Recycling posts written on and immediately after election night 2012 lends a critical framework in which to discuss the 2016 election and the challenges we face today. This post is the first in a series of posts that were written during the 2012 election season. We do so to recall the reality on the ground at the moment when President Obama was elected, and how that experience informs our theological reflections this election season.
From country clubs to country bars. In exurbs. In suburbs. In towns and rural areas. A roar. A shout. Almost a scream. In disbelief. But more in anguish. Underlined in rage.
“That N____, how did he win again.” “A N____, goddamn that N____.” N-words just kept flowing, unrestrained and unrestricted. From mouths that once were too cautious, too inhibited to say it. From mouths that would only say it in a whisper. From mouths that steadfastly denied that they had ever said it, or would ever say it. It came from mouths of the affluent and the only moderately middle class. From drivers of foreign luxury cars and high end SUVs, to pick up trucks and minivans. It came from golf shirts as well as blue collars. But they were all white, all the time.
There it was. And it was exactly what it sounded like—racial rage. Racial rage over something that they thought was theirs, but somehow was taken, stolen, ripped-off “by that N____!” Voter fraud in inner city neighborhoods! It had to be that way. How else could you explain. Nobody—nobody—they knew voted for that N-word. Everybody—everybody—they knew voted for whomever was running against that N-word.
The sound of N-words shook the ground, but it didn’t register a blip on the media. Somehow it just doesn’t get heard in the newsrooms of the national media.
In part, its denial. Fox News denies racism exists at all. And all media portrays racism as receding and now existing only among the backward whites in backward areas both of which do figure in the popular rendering of America. The first election of Obama had proven that—of course, once was enough, a one term Black president is just about right. Forevermore, we could point to our one term Black president and use him like the proverbial lone Black friend to prove we are not racists.
In part, it’s ignorance. The reporters, anchors, commentators—though they be white—really don’t know any white people. They live in a clubhouse of chummy select white people who think themselves too smart to be racists, and certainly too civilized to utter N-words. They have education and position that protects them from the reality of their white brethren.
The only concession to reality is the endless telling of Thanksgiving tales of a crazy right wing uncle who could be inclined to utter N-words. That’s how they think racism exists—an outlier, a crazy uncle that only rears his ugly head once a year.
But mostly, it is political politeness. The national political media simply don’t confront each other over racism. Moderate and liberal media acknowledge the historical political use of racism from Nixon on. But only in the abstract, never is anyone held accountable, never is anyone censured, never is anyone disqualified for the use of racism. Reagan’s image is never tarnished for his overt use of racist imagery. The first Bush is now an icon of moderation, despite the Willie Horton ad. Newt Gingrich can rail about the “food stamp President” and a whole host of calculated racist innuendo, but he remains a respected—respected amongst the national political media—commentator as some sort of conservative intellectual.
The clubhouse whites simply cannot challenge each other on race. It’s a no go zone. It is also met with “he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.” Start with Goldwater. He didn’t have a racist bone in his body, we are told. His vote against the Civil Rights Act was a matter of principle. What principle allows one race—a race as defined by a self-defined superior race—to be systematically denied access to jobs, schools, housing, health care, and justice. Denied the very basics of life. And so it goes. The principle of states rights, of private property, of limited government, of the free market. And its always accepted because. Whites cannot talk to each other about it, it would be impolite.
And until the national political media starts talking about it and challenging racism and disqualifying its political practitioners, nothing will change.