The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

“That one.”

At least he didn’t say “That boy,” but he was just one word off. I heard it, and I saw it. I saw it first, actually, during the first debate when McCain refused to look Obama in the eye.


I heard it again when that white Republican congressman from Kentucky referred to Obama as “that boy.” I heard it before when that white Republican congressman from Georgia referred to Obama as “uppity,” and the later said that he had never heard it used in a racially derogatory sense. (Even though he grew up in Atlanta during the 1950s.) I heard it again when a radio host promoted a video of a pastor calling Obama’s mother “trash.”

At least he didn’t say “white trash,” but he was only one word off.

I saw it again when a Fox News graphic labeled Michelle Obama a “baby mama.”

I saw it when a Georgia bar owner sold t-shirts equating Obama with or portraying him as a monkey.

And again when boxes of “Obama Waffles” were sold at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit.

I heard it again when McCain referred to Obama as “that one.” I saw it again when McCain refused Obama’s handshake after the second debate.

Then, of course, there was Ann Coulter joking about lynching, following Bill O’Reilly’s example. There was the noose at a Secret Service Training center. There was Pat Buchanan saying that African Americans “should be grateful” that slavery, etc., brought us here. There was Lou Dobbs nearly calling Condi Rice a “cotton picker” when she echoed some of Obama’s thought about race.

A few weeks ago, Obama was hung in effigy by students at a small Christian University in Oregon.

Students and school leaders at a small Christian university expressed outrage Wednesday at the discovery of a life-size cardboard effigy of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hanging from a tree on campus.

A custodian at George Fox University discovered the effigy early Tuesday and immediately removed it, President Robin Baker said. University spokesman Rob Felton said Wednesday that the commercially produced reproduction had been suspended from the branch of a tree near Minthorn Hall with fishing line around the neck.

The hanging of the effigy around the neck is seen as racist symbolism because it harkens back to lynchings of black men by white mobs, especially in the U.S. South, decades ago. Obama is aiming to become America’s first black president.

More recently, a (now former) member of McCain’s leadership team in Virginia penned a racially-charged editorial aimed at Obama.

Then there is the Palin rally.

Worse, Palin’s routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric’s questions for her “less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.” At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, “Sit down, boy.”

…The reception had been better in Clearwater, where Palin, speaking to a sea of “Palin Power” and “Sarahcuda” T-shirts, tried to link Obama to the 1960s Weather Underground. “One of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers,” she said. (“Boooo!” said the crowd.) “And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,’ ” she continued. (“Boooo!” the crowd repeated.)

“Kill him!” proposed one man in the audience.

And McCain and Palin say nothing.

I understand why McCain and Palin are going negative. The economy is falling apart around us, and they have no solutions. They are losing in Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Virginia. Obama, despite McCain’s repeated claims, understands what a surge is, because he’s pulling one off right now.

But the current political environment does not excuse remaining silent when a candidate for president is referred to as a “terrorist” in your presence. A desire to win does not excuse remaining silent during a threat on the life of a U.S. Senator at one of your rallies. There are no excuses for evil such as this. John McCain and Sarah Palin, the GOP and all who support them have lost all rights to legitimate argument. They are liars. They are wrong. They are evil. Yes, evil. They are one small step short of inciting violence at their rallies. They are letting physical threats go unchallenged.

I was at Obama’s rally at Independence Square in Philadelphia back in April. When he mentioned Hillary Clinton’s name, the crowd booed, and he told them to stop. Barack Obama intervened when his supporters booed his opponent. He called for civility. Yet, when faced with supporters who label senators terrorists and call for their assassination, John McCain and Sarah Palin said nothing.

This is how evil spreads, from domestic violence to genocide. People in a position to stop it choose to do nothing.

If anything, given all that’s been said thus far, Obama is to be commended for wanting to or even attempting to shake his opponent’s hand. A lesser man would have given back as good as he got, and returned contempt for contempt.

That said, it isn’t always overt. Much of the time race is a subtext, barely below the surface. McCain’s behavior in the first debate reminded me of the stories I’d heard and read about time when blacks had to step off the sidewalk when whites approached, and a black person didn’t dare look another white person in eye. The “that one” comment reminded of the stories I’d heard about times when a black person couldn’t expect a white person to call them by their name, but instead “uncle,” or “auntie,” or “boy,” or “girl.” (There’s a reason why, during the civil rights movement, simply wearing a sign that read “I am a man, ” was a real statement.) One more debate and it will be “that boy.”

When I was a child, growing up in Georgia, there were some specific things I didn’t understand. Like why my parents often had visceral reactions to certain things. I grew up in a house where my parents and their friends still talked about their experiences living during (and before) the modern civil rights movement. There were books about the history of the civil rights movement in our house, and I read some of them several times. I watched documentaries and television shows about the civil rights movement, often with my one or both of my parents providing additional commentary.

I knew, at least intellectually, something about what those times were like. I didn’t manage to grow up in the south without hearing the “n-word,” or without hearing it applied to me. But I didn’t know then — and don’t really think I know now — just what people went through on a daily basis. I caught glimpses of it, though.

I remember one incident in particular. One Sunday afternoon, after church, we went to visit one of our senior members who had just moved into a nursing home. I’d been in nursing homes before, to visit relatives, so I wasn’t affected much by the visit. In fact, I don’t remember much of it except our arrival and departure. On the way in, we passed by several elderly women in wheelchairs, sitting in a common area. I remember some of them appeared to be senile, and — if only in their minds — living in pretty far back in the past.

I remember one elderly white woman in particular banging on a table with her spoon, as we arrived, and demanding (for some reason) a boiled egg, perhaps from some former employee or servant who’d long since left her employment. On our way out, that same woman said to my mother, “Hey you, girl! Bring me a glass of water.” It wasn’t until we were out of the building and in the car that I heard my mother respond in a voice I hadn’t heard before.

“I got your ‘girl,’ alright,” she said. “I’m glad we left, because I wasn’t going to be too many more of her ‘girls.'” My dad nodded quietly, and after a while added that the woman was probably so senile that she thought she was living “back in the old days.” The rest of the ride home was silent, almost as though my sister and I knew it was probably a good idea to leave our folks alone with their thoughts and memories.

I didn’t quite understand the vehemence of my mother’s reaction, in much the same way I didn’t really understand pictures like this one, when I saw them in the books I mentioned earlier.

I mean, intellectually, I knew that the men were protesting, and I knew what they were protesting. But in the back of my mind I wondered what made someone need to write a sign that states the obvious like that. And what would about that statement would make some other men reach for their guns.

But the McCain campaign either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care about the inevitable reactions.

Those two small words didn’t just leave many pundits cringing, but more significantly, they caused some in the African-American community to accuse McCain of racism in his dismissive treatment of the man aiming to be the first black president in U.S. history.

“It speaks to the fundamental belief of racism: despite all evidence to the contrary, you are inherently beneath me simply by virtue of the melanin content of your skin,” Ciji McBride, a 33-year-old sales professional in Los Angeles, said Wednesday.

Don Hammonds of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also took offence.

“Regardless of intent, it showed Senator McCain to be culturally ignorant, and completely unaware of the implications of what his off-the-cuff statement meant to people of colour,” he wrote.

The base may lap it up, but like I said before, the rest of us know a dog whistle when we hear one.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve been really appalled by some of the racist attitudes that this election has brought to light. Perhaps the worst of it is that on a core, deep, unspoken level, these people just can’t see past Obama’s skin color. They might make some pretense that they feel he’s too inexperienced, but certain indicators say differently.

    It saddens me that they simply cannot see that the stereotypes they’re rationalizing as humor (not funny, but that’s how they’re trying to play it off) do not in any way, shape or form apply to Barack Obama. I mean, they just don’t even make sense, seriously. It’d be like picking on William F. Buckley for being a geek for liking remote-controlled robots (as far as I know, he didn’t). It’s not funny because it simply isn’t true, doesn’t make any sense, and is completely foreign to the butt of the joke. It’d be like picking on me for liking NASCAR (I don’t) — if you know me at all, you’d be like, “Huh? You’ve got that wrong.” It’s just baffling, and I don’t think these people have a clue as to how dumb they look.

    Making some sort of lowbrow joke about Obama liking arugula might at least be funny in some circles because it is actually true (the man appears to have good taste in restaurants). But Obama has about as much in common with Aunt Jemima as I do. It’s completely bizarre because it is in no way pertinent or relevant to the individual in question … so not only is it racist, it’s wildly inaccurate, and it bothers me that people disseminating such content under the poor, thin guise of humor can’t see that.

    I mean, if you’re going to criticize or mock, at least do it with something that makes logical sense. Racism is stupid, but this is stupidity on top of stupidity. Even an ignorant attempt humor has to have some sort of rhyme or reason to be funny.

    Dear Congress: since we apparently have tons of money just lying around to give to Wall Street, perhaps we could invest another small portion in developing the critical thinking skills of our population? Thanks.

  2. Call me cynical, but I suspect that it is exactly the type of sentiments that the McCain campaign is trying to stir up — albeit in the background. Notice that the McCain campaign has come out publically condemning some of the racially-charged language used, yet McCain supporters, Palin, and on occasion McCain himself kept bringing it up. It’s no surprise, that McCain supporters mayvoice such sentiments. Palin’s apparent soccer-mom-I-don’t-know-anything image, allows her to voice such ignorant stuff — because she had set the bar so low for herself, people will just see it as yet another one of those things that are trickling out of her mouth that no one really understands. McCain himself, also, in a very covert way that is instantly recognizable by a minority that’s ever been discriminated against because of race, but not so much so by others. When one add all of those situation up, it’s hard not to see the bigger picture.

    All of the media outlets have concluded, that McCain is fighting a losing battle on issues — since economy is taking center stage, and people are equating McCain to Bush on ecnomy — as a result, McCain is going for personal attacks. When you’re going for personal attacks, invariably racism and sexism will eventually raise its ugly head — McCain campaign knows this — that is why they are attacking Obama’s character in such a subtextual and behind the scenes sort of way.

    It’s like the mob bosses letting the small-time gangsters do their dirty work for them — the bosses have maximum deniability, blaming it completely on those who did the dirty work. Same thing here — McCain have maximum deniability, letting his supporters, the pro-McCain media and Campaign workers get all of the blame, while he benefits from those negative sentiments raised.

    While you may think this covert racism would only work on folks who are poor and less educated, you’d be surprised some of my coworkers’ (who are intelligent and well-educated engineers) negative views of Obama is fueled directly along those lines of thinking and sentiments.

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