Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often likened his campaign of nonviolent direct action of agitating for racial equality as purging the pus from a boil. Dr. King knew that the civil rights movement had to engage in moral provocation of the dominant power structure which upheld white supremacy and denied black equality.
He utilized marches, sit-ins and boycotts to unmask and draw out the ire, base feelings and warped mindsets of those committed to inequality. Dr. King knew that there were many who might not don the Klansmen’s signature white costume but who shared their racist mindset.
The civil rights legend also appreciated the range of racist feeling. A range extending from a Klan supporter to someone who, though not advocating violence against blacks, certainly did not want to sit next to a black person much less have them live in their neighbourhoods.
The civil rights movement had to confront the vicious racists and the less vocal racists who tolerated racism in its obvious and subtle manifestations. Much has changed in America. There is a memorial on the Mall in Washington D.C. in honour of Dr. King. America has elected a black President who gave the keynote at the dedication of the new King Memorial.
The racism with which President Obama has to contend is not just from the crazies and the extremist groups. Much of it is from elected public officials who regularly vilify the U.S. President with abusive and degrading language. Equally disturbing are those so-called mainstream state and federal level officials who continually fail to condemn such vile language about America’s Commander-in-Chief.
The four remaining contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have themselves used language with disturbing racial overtones, undertones and subtext which speak to primary voters who loath the idea of a black President.
In the Republican presidential context a “little” racism goes a long way in connecting the candidate with a significant cohort of mostly white voters who are more obsessed with the President’s colour than the content of his character.
Just this March, Montana U.S. District Chief Judge Richard Cebull sent from his official courthouse email address a racist note titled “A Mom’s Memory”. The text of the email read:
"Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.
“A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?' His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!' "
Judge Cebull admitted that the joke was racist but that he is not. He said he sent the joke because he is not a fan of the President. He pleaded: "I did not forward it because of the racist nature of it. Although it is racist, I'm not that way, never have been." Of course there will be the usual apologizers who will say that black people are being too sensitive to a joke that compares African Americans to animals.
“Barack the Magic Negro” was written and recorded for the Rush Limbaugh Show and was played numerous times when Obama was first running for president. There were protests against the racist message of the song. Still, Limbaugh’s show did not suffer much from the protests.
Fast-forward to this year and Limbaugh’s appalling comments about Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh called her a slut and a prostitute. He charged, “She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception.” Limbaugh originally showed no remorse. Instead he doubled down on his comments:
“So Miss Fluke and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.”
His eventual lame apology was triggered by the threat of lost revenue. He is paying dearly in dropped sponsorships because of the misogyny and vulgarity directed towards Ms. Fluke and indeed women in general. This is as it should be.
Still, why has this racist shock jock with a significant radio audience never really paid a price for his vulgar racism? The reverse has been the case as advertisers and audiences flocked to him even as he has spewed hatred and racist comments about the President and African Americans in general.
Rush Limbaugh went too far long ago. Yet his racism was tolerated by those who turned a deaf ear to his racist comments. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have been sadly consistent. They have failed to decry Limbaugh’s racist commentary on Obama and his sexist comments on Sandra Fluke.
It is a sign of the depressing state of the mainstream Republican Party that such racism and sexism can be spewed by influential personalities and not condemned by Republican leaders including those seeking the U.S. presidency.
The good news is that the pus is being drained from the overt racism and toleration of the racial animus that the election of America’s first black further exposed. This is unpleasant. But, as Dr. King understood, it is necessary.
America is making progress in racial relations. Yet, there are many who still don’t want their offspring to marry a black person, or indeed have a black man or woman as President of the United States.
Barack Obama’s decency, extraordinary intellect, discipline and good character appall those racists for whom Obama does not fit their stereotypes or penchant for black minstrels. So, they seek to destroy the real Obama by casting him as non-Christian, non-American and, at times, as non-human.
Still, there is more good news. With the U.S. economy rebounding and following the buffoonery and extremism of this year’s Republican presidential nomination, the majority of voters will likely give Obama a second term. It will be a majority made up of those less concerned with the colour of their President’s skin and more interested in the content of his agenda.