Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Carter Said What a White Man Needed to Say

Jimmy Carter just pointed out the elephant in the country. And somebody other than Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or Tracy Morgan needed to do it. Racism is alive in America, even if it isn't well.

I can already hear the carbon-copy complaints circulating: The healthcare debate has nothing to do with race; Here we go again with the race card; We don't hate any race, we hate socialism; Political Correctness has taken over the world. That's the reaction to every accusation of racism, and it's almost always just that: a reaction. And probably a racist one.

To anyone who is already fuming at former President Carter, I'm gonna ask you to refrain from crafting your witty, scoffing rants just long enough to think. Take five minutes and think about one or all of these questions:

Why is the national debate about healthcare so heated? I've never seen any issue like this stir such profound emotions. You expect heated protests and raging arguments over matters like war, religion, elections. . . . But healthcare? Why is the nation this divided about insurance? This should be about as stirring as the SAT vs. ACT issue. I'm not saying people can't disagree about the right plan (and neither is Carter) but there has to be a deeper reason for the intensity of the rage.

Is there a chance that a lot of conservatives believe Obama's skin color won him the election? I know a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who think Sarah Palin's main political assets were only skin deep. Do Obama's detractors think the same thing about him? Former President Carter believes a lot of Americans think Obama—or any African American for that matter—was never qualified to serve as president. To be fair, a lot of those people felt the same way about Jimmy Carter, just not as passionately. Is Carter's accusation of racism really that far-fetched?

Can you really say that you aren't racist? If you ask most Americans publicly, we all will say the same two things: 1) I don't think race should be a factor in any decision, opinion, belief, and 2) I'm not racist. White people especially work extra hard at the denial. Sometimes we work so hard in trying to deny the existence of racism, we expect the denial of the existence of race. But if we ever felt safe enough to really explore our feelings about racism and race relations, I think a lot of us would find bubbles of racism hiding not far beneath the surface of our emotions.

Obama's presidency has given a lot of people the chance to let their racism boil over under the guise of anti-socialism, level-headed thinking, or simply the refusal to drink the Kool-Aid of the false Obamessiah. As all the angst blends together in the bubbling pot, it becomes very hard to differentiate the anger over conservative policies from the fear of a black man wielding more power than anyone in the world, especially when no one is ready to admit, even to themselves, that such a fear exists at all.

Jimmy Carter had to say this. A white male outside of the political game had to say this. A statement of this magnitude, essentially pulling the race card on America, had to be made by someone who stood to give more than he gained from the message. If the dissenters could label the messenger as a victim, an ingrate, or a political opportunist, his words could be dismissed. But Jimmy Carter is none of those things. America has to take his accusation seriously because he stands to gain nothing from speaking out.

Nothing, that is, except a nation that is aware of its own deep-seated problems.