Monday, September 14, 2009

Obama and Racism

So it appears that 60,000 to 70,000 people protested yesterday in a somewhat impressive showing of frustration with Obama's policies from conservatives.  Now, the reason this is somewhat impressive is because conservatives aren't generally the protesting type.  So, its kinda like seeing San Diego State play okay against UCLA - sure, they didn't win, but they didn't lose as badly as you thought they would.  Or, in this case, sure 60,000 isn't huge, but its a lot higher than you'd intially expect.   On the other hand, lying about the number of people there is pretty pathetic.  You had a decent turnout teabaggers, but you didn't match the Inauguration.

Anyway, in the various blogs today (Andrew Sullivan, TPM, etc) a discussion is ongoing about how much of the protests against Obama are race inspired.  And if that wasn't enough, "Mad Men" had a scene in which some executives chose not to advertise in Black media because they didn't want to be associated with African Americans.  Couple those two things with my past experience as a civil rights attorney, and you got yourself a blog post in waiting.

First off, I loved the whole storyline in "Mad Men" regarding the African American market.  The awkwardness of the ad exec when he's questioning the only African American he knows, followed by the executives openly deriding the idea of advertising in African American media (despite being told that it was both cheaper and would increase sales more effectively) was a great example of the dichotomy of racism in the U.S.  Pete's questioning of the elevator operator about why the guy bought an RCA television was classic and awkward and there's no doubt that the operator will now think that Pete is a racist.  But, Pete isn't a racist, he's just awkward in general, and his pitch to the Admiral TV guys shows that where there's an opportunity, he'll take it.  Money trumps race.

The Admiral TV guys, meanwhile, are out and out racists.  Even told that they could both increase their sales and lower their advertising costs by reaching out to the African American market, they not only pass at the opportunity, but they look disgusted by the very idea of it.  In their eyes, race trumps profit.

And therein lies the dichotomy.  Racism can be perceived when actors are, in fact, completely awkward around people of a different race because they don't know anyone outside their race.  In that instance, integration can help alleviate the problem.  As people get to know one another, the awkwardness ends.   I would say that most Americans fall into this area - they're not racist, but racially awkward.  Race for these individuals is easily trumped by other considerations.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the true racists.  A study undertaken in 2000 indicated that approximately 20% of the time, minority groups (African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and Native Americans) received negative treatment when attempting to buy or rent a home.  The study was based upon testing - where two people (one white person and one person of a minority group) apply for the same housing around the same time.  The person in the minority group has slightly better qualifications than the white person.  Yet, in 20% of the housing opportunities tested, the housing provider gave the white person better treatment, and race trumped profit.  For individuals such as the Admiral TV guys, there's nothing that can be done to change their minds.

So back to the original issue, are the teabaggers racist?  Mostly no.  For instance, the socialism charge is dumb, but its the same charge made against every Democratic President since FDR.  If anything, I think most of the protesters are racially awkward, abet moreso then most.  But I think that people like Glenn Beck are purposely stoking racial fears.  The whole thing about Obama seizing guns comes right out of the "Turner Diaries," the racist tome that inspired Timothy McVeigh.  Birtherism is a direct result of the fears that Obama is a secret Muslim who wants to destroy America.  This fear is stoked by the fact that Obama is African American and has a Muslim sounding name. 

One poll done on the birthers, shows that of Republicans, 42% believe that Obama is a U.S. Citizen, 30% are unsure, and 28% believe that he isn't.  I would state to you that the 28% are racist, the 30% are uninformed, and the 42% are normal people.  Anyway, here's my point to the whole blog post - you can work with the racially awkward and people who have honest disagreements about policy.  That's 72% of Republican voters.  But that 28% will never, ever, relent or compromise.  Race trumps all other considerations in their eyes.


  1. You make it sound as if that 28% number is strange...Fully 1/3rd of the left is going to fall into the "never, ever, relent or compromise" category as well.

  2. Yes and no. After 9-11, Bush had around 90% approval and everyone was willing to let Bush do whatever he wanted. I don't see that happening for Obama. He'll max out at 80-85% because so many Republicans don't think he's a legitimate President.