“I think it’s important to realize that I was actually black before the election.” Pres. Obama on David Letterman, 9/21.
“If we’re not able to criticize his policy because he’s black, we’ve lost our country. Us sitting here having to defend having this different view and we’re talking about race shows how effective that tactic is. Because we’re sitting here now having to talk about race rather than the issue. And the issue is that we’re going socialist.” Steve Fitts, Selma AL, on NPR’s Morning Edition, 9/24.
Are we still racist? Yes, of course. Will we always BE racist? Probably. Maybe. I don’t know.
I admire Jimmy Carter for his almost bizarre courage in speaking political truths (or, minimally, partial truths) that others shy away from. It was quite bold of him to bring the race issue up around the health care debate, and I myself have no doubt that there is some foundation of truth in it. On the other hand, it also seems clear that folks are more frightened about how their health care may be changed than they are about the race of the president. The race issue likely adds a certain spice to the mix, but it’s not the whole stew.
Just what is the meat that provides the body of this stew? Fear of death and illness. And the broth that everything is swimming in, that everything is flavored by, that encompasses and drowns the whole? I don’t know what to call it, but it’s related to the quotes above: the tone of the debate, the use of heavily emotionally loaded language and imagery, the steadfastly-presented feeling that the other side is just plain evil and must be smashed as quickly as possible, the with-us-or-against-us argument.
Every time we wield those hot button words – racist, socialist, Nazi, death panels, and so on – we diminish the chances of understanding each other. And that’s the point of them, unfortunately: we’d rather win than come to an understanding. We desperately need health care reform in this country – if you don’t trust the patients on this, just ask any doctor. And yet, do we hear about the details of the proposals for change? No. We hear about Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at Pres. Obama. We hear about “death panels.” We hear about socialism. And now, we hear about racism. All of these could be enlightening discussions, but they’re just presented as titillation and emotional manipulation.
When will we grow up?