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PORTSIDE  August 2010, Week 2

PORTSIDE August 2010, Week 2

Subject:

The Racists Return - Did They Ever Go Away? (2 articles)

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The Racists Return - Did They Ever Go Away? (2 articles)

* The Racists Return (Joe Conason in TruthDig) 
* The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (Mark Naison in History 
  News Network)

==========

The Racists Return

By Joe Conason

TruthDig (drilling beneath the headlines)

August 11, 2010

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_racists_return_20100811/

Among the most revealing aspects of life during the Obama
presidency is the panoply of responses to a black family in
the White House. What made so many of us proud of our
country on Jan. 20, 2009, has increasingly provoked
expressions of hatred from the far right. That is troubling,
but not nearly as troubling as the behavior of conservatives
who excuse, embolden or simply pretend to ignore the bigots
surrounding them.

Last spring, after unruly tea party protesters on Capitol
Hill were accused of spewing racial epithets at civil rights
hero John Lewis, an African-American congressman from
Georgia, conservatives rose up in furious denial. Where was
the proof? How could anyone suggest that racial prejudice
lurks behind the festering right-wing hatred of President
Obama (and his family)? Anger over that episode still
lingers in certain quarters, motivating the deceptively
edited video attack on Shirley Sherrod and the NAACP by a
website called Big Government, Inc.

Even if the alleged assault on Lewis and other black
congressmen did occur, argued prominent commentators on the
right, it somehow only proved that there is no racism in
America worthy of concern. A writer for National Review (the
conservative magazine that historically opposed civil rights
legislation) confided that the whole subject made him yawn:

"That these things are even remotely newsworthy leads me to
one conclusion: Racism in America is dead. We had slavery,
then we had Jim Crow-and now we have the occasional public
utterance of a bad word. Real racism has been reduced to de
minimis levels, while charges of racism seem to increase."

But this summer has seen several loud and ugly outbursts of
very real racism-including threats of violence against the
president of the United States-that go well beyond the
utterance of any single word. As if suffering from a facial
tic, leading figures on the right cannot seem to suppress
their inner Klansman these days.

Advertisement Is there any other way to explain Glenn Beck's
crazed rant comparing the Obama administration to an old
movie about a society where apes and chimpanzees dominate
humans? What did the Fox News host mean, exactly, when he
shrieked: "It's like the damned Planet of the Apes. Nothing
makes sense!" Is there any other way to explain the
grotesque new best-seller by radio host Laura Ingraham, "The
Obama Diaries," where, among other things, she depicts first
lady Michelle Obama eating ribs at every meal? Why would she
feel the need to describe the president as "uppity" by
putting the word in the mouth of his mother-in-law? No
wonder Stephen Colbert taunted Ms. Ingraham to her face for
"hideous and hackneyed racial stereotyping."

Of course, these are only two of the more egregious
instances in recent weeks of social poisoning that dates
back well over a year. Symptoms can be seen across the
country now, even in amusement parks and church carnivals,
where small children are exposed to this spiritual sickness.

At the Big Time fair held by Our Lady of Mount Carmel in
Roseto, Pa., last week, a game called "Alien Attack"
featured "an image of a suited black man holding a health
care bill and wearing a belt buckle with a presidential
seal," at which players were encouraged to aim their
popguns. Anybody who hit the cardboard figure in the head or
the heart could win a prize. Irvin L. Good Jr., owner of
Goodtime Amusements, who is responsible for this disgusting
garbage, denied that the figure represents Mr. Obama. "We're
not interpreting it as Obama," the inaptly named huckster
told a local newspaper. "The name of the game is Alien
Leader. If you're offended, that's fine, we duly note that."

Meanwhile on the New Jersey shore, patrons of the Seaside
Heights boardwalk could hurl baseballs at a black, jug-eared
Obama figurine, winning a prize if they managed to smash it.
As seen in a video posted on the Gawker website, this object
closely resembles the grinning "lawn jockey" statuettes that
used to festoon suburban lawns in a less decent era.

Most conservatives were late in taking responsibility for
their movement's immoral opposition to civil rights. It is
time for them to step up and denounce the racism that is
again disfiguring our country in their name.

[Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer.]

==========

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

By Mark Naison

History News Network

August 2, 2010

http://www.hnn.us/articles/129497.html

Reading Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times  blaming
Ivy League admissions for the disaffection of working-class
and middle-class whites made me laugh.  As someone who grew
up in a working class neighborhood and spent large amounts
of time with working-class whites during my years coaching
baseball and basketball in Brooklyn from the early 80s to
the late 90s, I can assure you that among working-class
Brooklynites, Ivy League admissions NEVER CAME UP when the
subject of white racial grievances were raised.  That
subject was, and still is, one that upsets white Fordham
students, but in the ballfields, bars and gymnasiums of
Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Bensonhurst, Marine Park and Bay
Ridge, the racial fears of working-class whites were
overwhelmingly focused on things they experienced on the job
and fears for their children's safety as neighborhoods and
schools turned from predominantly white to predominantly
black and/or Latino.

When my working-class white friends and fellow coaches
attacked affirmative action-which they did vociferously and
often-it was about preferential treatment that they saw
blacks and Latinos getting on the job, especially in the
civil service.  They were convinced that in any government
agency-whether it was the police department, the fire
department, the bureau of motor vehicles or the board of
education-they were going to be passed over for promotion by
blacks and Latinos with lower test scores.  When I told them
that these compensatory racial preferences, which were being
steadily undermined by Supreme Court decisions, were far
less damaging than the discrimination that blacks and
Latinos still faced in the skilled construction trades, they
listened, but were not convinced.  The fact that they might
have to get a higher test score than their black or Latino
co-workers to get promoted to sergeant or office
administrator irritated them enormously, and easily led to
self-pitying arguments that "a white man couldn't get a
break in America anymore."  When I challenged them with a
litany of things blacks went through on a daily basis-from
job and housing discrimination to harassment by police-they
listened, but rarely relinquished their deep sense of
outrage that color conscious hiring was now official policy
in many government agencies and some private employers.

But resentment of affirmative action was hardly the only
issue white working-class people I know raised when talking
about race.  Their biggest concern was that their kids were
going to be beaten up and/or harassed by black and Latino
peers at Brooklyn neighborhoods and schools turned from
majority white to majority black and Latino.

Since this is something that happened to me when I was in
high school (see White Boy: A Memoir) and to many kids in my
Park Slope neighborhood (see Jonathan Lethem's novel
Fortress of Solitude), I could hardly tell them that they
were making these things up, even though my own children had
overwhelmingly positive experiences in integrated schools
and neighborhoods.  When talking about race, they were prone
to view the world through the prism of "the glass half
empty."  Whereas I saw neighborhood change as an opportunity
to create a more open and inclusive society, they saw it as
a threat to the value of their only asset-their home-and
something that would put their children and families at
risk.  Were they wrong about this?  There was certainly
evidence, both objectively and subjectively, that their
fears had substance.

Given these two sets of concerns, about fairness on the job
and safety in the neighborhood and the schools, it is no
wonder the working class and the middle class look at the
changing demographics of American society with some
trepidation.  As whites are in the process of becoming a
minority, not only in the nation as a whole, but in the
communities they live in, they wonder if their economic and
physical security, which were already somewhat fragile, is
going to be compromised.  And when they see a black
president, they fear that their concerns will easily
sacrificed in favor of some unspecified "black" or "liberal"
agenda.

Their fears and concerns when it comes to President Obama
often take forms that are ugly and irrational, especially
given the president's history and actual policies, but the
experiences which fuel their fears are ones that must be
examined critically.  The racial resentments of whites of
modest means are a complex mix of inherited racist
attitudes, folk tales, rumors spread by the media and
through word-of-mouth, and real-life experiences which lead
them to fear their emerging minority status.  We ignore the
latter at our peril.  We need to have a continuing dialogue
about race with our white working-class and middle-class
neighbors that confronts their prejudices but allows their
grievances to be heard.

Only through that kind of dialogue-which should take place
between ALL Americans-can create the basis of a fair and
just society in which everyone feels recognized and
respected irregardless of racial or ethnic background.

[Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and
History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham's
Urban Studies Program. He is the author of three books and
over 100 articles on African-American History, urban
history, and the history of sports. His most recent book,
White Boy: A Memoir, was published in the spring of 2002 ]

==========

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