There’s been a lot of discussion around here lately about the fear of reverse racism and the increasingly popular trope that white Christians are the victims of institutional prejudice. It’s hard not to notice that this irrefutable fact of American life was discovered immediately after a black man became President, and also that 66% of the people in this country are themselves white, which should make it fairly easy to bring the orchestrators of this cruel anti-white society to justice. Herein lies the problem. Historically, when a minority group tries to do something about racism, it leads to a more just society (Montgomery 1955, Stonewall 1969) or brutal repression (all human history prior to 1955.) When an overwhelming majority tries to address its racial victimhood, the results are somewhat less reliable (Berlin 1938.) It’s hard not to see, in the racial complaints of the white, wealthy and increasingly powerful Tea Party, a vague threat.
By now you have probably heard about Shirley Sherrod, the black Agriculture Department official whose speech to the NAACP about her own struggle to overcome racism was heavily edited to make her sound racist, posted on Andrew Breitbart’s website, and promoted on Fox News until she got fired. Sherrod’s story of how she initially felt conflicted about helping a white farmer (kept in video)—because her father was murdered by white men in 1965 who were not subsequently indicted (not in video)—but overcame her prejudice to become his friend and help him save his farm (not in video) turns out to be compelling anecdotal evidence of the opposite of racism. The media machine that didn’t bother to check the veracity of the initial, heavily-edited video before pillorying her is another matter.
Not that Andrew Breitbart is sorry about that. The commentator and editor of BigGovernment.com who originally posted the video is lionized in this article on the Daily Beast, which somehow contends that his circulation of a border-line libelous editing job in support of a fake news story that briefly got a good woman fired was a victory. If you didn’t want to punch Breitbart in the mouth already, read his quote in response to the news that the White House had rehired Sherrod they discovered that his story was based almost entirely on lying: “It shows that there’s a double standard and hypocrisy. The fact that they made it about her, and not about the double standard, showed that their hands were caught in the cookie jar.”
I dare you to find any meaning whatsoever in that tangle of clichés, pronouns without antecedents and conservative canards. Even more infuriating than Breitbart’s refusal to apologize for propagating a false news story is his insistence, even as he admits that it was false, that it was basically true. The “double standard” he mentions is the continuing claim that the NAACP is racist. Last week, after that organization passed a resolution accusing the Tea Party of racism, Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams delivered perhaps the least successful counterargument in history. In the preface to his satirical letter in which black people ask Abraham Lincoln to reinstate slavery so that they don’t have to make their own decisions (bad idea,) Williams expresses astonishment that the NAACP uses the term “colored people” in its name. “I have brought up the absurdity of a group that calls blacks “Colored People” hurling charges of racism. Whats more, each interviewer has defended that phrase and expressed surprise that I would consider that phrase to be racist!”
It’s possible that the NAACP uses the term “colored people” because it was founded in 1909 and doesn’t want to change its name every 20 years.* It’s shocking to consider, but perhaps Tea Party adherent Mark Williams has a shaky grasp of history. Maybe he just got all his facts from listening to his older brother at the dinner table while Eliot Gould looks on uncomfortably. The Onion AV Club’s New Cult Cannon feature on American History X is an interesting reminder of how closely catchphrases like “take our country back” resemble old-fashioned white supremacist rhetoric. Ed Norton’s dinner table speech, like Williams’s imagined plea for slavey, shows how easily the rhetoric of self-sufficiency and hard work can be turned to an impassioned argument of the strong against the weak.
The fact of the matter is that we’re all susceptible to this kind of thinking, since our refutations are intellectual and our prejudices are instinctive. That’s why we should do things like read a goddamn history book or figure out where the video came from before we try to, you know, change the course of American political governance. Racism is easier to fall into than you think. Don’t believe me? Behold: