Wanted to share some insightful emails responding to my recent story on the debate over whether Obama's opponents are motivated by race. One of the great things about this job is that I am always learning.
From a very wise, black, older woman who has been in government service and the national spotlight:
As I recall almost everybody called Bill Clinton Bill Clinton when he was President and no one called it racist; for matter when Reagan was President everybody just said Reagan ditto for Jimmy Carter.
Reminds me of when I was on CNN during the 2008 campaign and the question was is it racist to call him Barack Hussein Obama and I pointed out that though the person using it might have , I don’t know, wanted to remind someone of Sadaam Hussein, when Obama took the oath he would say I Barack Hussein Obama just like Bill Clinton said William Jefferson Clinton. I got e-mails and phone calls from black people saying I should have said it was racist--go figure.
Identity politics is sometimes terrible it can make poor white people ally themselves with their exploiters and make black people who are suffering from unemployment love the policies that keep them unemployed.
From a white man in Mississippi:
The example from Susan Glisson, whom I know personally, masterfully illustrated the minefield that we Americans can find each other's sensitivities to be.
I'll add another example: Years ago I was a lay leader in a Christian congregation that was roughly 50-50 black and white. It took me a couple of years to realize that when I used the word "conservative," even though I meant "fiscally responsible, supportive of law and order, morally upright," black church members, because they (or at least their parents) had experienced Mississippi's apartheid, would hear "racist." You can imagine how much love and grace it took for them to listen to me give a Bible study after hearing me assert, according to their experience and culture, that I was a racist. ...
I would take exception to dismissing Bush 41's Willie Horton ad chiefly as an appeal to racial bias. Horton's race undoubtedly mattered to some people - including those who played the race card in demanding that he be off limits as a campaign issue - but a bigger part of the truth even then, I think, was that Horton was a prime example of Michael Dukakis' illogical and frightening policy of furloughing murderers who were under life sentences without possibility of parole. ... As someone whose life was almost ended that very year by a criminal whose skin was as white as mine, I can attest that terror is an equal-opportunity employer.
From a white California liberal:
I think it's actually because he's not white. The underlying racism is, I think, more subtle that that to which we usually point. The issue here is that Obama, who happens to be black in his non-whiteness, is the symbol that power, money, and influence are no longer the provenance of people who are of european heritage. As white folks have long held the (almost) sole ability to be (good or bad) politicians, professionals, rich, etc, etc, and as no group in history has willingly given up their unique access to these things, the racism we are seeing is that of white society not wanting to share the pie, in our increasingly non white society, as there is probably not enough pie for those who have been receiving the slices, however large or small the slices have been, to continue to receive the same size.
"Share the pie." "According to their experience and culture." 'Identity politics is sometimes terrible." Those are the phrases that are sticking with me.
From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
lynch verb \’linch\
: to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal sanction. Example: The accused killer was lynched by an angry mob. First Known Use: 1836
Perhaps future dictionaries will include a section on this word as a political weapon. Twenty years after Clarence Thomas turned the tables on his accusers by describing questions about his sexual conduct as a "high-tech lynching," the word is being used by Cain's supporters to defend him against accusations from anonymous women that Cain made inappropriate sexual remarks years ago.
This reminded me of a more recent use of the word, during the Rod Blagojevich scandal. Accused of selling the Senate seat vacated after Barack Obama was elected president, Blago shot back by appointing Roland Burris to fill the position. Burris is black. There were, at that point, no black U.S. senators.
Even though Blago's appointment seemed doomed by his corruption charges, Burris' blackness was used to push him into the Senate. Swinging the hammer was Chicago congressman Bobby Rush. Weeks earlier, Rush had said that Blago "has no moral basis for appointing the next senator from the state of Illinois. ... That person would be as tainted as they could be." But when Burris' name was called, Rush stood next to Blago and said, "I would ask you not to hang or lynch the appointee as you castigate the appointer ... There are no African-Americans in the Senate, and I don't think that anyone, any U.S. senator who is sitting right now would want to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate. I don't think they want to go on record doing that."
The specter of the noose worked. Despite initial vows from Senate Democrats not to let Burris in, he was seated and served out the remainder of Obama's term. He did not run for re-election in 2010.
Now here we are with Cain and another case of lynch leverage. Webster's, take note.
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com