Update: “Silence implies consent, and the lack of a disclaimer indicates that there is some measure of positive approval of not just Mr. Goodwin’s right to his views, but of his views themselves.” (commenter barefoot bum)
Consider that disclaimer added, then: Bob G. and I are well aware that we disagree strongly on a whole range of issues, and I was daft to assume that this awareness would somehow simply carry over, telepathically, to NC commenters.
As for the accusation of trollery: these views are bordering on mainstream, which is a fact worth paying close attention to. If you want to live in a civil society, you had better figure out a way to engage with them and understand where they come from. Which does not mean, agreeing with them.
By Bob Goodwin, an investor and medical device entrepreneur who lives in Mercer Island, Washington
I hate being called a racist, and I won’t take it anymore. But I digress.
Unless you have been living under a rock the last week you have seen the light speed villianization and redemption of Shirley Sherrod. It is a good story about a good person caught up in partisan battleground. With the Democrats’ poll numbers dropping quickly leading up to an important election, the NAACP was called upon to bring down the tea-party a notch by reminding the world of the right-wing’s history of being on the wrong side of racial issues. Race baiting is not new to politics: the Willy Horton ads in the 1980’s sadly (and effectively) painted black people as a criminal element, which helped galvanize that generation of conservatives to the voting booths. But black people didn’t like being called criminals, and the conservative movement was tainted by the tactic.
Initially the tea party responded to the NAACP accusations of racism with a boiler plate defense “of course there are a few whack jobs in our movement, but there is no evidence of racism here”. The argument wasn’t helped when this attention seeking whack job opened his mouth. Words matter. But this defense misses the point completely. The NAACP used weak evidence to demonstrate their argument. Those who already believed the right was racist would accept any evidence and visa-versa. Reverse race baiting circa 2010 had begun. Andrew Breitbart replied in a nasty bit of theatrics. He wanted to retaliate against the NAACP. He didn’t care who he hurt. It worked. The NAACP will be more careful in the future about picking a fight. People on the far left and far right feel aggrieved. Those of us in the middle are bemused.
This is dangerous business on both sides. There are still major race issues in America. Black men are far more likely to go to prison than college. Despite a generation of affirmative action, black people are significantly underrepresented in the privileged class. Progress on racial equality has fallen way behind expectations. One of the key tenants of 1960’s liberalism was that a root cause of racial inequality was racism. White people across the country worked in concert to alleviate overt racism at every corner. Being a racist in 2010 is entirely unacceptable, a dramatic change since 1960. Our top colleges, technology centers and financial centers are filled with people from all races working respectfully and prospering together. In our post racial utopia we have integrated Chinese and Indian and Muslim intellectuals into a new urban society. And although there black people in the group, it is disappointing that they remain underrepresented.
I grew up in a wealthy town, where there was a house for inner city black kids to live at and go to school with us. I remember the house well, but I cannot remember a single name of a friend who lived in that house. I think they mostly kept to themselves (as did we), which is understandable given how we each identified ourselves. When I went to an Ivy-League college, there was a summer program for affirmative action black kids who needed extra instruction to get them up to snuff. But I remember few black kids graduating from my engineering school. Affirmative action is necessary, but I began to question if it was enough. As an entrepreneur and manager I remember always looking for qualified women and minorities to hire, and hired many, with some real success stories. At work today I struggle to understand all the accents of my co-workers, but few of these coworkers are black. Post racism has not meant racial equality. Not even close.
I am in an interracial marriage, and I am reminded by her of the subtle racial disadvantages of her life such as the teacher who pays more attention to the white parents. I am sure these issues exist. Subtle biases exist at many levels in life, and we have a responsibility to overcome them. But I resist my wife’s accusation that my aversion to house work is racist. As a white man I have been willing to hold my head low for 30 years and repent for the sins of my father. But I must admit I am starting to personalize the accusations of racism. I think I am representative of today’s center-right white America, and the political dialog seems to accuse me of something I am not.
Here are a list of posts from prominent people excoriating people like me for being racist, either for criticizing our president, being part of the tea party or for protesting at town hall meetings: Krugman, Dionne, Dowd, Rich, Jacoby, NAACP, Jimmy Carter, Jealous (ex-NAACP). I know the NAACP and Jimmy Carter claims are somewhat muted and indirect. But so too were the Willy Horton ads – and still very toxic.
Our Pro Tem Host Richard Smith provided this link which suggests that the tea party is 25% racist. Again, I think this misses the point entirely. Do I think that racism is completely gone? Of course not. Do I think that the tea party is 25% racist? I doubt it, but cannot know. Is the right more racist than the left? Are there any black people in the tea party? If you are asking these questions you are missing my point. We don’t believe we are racist, but we do believe we are being mischaracterized. Fair or not, feelings matter, and we vote too.
This dialog is spreading from the front page of the New York Times to the water cooler and the dorm room. The debate is often less than civil. I am a person of the tea party who disagrees with a lot of our president’s agenda. But I know that I am not a racist.
What happens to me when I feel targeted in this way? I guess I feel like the nerdy kid who was picked on by the cool kids in school. Initially I feel rejected, but over time I just distance myself from the other group. In the end I just look down on the ignorance and pettiness of the accusers.
Most of the 20th century racial politics involve correcting wrongs at a relatively small cost to society. These include the Martin Luther King holiday, the civil rights movement and affirmative action. Likely none of these would have happened without the presence of racial politics = so racial politics is not universally bad. You could not really oppose any of these actions without seeming petty.
We are now entering a phase of redistributive change. It is no longer petty to oppose sweeping changes. Calling the tea party racist does less to appease the liberal base, and does a lot to inflame the accused. We believed we were entering a post racial world, and yet the divide deepens.
It is interesting to talk to white folks across the political spectrum. Clearly some white liberals think the tea party is racist. I do not think it is a cynical ploy on their part. They believe it. But many of the folks in the middle are being caught in a bind. The immigration issue has been played as a racial issue with many swing voters siding with Arizona despite the mantra of racial profiling. Healthcare overhaul was needed to care for the uninsured, with the 12 million undocumented Mexicans with the greatest need. Was opposition to this flawed bill racist? White people don’t like being called racists, and the liberal movement is being tainted by the tactic. The sting of this accusation is moving beyond just the right wing as more independents are distancing themselves from the incumbent party.
Brad DeLong writes a blog post titled A Republican Party that Really, Really Doesn’t Want Any Black or Hispanic People Voting for It Ever Again. How about the rest of us? My wife voted for Obama, and is more conservative than I am. She voted for him as a vote for post racialism. I don’t know how she will vote next time around. But I know that plenty of us feel the indiscriminate use of the word racist is *not* post racial. It is not at all surprising to me that white people are running for the hills. Reason and debate die when parties become identified by race rather than ideology.