13 October 2008

What is a Racist?

Things on the campaign trail are getting heated. In rallies for McCain and Palin, supporters are getting downright mob-like. In different rallies people have chanted "kill him" and "off with his head," calling Obama a "terrorist." The McCain campaign's response:

"I think there have been quite a few reporters recently," said Mr. McCain's closest adviser, Mark Salter, "who have sort of implied, or made more than implications, that somehow we're responsible for the occasional nut who shows up and yells something about Barack Obama."

True. I don't think that McCain can be responsible for his supporters' preconceptions, but I think that the McCain campaign's decision to pretend that they aren't responsible for the anger emanating from these rallies is disingenuous at best.

We don't get a lot of political campaign ads out here in prairie state, so when I was in Ohio recently, I was surprised and fairly disgusted at the ads that I did see coming from the McCain campaign. In particular, there was an ad talking about Obama's goal to raise taxes for all Americans. As the ad lists the many, horrible taxes that Obama will raise, a dark shadow creeps over the image of Washington, DC, engulfing first the Capiltol, and then the rest of the city. The ad ends with that same dark shadow slowly engulfing a sleeping baby.

I really don't think it takes someone with an advanced degree to see the symbolism here-- dark shadow engulfing a white baby? What the heck does that have to do with taxes? It's a scary image, especially for a country that has a long history of fearing blackness and darkness.

Coincidental? Perhaps...if it wasn't for the fact that it isn't a singular instance. In his Sunday Op-Ed piece, Frank Rich writes, "when the McCain campaign ran its first ad tying Obama to the mortgage giant Fannie Mae. Rather than make its case by using a legitimate link between Fannie and Obama (or other Democratic leaders), the McCain forces chose a former Fannie executive who had no real tie to Obama or his campaign but did have a black face that could dominate the ad’s visuals."

But here's the problem, in the same editorial, Rich claims unequivocally, "McCain is no racist."

Really? Why is that? Because he, himself, has not specifically called Obama a "terrorist"? Because he doesn't outright call him a "n*#ger"? Oh wait... we're not supposed to use that word, right? We're supposed to say "racial epitaphs were hurled." Right? Use that passive voice to remove all blame from the people doing the hurling, and of course, never mention that someone might still use that *gasp* word in public.

This is what is utterly frustrating about the whole issue of race in this campaign. McCain's campaign, especially through the seemingly-unassuming aw-shucks Palin, has succeeded in playing into Americans' fear of the other. It's improper to talk about someone's race, but we can replace race with the term terrorist. We don't need to call Obama a n*#ger. We have something much better at our disposal: we can call him a terrorist. Because, hey, it's permissible not to simply hate or fear terrorists, but to kill them.

So in one breath McCain says that Obama is a family man and a good person, and in the next he refers to his link with Ayers, a known terrorist. Connect the dots.

But McCain is nor racist, right? Haven't we gotten to the very enlightened place in America where no one is a racist? Or at least no one who doesn't where a bed sheet and burn crosses in people's yard. That must be the definition of a racist, right?

I don't think so, and I think that because being racist is so taboo, racism has become more insidious than it was before.

Obama can't bring up the McCain campaign's dirty games. McCain doesn't have to be responsible for the supporters that his rallies stir up. He's certainly not a racist, just because he is willing to come out on stage and pretend that nothing is amiss when a preacher giving a blessing in Iowa prayed,

"I would also pray, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god - whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah - that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons...And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than you, if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and Election Day."

Nope, nothing wrong with that. Obviously McCain's not a racist just because he benefits from the ire raised by these kinds of speakers and this kinds of crowds. He's just a coward.

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