|Walton uses the reaction of many to the words of White Southerner Jimmy Carter about how the reaction to Obama is racism to frame much of what he wants to say. For example,
We've all heard it. America will move beyond race to a colorblind society only when minority groups cease dwelling on difference. Such a view permeates the melting pot ideal of American folklore, the myth of meritocracy and even the "post-racial" dimension of electoral politics.
Thus, for Carter to call out this segment of the white community, he is disrupting the conspiracy of silence concerning racial injustice that demands the allegiance of politicians on the national scene.
the conspiracy of silence concerning racial injustice
That caught my attention. To label something as racist immediately calls out a response that is equivalent to Godwin's law, so much so that perhaps we need an equivalent label. Despite the clear evidence of racism permeating segments of our society, underlying much of the opposition we saw to Obama in the primaries, in the general election, and in things like the tea partiers since his inauguration, people find all sorts of reasons not to confront that reality, and accuse those - like Carter - who raise it as somehow libeling the "good people" whose opposition they claim may be on other grounds.
I will grant that there is fear. But that fear comes from race, from a sense of other that has previously guaranteed advantage that some now see being lost. That is, they can no longer define themselves as superior merely because they are white, or - the additional factor in this case - they have a more "American" or "Christian" names. Barack - a cognate to the Baruch of Bernard Baruch, adviser to presidents, nationally known sage, a name meaning blessed. Hussein - too many connect that with our "enemy" in Iraq, the "Ace of Spades" in the card deck used to demonize and belittle Iraqis by the last administration. Why not associate it with the Hashemite (meaning descendant of the Prophet who founded Islam) monarch of Jordan who was an American ally, and who did so much to advance his nation and the cause of peace in the Middle East - ejecting Fatah from his nation (hence the group that called itself Black September), reaching out to Israel after realizing - as did Sadat - that continued conflict would harm all peoples of the area (and perhaps remembering the assassination of his grandfather Abdullah for meeting secretly with Golda Meir, knowing the risks he undertook).
Walton notes that
Race is the challenge people of color must confront and, dare I say, "get over."
But a post-racial America does not demand the same of those who identify with, and claim the social construction of, whiteness and perceived privileges and cultural superiority therein.
the social construction of whiteness and perceived privileges and cultural superiority therein
Perhaps it is that I am too much a student of history to assume a perceived superiority of whiteness. For one thing, I remember that the question of who was truly white used to be defined by geography - Southern Europeans like Italians and Eastern Europeans like Poles were for a long time not included. Or perhaps its was religion - after all, the Irish were also from the British Isles but their Catholicism made them subject to similar slurs and denigration, such as "no dogs or Catholics" signs in Puritan Boston. As one of Eastern European Jewish background, I have some sympathy for those who had such experiences. I may look little different than the Germanic or Nordic neighbors in my community, did not speak with the Yiddish accent of my maternal grandmother and her siblings, but still experienced some sense of other, being excluded from some clubs and organizations because after all my last name ended in -stein.
Yet the "cultural superiority" seemed to ignore a much broader history. What of the cultural superiority of the Arabs in navigation and mathematics? Think "al-gebra" or example. Although do not forget that "Arabic" numerals were actually borrowed from further East, and might legitimately be called "Hindu numerals." Philosophy from the Greeks was preserved by Arabs and by Eastern Christians, whose Constantinople was sacked by crude and uncultured Catholic crusaders on their way to Jerusalem.
Gunpowder. Pasta. Crops like the potato, the tomato, even the apple - all from parts of the world dominated by those who might now be called other than White, people of color.
Or even our own American popular culture, where Jazz, Blues, rock, many dances were all the product of people who were not included in that "cultural superiority" of being white.
That was okay. "They" were not part of the political, or economic, or social leadership of the nation and the culture.
One more quote from Walton:
This African American man with an Arabic name has dared to usurp all of the cultural and cognitive tropes that white supremacy has historically claimed for itself. He is calm in the face of their unrestrained emotion. The more illogical they act, the more rational he comes across. And, of course, the more eloquent and erudite he presents himself, the more he provokes the Joe Wilsons of the world to mindlessly blurt out, "You lie!"
My sister's son has a black wife. His two daughters have a heritage very similar to many "African-Americans." Many have white blood in their background - look at the First Lady. There should be no shame in one's heritage: we do not control from whom we are descended, and we should be proud where possible of what they have given us.
Perhaps you will react differently to the Walton than did I. Still, I think it worth your taking the time to consider it.
Too many who are driven by fear look for justification for that fear, rather than seeing the opportunities for them - yes, for white conservatives - in a nation that can embrace all of the diversity within the nation. The opportunity not to be narrowly defined by external characteristics, to rise above and beyond previously defined social positions, to be recognized as individuals by all Americans, to embrace and be embraced by all.
And too many opinion makers are unwilling to label the opposition with the appropriate term. If you are not willing to use the term "racism" even though it is appropriate, then at least acknowledge that it is racial fear if not racial hatred. And acknowledge as well that for some it is opportunism to advance or protect their own narrow interest - pure cynicism if you will.
And for some, however many, it IS racial hatred.
And that hatred is a diminution of their humanity, not those at whom their hatred is directed.
Since after all we are in common of the HUMAN race and any other division is a late 19th century distortion of the scientific reality of our genetic commonness.
Racism - hatred of at least part of the human race - is ultimately self-hatred, and destructive. And can only be overcome by confronting it honestly.
Obama may choose not to take the path of such confrontation. He has other responsibilities. It then becomes incumbent upon others - including us, especially if the recognized opinion leaders and pundits will not - to speak out on this issue, to confront it.
That is my reaction to Walton's piece.