Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Black and white thinking.

So I was thinking about racism today, as I guess a lot of people are. Jimmy Carter says that Joe Wilson's outburst during Obama's speech last week was racist, and there are lots of accusations of racism being thrown at the protestors who amassed in Washington this past weekend.

I talk about politics (or I used to, now I mostly just listen) with a large group of women on a forum...the core group has been talking politics together for more than five years. There's a good mix of Republicans and Democrats from all the shades of the spectrum. The outrage some of the conservative women feel over being called "racist" reminds me very much of the mouth-foaming outrage I used to feel from 2002-2008 when I was called "unpatriotic." One epithet is more distasteful than the other, but both are far too simplistic.

I voted for Obama and was very pleased that he won, but that doesn't mean I mentally rubber-stamp everything he does with a big smiley-face. I'm very unhappy with the vast amounts of money his administration is throwing around like confetti. And I'm not at all convinced that this is the proper time for the government to step into health care, much less that we should run a health care bill through in fast motion.

And although I think Rep. Wilson was rude in his outburst, sometimes I think Congress and the President could benefit from some of the no-holds-barred discussion that you can watch in the British Parliament on C-SPAN--those guys are masters of theatrical disagreement.

And since "my people" could exercise their rights to protest the war in Iraq, I have absolutely zero problem with the other side protesting government spending. Protest is good; it keeps the powers-that-be on their toes, or it should, anyway.

Is Rep. Wilson a racist, since he comes from South Carolina? I have no idea. Were there racists in the crowd in D.C. this weekend? Probably. Are there people in the U.S. who hate Obama and everything he stands for simply because he is a black man? Not much doubt about that.

But protesting against and disagreeing with a President who happens to be black doesn't automatically make one a racist. And voting for a black man to be President doesn't automatically make one non-racist, either.

Right now I live in a neighborhood and a city that is far more racially diverse than any place I've ever lived. And it makes me uncomfortable almost every day. I never had racist thoughts when I lived in lily-white communities. Living in this neighborhood that I none-too-affectionately call "ghetto" (which is both inaccurate and also racist of me) has brought out some feelings in me that I have really had to struggle against. I am so not proud of that.

So a disinterested observer might look at my voting record and my beliefs about social issues and stamp me as a bona-fide open-minded and tolerant liberal. But I know the truth about myself.

That's why I can't look at the typical conservative voter who hates big government or health care reform or whatever else Obama does, and call them racist. (The nuts with the threatening signs, yes, I think we all know how they feel, and they are terrible and very wrong.) But not the people who merely (or loudly) disagree with me and the guy I voted for.

This topic, as it's bandied about on all the talk shows and blogs right now, fits in with the general drift of the past ten or twenty years: it polarizes people and divides them even further. The media loves this, because it helps them sell ad time. But it's not reality, and we are foolish if we believe it to be. Racism is real and very wrong. Throwing labels around willy-nilly is also wrong.