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August 4, 2009

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 "jungle monkey."

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 racist."

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 capitalist.

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.


2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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