Just two weeks after America elected its first black president, The New York Times ran an editorial entitled "The Nativists Are Restless," in which anti-amnesty Republicans were labeled racist for daring to take a critical eye to immigration. With the cheap and lazy melodrama of a daytime soap opera, it declared, "The relentlessly harsh Republican campaign against immigrants has always hidden a streak of racialist extremism."
The editorial went on, equating a call for stricter immigration laws with xenophobia and racism, and charging that, despite the jubilant (and expensive!) celebrations we just threw in honor of Barack Obama, racism is still very much alive and well in America.
"Racism has a nasty habit of never going away," the Times assured, "no matter how much we may want it to, and thus the perpetual need for vigilance.... It is all around us."
Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly, named in the editorial as an example of anti-immigration racism, took the charge personally, and pledged to hold the New York Times accountable for its libelous -- and entirely inaccurate -- accusation. The editorial may raise interesting questions. But whether Bill O'Reilly, or anyone else who has a problem with amnesty, is a racist isn't it. That suggestion is so preposterous and transparent it doesn't deserve much attention.
But if the "racist" invective is still such a serious and offensive assertion -- one that makes even a hardened, seen-everything newsman like O'Reilly angry -- just how racist can we be? Isn't the effectiveness of calling someone a "racist," the subsequent urgency to defend against the allegation, and the punishment we mete out against identified racism proof that we can't be too racist after all?
If we're racist, why are we so afraid of being perceived as such?
Consider the following:
The botched appointment of Roland Burris to Barack Obama's Illinois Senate seat quickly brought out a number of "racist" cries. For one, Rep. Bobby Rush threatened that questioning Burris's credentials was akin to "lynching" him.
For another, David Wright said on ABC's Good Morning America, "The senators may seem out of touch, if this overwhelmingly white group refuses to admit the one and only black man seeking to join their exclusive club." Granted, the holdup over the one-man circus that is former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (or, as I call him, "the missing Beatle"), was annoying. But nothing got the ball rolling faster than calling Harry Reid -- and anyone else perceived as standing in the way -- a racist.
In 2006, Virginia's then Sen.George Allen called an Indian-American man at a campaign rally a "macaca," and thus ended his bid for re-election. The man many thought would run for president in 2008 is now a Reagan scholar with the Young America's Foundation -- a worthy post, but a far cry from the White House.
GOP strategist Dan Schnur summed it up: "The most important word uttered in the Republican presidential primary has not been terrorism or taxes, not faith or family. Rather it was ‘macaca.’ "
When Michael Vick was accused of torturing and killing pit bulls in his back yard for fun in 2007, a surprising number of black activists and news personalities came forward with a bizarre cornucopia of racism allegations. Criticizing Vick's participation in dog fighting was racist, apparently, because dog fighting lives under the protected and all-encompassing aegis of "culture."
Vick's treatment by the media was racist. His sentence was racist. The Atlanta Falcons rushed to apologize for team owner Arthur Blank who, when asked about Vick’s possible return to the NFL, said, "if Michael makes a mistake and eats fried chicken and French fries in prison every day and comes out at 250 pounds, he's not going to be able to play football."
Saying "fried chicken" is, evidently, racist.
And radio talker Don Imus was suspended, fired and publicly flayed in April 2007 for his offensive on-air comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. The man had previously called Howard Stern a "Jew bastard" who "should be castrated," referred to newsreader Contessa Brewer as a "skank," and routinely calls gays and lesbians "faggots" and "lesbos" on the air. But it took racism to bring him down.
Michael Richards, of course, was cast out of comedy forever in 2006 after his wholly inappropriate tirade against a few black audience members was captured on video and broadcast to gasps the world over.
Now, here's the point: those gasps weren't feigned. They were real -- because racism isn't tolerated in America. We punish our offenders -- real or imagined -- severely. In Europe, where making monkey noises and throwing banana peels on the pitch to taunt black players at soccer games isn't unheard of, racism is politely dismissed as either a cute relic of quaint colonialism or as the permissible snobbery of the elite upper classes.
Whether or not actual racism existed in the above incidents -- there are good arguments for and against each case -- is beside the point. It's the fact that a charge of racism was so effective in punctuating each controversy. If we were actually racist, wouldn't the charge be fairly benign? Wouldn't white supremacy groups have a bigger seat at the table? Would hate crimes be criminalized?
That's not to say there aren't racists in America. Of course, there are. But we've gotten far too comfortable pulling the race card -- because we know how useful it can be. And as the left gets more and more frustrated over immigration and other hot-button issues, it will use the threat of racism with alacrity. Liberals have built their business caricaturing the right as racist when it doesn't support Affirmative Action, homophobic when it favors families, and sexist when it is pro-life. Calling non-leftist viewpoints "extreme" is de rigueur and utterly banal.
Last fall, Colusa County, California was forced to remove a drawing of "Waldo Watermelon Seed," created by youngsters at a juvenile detention facility to celebrate seed-producing crops like cucumber, pumpkin and tomatoes, because it was called racist. To one couple, it looked like "a happy black slave eating watermelon." With this kind of racial sensitivity -- paranoia even -- how can we be racist?
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