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.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's funny, Mr. Adam!
Elena

AK said...

Ah, Elena. You are one American I know whose anti-Socialist fears are rooted entirely in the issue at hand. If only all those who share your outrage also shared your reasoning, America would be a better place.

I'd love for you to join the Satirically Correct staff, Elena. The voice of Christian Conservative Russian Americans is grossly underrepresented online. It could be the so-called blog: how fun would that be?

Anonymous said...

No, Mr. Adam, blogging (even the so-called one) is not for me. I could tell you a lot about socialism, and I already have--but you don't have to live under socialism (or populism for that matter) to recognize it. Is it trying to rear its ugly head again? Of course!

Anonymous said...

I would add another descriptor: Carter said what a CONSERVATIVE white male needs to say. The conservatives and/or Republicans need to stand up to the loud fringe (a fringe that is threatening to become the majority of their movement/party) and challenge the racism that is going on. Is every disagreement stemming from a place of racial hatred? Of course not. Are enough people doing enough to parse the difference? Absolutely not.

AK said...

Elena: I have to strongly disagree. So-called blogging is definitely for you, oh passionate, informed, intelligent, inspired, and verbally gifted one.

Anon: You're right, it would mean a lot more if a conservative called out fellow conservatives on racism. The problem is that racist animosity is buried far below legitimate gripes regarding policy--it fuels the anger even if it doesn't form the opinions. And there's no smoking gun, no hard evidence that proves any individual or group is actually racist. In that scenario, a conservative politician making accusations of racism would alienate a huge portion of his or her most passionate supporters unless the statement was very carefully crafted. On the other hand, any conservative willing to acknowledge racism could gain a LOT of admiration across the board.

I don't know. It's a tough issue, but people need to think and talk about it openly instead of all the insipid dismissive snark I've seen from most conservatives.

I do consider myself one, by the way. I seem to have lost my way, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that you went to a bad place with this whole race thing, Mr. Adam? Like Monica, when she tried to be breezy?
There's a Russian proverb (loosely translated): "It's very difficult to prove that you are not an idiot." (implied--once you've been accused of being one). Yeah, there are many idiots out there, but do you want to go around accusing people of being one, especially when the false accusation is so damaging. In addition, check out this song by Tom Lehrer (I hope the link works):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIlJ8ZCs4jY

Elena

AK said...

Elena, there's an old American proverb that says, "Racist? I don't even know what that is." Actually, it's rather new, but it's making the rounds and promises to be permanently interwoven through the fabric of society. I'll ask these questions, and let's see where it leads:

1. Do you think racism exists among white Americans?

2. Do you think white racists tend to approve or disapprove of Obama's policies?

3. Do you think white racists who disapprove of Obama's policies are vocal about their disapproval?

4. Do you think white racists who are vocal about their disapproval of Obama's policies are capable of separating their feelings about race from their disapproval of Obama's policies?

If you can't definitively answer no to all 4 of these questions, you cannot possibly disagree with the statement that racism plays a part in some of the criticism of Obama and his policies.

And you know what is more damaging than accusing people of racism? Racism. And you know how people accused of idiocy can disprove their idiocy? Stop saying idiotic things. In the same way, people accused of racism can fairly easily refute the accusations by refraining from being so hateful in everything they say.

Just a thought.

Not accusing you of any of these things, but the existence of racism is obvious and not worth refuting.

Masha said...

Adam, racists damage any cause they are a part of, but that does not mean that the cause is wrong!
Obama's policies, especially his foreign policy, is repugnant to me as a religious person, as a patriotic American, and as an immigrant. Obama has been sucking up to Russia and in the process betraying the fledgling democracies of the region -- Poland, Georgia, and my own motherland, Ukraine. Obama has been placing pressure on Israel rather than on the regimes that would destroy it.

Accepting these actions and policies would go against everything that I believe and every principle I hold dear, as an immigrant from the former USSR, as an American, and as a Jew.

Is it sad and disappointing that there are people in our country who act and think based on skin color? Yes. Is racism alive today? Yes. Do I need to approve of things I find morally repugnant because the person propagating them is a target of racism? No. Obama's actions do not become right just because some of the attacks on him are racially motivated.

AK said...

Excellent points, all, Masha. And if you can point to where I've disagreed with a single one, let me know.

My point is not that disagreeing with Obama is racist. My point (and Carter's too, I think) is that policy disagreements don't explain the intensity and volume of visceral outrage from so many. The presence of racial animosity is very real and very stealthy. A lot of the people on your side of the debate don't give two craps about Ukraine or Israel. They'll just hop on board with any argument against Obama. Sound criticisms of him and his policies give them a structured outlet for their racist rage. They are symbiotic ignoramuses, parasites feeding off your intelligence.

But no politician minds these pests riding on their backs as long as they're adding to their numbers and amplifying their voice. But I'm glad someone drew attention to their pathetic and poisonous existence, even if only a few people took him seriously.

Masha said...

I assure you my own "visceral outrage" is quite subdued compared to what I am really feeling. Obama has been demonstrating some of the worst qualities of human nature -- pandering to the strong and tyrannical while betraying the weak and democratic. There is a Jewish proverb, "He who is kind to the cruel will be cruel to the kind," but I never knew its meaning until he was elected.

All this brings to mind those angry ultra-Orthodox mobs who claim anyone opposing them is anti-religious or anti-Semitic [!!!]. Sure, some probably are. Still doesn't make it okay to throw stones and burn garbage cans.

But they are just a few angry men, and the most they can do is mess up their neighborhood. Obama's influence extends over the planet.

Adam, *any* strongly-held position is going to get you a few unsavory bedfellows. A lot of the people defending Captain Dreyfus from the charge of treason were Communists! Nevertheless, that was the most worthy cause of the era. Principled people don't adopt positions based on fellow-travelers.

AK said...

At this point you're completely talking around the issue, Masha. I get it, you don't agree with Obama. The factors most likely to cloud your perception of him have nothing to do with race. What you aren't aware of, and (perhaps hopefully) won't ever really understand is how ingrained racism is in American culture and how many different forms it takes. To think it is a weapon wielded by only a few or that its effects are limited to neighborhood aesthetics is irrationally naive.

Sorry, but you've now resorted to empty rhetoric. If you didn't know until Obama's election what it meant for a leader to be kind to the cruel and cruel to the kind, you've had your eyes closed for quite awhile. And if you think Obama is that proverb's vilest example, I'm afraid the anti-Obama bandwagon offers a pretty poor view.

Masha said...

You had better clarify what the issue is, in that case.

More precisely: suppose I agree with you that racism is ingrained in American culture.

So what?

What actions do you propose? You don't propose voting for someone whose platform you disagree with merely out of solidarity, right?

What, exactly, is your suggestion?

I assert that Obama's foreign policy is repugnant to me, and it does not become less so because his skin color is repugnant to somebody else.

You assert that it's "talking around the issue."

What's the issue? I thought there was ever only one issue in a democratic, free society -- how well our leaders are representing us.

Obama does not represent me.

Also, what were you referring to with regard to "neighborhood aesthetics"? The ultra-Orthodox mobs I mentioned as an example are in Jerusalem, protesting about something or other, nothing to do with race. The analogy is, just as you don't have to be an anti-Semite to disagree with the actions of a violent [Jewish] mob, so you don't have to be a racist to disagree with the actions of a [Black] president.

AK said...

Masha, I feel like you're responding to the comments section of this post and not the post itself. The issue to which I'm referring is . . . well, the central issue of the post as I wrote it. It has nothing to do with foreign policy.

And, no, there isn't just one issue. Society has a lot of issues.

The actions I propose are laid out in the post.

And I was referring to you saying that a few angry men can do nothing more than mess up their neighborhood. (Get it, neighborhood aesthetics. Lame, I know.)

Anyway, you're not arguing with my post. You're arguing with Obama. I'm not gonna get in your way.

Anonymous said...

I'll brave the waters here again. The argument made in the original post does NOT say that all Obama opponents are racist. It does NOT say that Obama is wonderful or should be agreed with.

Masha, you asked what the suggestion is: if you find racism repugnant, you are the perfect person to repudiate those who attack Obama's policies from the mindless reaction fueled by racism. You can articulate your opposition to his policies and approach while refusing to give cover to the cretins who have little principled opposition other than their shock and horror that a black man is President. (A quote from my own family member: "We have a BLACK man named BARAK HUSSEIN OBAMA as our president?? What the hell??????")

Now this family member couldn't tell you the difference between Bush and Obama on Israel or Russia policy. Or any other policy, either, frankly. He just hates the idea that a black man is president.

So what can principled opponents of Obama do? No one (here) is asking you to give up your principled opposition. But don't turn a blind eye to the racists trying to jump on your team. Call them out. Reject their racism. Demonstrate how to oppose the president for something other than the color of his skin.

HM

Masha said...

And I do. On the internet and in person.

Do you have any idea how my heart sinks when someone utters a racial slur or says, even half-jokingly, "I hope the white supremacists get their **** together"? (Even more ironic when this person is Jewish and seemingly entirely unaware of the white supremacist platform). People completely nullify their arguments and negate every reasonable thing they've ever said when they use racist terms or demonstrate racist attitudes.

AK said...

Okay, I don't care what anyone says, I love this discussion. Thanks to all who have added to it.