
scream about "double standards" only when white people are impacted.
There are a lot of racial double standards in American life – and most
of them favor white people.