Thursday, March 13, 2008

How Do You Know If You're a Racist?

March 13, 2008

Silly question? What if racists don't know they're racists, and what if others of us make comments that can be construed as racist -- even though we know we're not racists.

Hasn't everybody run into this from time to time? Racism is so ingrained in our lives that if we make some "white" comment, there's likely to be some black around who takes umbrage. Why, by my having said "black" just there instead of African-American, I just offended somebody for sure.

I grew up in the Jim-Crow-segregated-South. We had to work at learning to pronounce Negro correctly. To call somebody "black" instead of "colored" was an insult. Then came the Black Power movement and it all changed. We tried to change with it. It has changed many times and probably will again. Not being in the wronged race, I am forced to accept their definition and to make allowances for hurt feelings where none was intended.

Probably a lot of white people get angry when once again they're told they have it wrong. Geraldine Ferraro, never the brightest bulb on the porch, came a cropper when she said this to a little small-town newspaper in her area:

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

To give her credit, I actually don't think she knew how that would sound. She may not have even known what she said. But she says it was not meant to disparage Obama, and that his operatives were wrong in considering it racist.

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." (He would not have garnered support from hundreds of thousands of young people, he would not have won a majority of the states holding Democratic primaries; he would not have won the Iowa caucus? What position does she think he is in that only a man with a Kenyan father and an American white mother could be in in this country?

Maybe by "this position" she meant to imply that he is the first man of African American origin to be this close to the nomination as standard bearer of a major political party. If he were a white man he certainly would not be in this position.

"And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position." Pardon me, but there is a woman in a very similar position.

"He happens to be very lucky to be who he is." I was under the impression that he got to be who he is, and in the position he is, by his own merit and considerable talents in convincing people that he deserves to be. This statement says out-and-out that it is because of his good luck in being a black man in the right place at the right time.

"And the country is caught up in the concept." Well, that kind of hurts my feelings, as Hillary Clinton famously said. I am more moved by Barack Obama than I have been by any Presidential candidate in my lifetime, but I think it's a little more than being caught up in the concept. I respect his mind, his eloquence, his promise to reach across the aisle and work with all Americans in making the country better. I fit pretty well into Hillary's (and perhaps even Geraldine's) demographic, an older, underpaid white female overachiever, but I would rather see Obama as the next President. Not because he's African American, nor in spite of it. Just because I listen to what he says and admire the way he says it.

He would never say anything as clumsy as Ferraro did, but if he did, he would know how and why to retract it. Whether she's a racist or not, I wouldn't say. She certainly doesn't think she is. But to blame Obama's troops for reading her remark that way, she certainly shows that she's clueless.


Elmer Gantry said...

ML, I agree with your critique of Ms. Ferraro's comment, but I'm suspecting that her point was that Senator Obama's supporters are generally speaking, young adults, educated white liberals, people from all strata of society. The latter is, of course, a voting segment that the Democratic party has taken for granted for some time now.

All that said, a pretty stupid comment for Geraldine to make.

Nan said...
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Mary Lois said...

To Nan: Being from the South in which it was common to "pass" for white, particularly if one had one white parent, I would not be bothered if Obama chose to identify himself as white. He falls between categories, and, to his credit, chose the more difficult route. Any white person who thinks good luck played a part in this is out of touch with reality.

To Elmer: Obama's supporters may include bright young educated white liberals, black people from all strata, and me. The Democrats take us for granted? I haven't voted Democrat for years, but this guy could change my mind. Hillary Clinton never could, she's old politics, and if I never see that husband of hers again it'll be too soon.

But Nan -- third choice? I can't imagine who the first two are.

Anonymous said...

racism, by definition, means thinking one race is inherently better than another...and "racist" nowadays is about the most overused word around...i really think there are few true racists anymore...they're out there but usually shunned by the rest of us...and honestly, how many of us can say we are of just one race only...obama obviously is not and just take a walk down your much porcelain white or ebony black skin do you see? not with all this racial blending, i think people now discriminate more on culture than color...just think, folks, it's only march...we've got a long way to go in this election and it's just starting to heat advice: just sit back with a cocktail and enjoy the muck!

Anonymous said...


i agree with your viewpoint to an extent. People do use the word racist way too much. Especially in the place of prejudice. For example, i don't think Ferraro is racist. However she did make a very prejudicial remark. Having said that, i do think there is still plenty of racism out there today. i just think it is more covert than it was in the past. This tends to lead to a false impression that "we are all on equal ground" Much of it today IMO comes from discriminatory practices within our institutions(Legal, Law enforcement, Corporations, Banks...). you are right about one thing. This election process is going to be very interesting. this is only the beginning!

Elmer Gantry said...
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Daniel Spiro said...

I suspect her problem is more narcissism than racism. I don't know if she is any more or less racist than the next person, but she appears to think that her poop doesn't stink. And therefore, instead of taking apologizing for inartfully worded comments, she took incredible umbrage at the idea that people would be challenging her.

Does she think she's our Queen?

What I personally loved the most was when she threatened us that if we didn't stop objecting to her words, she wouldn't fundraise for Barack in the fall. Talk about a quid pro quid!

Mary Lois said...

Hmmm...couple of people had second thoughts about their comments here. This makes my response rather weird, to say the least. Well, maybe they'll come back on and clarify what they meant in due time. Surely nobody's afraid of repercussions from the Ferraro camp?

Mary Lois said...

Another neighborhood heard from, blogger John Scali:

Josh Marshall pegs the salient nature of the whole Geraldine Ferraro/Obama thing:

"At a certain point I realized that for all the ancillary nonsense Ferraro is simply not capable of seeing Obama’s campaign as anything but an African-American favorite son candidacy. Once you get that everything seems to fall into place."

Yup. And it makes sense from Ferraro, who seems to be well aware that she was the Democratic VP candidate in 1984 because she was (and, well, is) a woman, rather than for her other qualities.

I also suspect it really is a generational thing. Nobody misses the fact Barack Obama is a black man, but I really do think most white voters under 40 don’t see it as the primary quality of interest about the man, whereas I think a significant portion of white voters over 40 do. I could be wrong about this, but this is the vibe I’m getting.

(Likewise, I suspect there may be the same schism over Clinton’s sex, but at this point, I’d hazard that the most salient potential aspect of Clinton, either positive or negative, is not that she’s a woman, but that she’s a Clinton.)

(Also, weird — I had the strangest sense of Deja Vu writing that last sentence.)

All of that said, Geraldine Ferraro is not doing herself any favors claiming, as she does now, that her being thumped for her comments was all part of a dastardly plan by the Obama people to discredit Hillary. Ms. Ferraro, you’re doing that well enough on your own, ma’am. You might wish to STFU now.

You can read Scalzi's blog here.