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Posts Tagged ‘republican party’

Marilyn Davenport, a Tea Party activist and member of the Orange County, California, GOP central committee, is under fire for sending a racist email about President Obama to conservative colleagues. The email reads, “Now you know why no birth certificate,” followed by the image below depicting the President as a chimpanzee.

The email perpetuates the birther myth, which seems only to be gathering steam despite having been refuted several times. As Garrett Epps writes for The Atlantic, “The drip-drip-drip of “birther” propaganda is part of a general, persistent assault on the legitimacy of immigrants and non-whites in American culture. Lurking behind the rhetoric of ‘I want my country back’ is a simple refusal to recognize the citizenship, or even the humanity, of anyone but white males.” This dehumanization is reflected in the depiction of the President as an ape, an image echoing historical associations of black people with brutes that were used as “evidence” of white racial superiority:

[ht Sociological Images]

It’s hard to know exactly, but it seems to me that there’s been a resurgence of this kind of imagery since the ’08 general election campaign (a couple examples here and here).

The racist trope of black people as monkeys is universally familiar in American culture. There’s virtually no way someone repeating this trope would not be at least somewhat aware of its racist implications or history. On top of all that, this is not the first time Davenport has been implicated in racist behavior:

Michael J. Schroeder, an Orange County resident and former chairman of the California Republican Party, also said he was disgusted.

“This is a three strikes situation for Marilyn Davenport,” Schroeder said. “She was a passionate defender of former Newport Beach city councilman Dick Nichols who stated that he was voting against putting in more grass at Corona del Mar’s beach because, he said, there were already ‘too many Mexicans on the beach.’ She was also on the wrong side of the fence with the Los Alamitos mayor and his White House watermelon patch picture. Now, she has managed to top both of those incidents by comparing African Americans to monkeys. She has disgraced herself and needs to resign. If she doesn’t, the Republican Party must remove her.” (The OC Weekly)

So you might be as astounded as I was to read that Davenport is claiming there’s nothing racist about the email, and engaging in derailing “I am not a racist” bingo in response to news coverage of this incident:

Reached by telephone and asked if she thought the email was appropriate, Davenport said, “Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people–mostly people I didn’t think would be upset by it.”
Wow. To share an email depicting a black man as a chimp and then take offense at the suggestion that one might be racist is…bold? Clueless? Disingenuous? I don’t know. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates says, it seems these days that despite increasingly vocal and widespread expressions of white racial resentment, there are no racists.

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The latest disturbing development in the conservative attack on the 14th amendment: last week Tennessee state legislator and Republican Curry Todd argued against birthright citizenship on the grounds that it would cause immigrants to “go out there like rats and multiply.”

Todd . . .  made the comments at a legislative committee meeting earlier this week after being told that federal law requires the state to extend prenatal care to women regardless of their citizenship status because all children born in the U.S. are citizens.

Rep. Todd is standing by his comments and refuses to apologize for them, but says he used the “wrong terminology” and should have said “anchor babies” instead – a term not quite as fully dehumanizing as “rats,” but dehumanizing nonetheless.  Try again, buddy.

Scary part #1: An elected state official feels perfectly comfortable spouting such hateful, nativist, racist rhetoric in public.  And he’s totally unrepentant.
Scary part #2: His comments represent the views of a large minority (at least, I hope it’s a minority!) of Americans.
Scary part #3: Like most xenophobic, anti-immigration Americans, Todd seems entirely ignorant that he’s reproducing dangerous tropes and stereotypes about immigrants that have a long, LONG history in this country:  The assumption that immigrants, and particularly non-white and/or non-Protestant Christian immigrants are hyperfecund (like animals) and threaten to overrun white Protestant America with their numerous offspring (again, like animals); the implication that immigrants are like vermin, or diseased; the insistence that immigrants pose an imminent threat to the metaphorical or actual health and safety of the country.

These are all very old ideas, and they’re ideas that have serious and potentially very dangerous consequences.  It’s a short step from paranoia about “multiplying” immigrant populations to manipulating or coercing sterilizations or the use of birth control (see, for example, the marketing of Norplant as a method of birth control in communities of color, and the higher rates of tubal ligation in black and Hispanic populations).  It’s a short step from nebulous fears about public health or national security to forced quarantines, unlawful detention, persecution, and even extermination (it’s not a coincidence that the metaphor of Jews as vermin or pests was commonplace for years before the Holocaust started).  Closer to home we can point to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWI and other numerous examples of how nativist rhetoric poses a concrete danger to immigrant populations:

Restrictionists have sought to link certain countries of origin (especially Asian and Latin American countries) to disease outbreaks and crime. They have claimed nonwhite immigrants are a menace to public health. Throughout the course of the bracero program (1942–1964), Mexican workers were periodically sprayed and washed for body lice and other vermin. There was widespread fear that Mexicans carried contagious diseases like tuberculosis. In April and May 1980 more than 125,000 Cubans were boat-lifted to the United States; the boat refugees included six hundred former asylum inmates and twelve hundred former prison inmates or people suspected of serious crimes in Cuba who had been released by Fidel Castro. These boat refugees came to be known as the Marielitos, and they were promptly typecast as a criminal and deviant population that threatened the United States with diseases and illicit behavior. A New York Times headline read, “Retarded People and Criminals” (Ojito). By 1987 thirty-eight hundred Mariel refugees were serving sentences for crimes committed in the United States, and another thirty-eight hundred were subject to indefinite detention after completing sentences or for suspicion of crimes. In January 2005 the U.S. Supreme ruled that this detention was unlawful and that the U.S. government could no longer detain Cuban refugees who had served their time or were simply deemed to have suspicious backgrounds. In another example of this type of racist construct, Haitian immigrants (boat refugees) were detained at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay naval base in the 1990s, presumably because they constituted an HIV/AIDS menace.
This is serious, scary stuff, and it’s a sign of how dangerous the current climate is for all immigrants and Americans assumed to be immigrants, especially (but not limited to) Hispanics and Muslims.

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This case is a perfect example of what’s wrong with our national discourse on race.  There are lot of problematic dynamics at work here.

There has been a firestorm of criticism over the administration’s handling of this situation, and rightly so; I’ll get to that point later in this post.  But I think the first thing to note is that edited clip was part of a campaign to prove the existence of anti-white “racism” in the NAACP.  As it turned out, what Breitbart framed as racist speech was actually a message against anti-white prejudice, and a story about a woman who learned through her faith and her work with the rural poor to overcome that prejudice in herself.  The woman we were supposed to condemn as a racist turned out to be someone who has dedicated her life to working with the poor of all races, a person whom the supposed victims of her racism immediately rushed to defend.  Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is the best Andrew Breitbart could do.  The fact that he had to go to such lengths to “find” an example of NAACP racism – that he had to concoct evidence of this by using a clip doctored to mean the opposite of what it actually meant – says volumes about the tenuous nature of Tea Partier criticisms of the NAACP as a “racist organization.”

Secondly, I’m struck by the false moral equivalence, again, between anti-white prejudice from blacks and anti-black prejudice from whites.  Many on the right insist on the fiction that our national history of state-enabled discrimination and terrorism against blacks has nothing to do with black prejudice against whites, and on the complementary fiction that white fears of and prejudices against blacks have any rational basis.  Sherrod talks in the video about how she grew up in a GA county where African Americans were murdered and lynched by whites with impunity, and got away with it.  Her own father was murdered by a white man in front of three eyewitnesses and was never indicted.  To use the same term and moral language to describe, on the one hand, Sherrod’s onetime suspicion of and antipathy towards white people, and on the other, the irrational fears and prejudices against black people of some members of the Tea Party (examples: calling Obama a witch doctor, or accusing him of wanting to institute white slavery), is a misleading and false moral equivalence.

This is also a story about the unproductive and misleading ways in which we frame having racist attitudes as a reflection on one’s character and moral state.  When doing or saying something racist, or being a racist, is equated with being a bad person, it makes it impossible for people to have honest conversations about their own racism, even if it’s past racism from 24 years ago.  It makes people believe that racist attitudes – no matter how far in the past, no matter if one is acknowledging them in an effort to move beyond them – are feelings they have to hide at all costs, and therefore makes it impossible to combat these attitudes.  This is something that both anti-racists and people who derail conversations about race can be guilty of.  The character assassination of Shirley Sherrod is only the latest volley in a battle between the NAACP and the Tea Party Movement about racist elements in the latter organization.  Supporters of the TPM have responded to the NAACP resolution calling on their organization to denounce racist elements and speech in its ranks as though it were an accusation that the TPM as a whole was a racist organization, and had as its mission to further racist ends – in other words, they have responded as though the TPM were being accused of being an evil organization, rather than organization that had some morally suspect elements (for example, Sarah Palin: “The only purpose of such an unfair accusation of racism is to dissuade good Americans from joining the Tea Party movement or listening to the common sense message of Tea Party Americans who simply want government to abide by our Constitution . . . All decent Americans abhor racism. No one wants to be associated with any organization that is in any way racist in sentiment or origin . . . Thankfully, the Tea Party movement is not racist or motivated by racism.” ht Racialicious)  Similarly, the NAACP responded to the edited clip of Sherrod as though she were a bad person whom they had to denounce and distance themselves from.

It’s very troubling that there’s no space in public discourse for people to admit to being wrong about having racist attitudes.   Think about it – our government is run at the highest levels by mostly white people in their 60s and 70s, people who grew up in a segregated America where open racism was the norm.  The odds that none of our elected officials have harbored or struggled with racist attitudes, now or in the past, completely beggars belief.  Yet it would be political suicide for a politician to admit to having such attitudes today, and inadvisable to even admit to having had them at some point in the past.  We have a basic inability to acknowledge as a country our history and its effects on how we relate to each other, and this has a a chilling effect on race relations.  Sherrod is another innocent casualty of – as Eric Holder has put it – our national cowardice and dishonesty on matters of race.

My friend Stacia pointed out that Sherrod is also a casualty of our sound bite society, where reputations are made or destroyed over clips and excerpts that are easily manipulated through editing and taking things out of context.  Breitbart and whoever sent him the clip have manufactured a national firestorm out of a doctored version of events.  Shirley Sherrod’s career of helping poor and disenfranchised farmers, and her story of how she overcame her prejudices, have been reduced to a 3 minute clip intended to assassinate her character and malign the work of the NAACP.

I’d add to this point that we need as anti-racists to think carefully about whether it’s always productive to call for someone’s firing or resignation when they say or do something racist.  It shouldn’t necessarily be the case that someone should lose their entire livelihood or reputation for that behavior; this should depend on the nature and severity of the behavior, and how the person responds to having their offensive behavior pointed out to them.  Otherwise we play right into the idea that racist speech or behavior is something that only “bad” people do, and that a person’s entire character can be accurately assessed by one moment in which they do or say something offensive.  (To be clear, this is a general point and less about Sherrod – if her out of context comments had in fact accurately described how she did her job at the USDA, her firing would have been completely justified).

To say that the initial responses of the NAACP, the USDA, and the White House were disappointing would be a massive understatement.  It was unspeakably unprofessional of USDA officials to pressure Sherrod without giving her so much as one day to explain herself or have the situation reviewed.  This treatment and the White House’s defense of it were acts of utter cowardice.  I’m left wondering why the Obama administration is so terrified of allegations of racism that it’s willing to throw all notions of due process or waiting to hear all the facts out the window.  Are they that afraid of conservative allegations of racism?  Do they have so little confidence in their ability to convince the public of their commitment to Americans of all races?

The NAACP has said that they were “snookered” by maliciously edited video.  Well, they were, as were the USDA and the White House.  But the question is, why were they so easy to snooker?  And why were they so quick to throw Shirley Sherrod under the bus?  The President and VP have been bending over backwards to defend the Tea Party Movement against charges of racism, despite a well documented history of problems with racist speech at the highest levels of the TPM; yet they were lightning quick to dismiss an individual black woman over unverified charges of racism.  This is no coincidence; this is a story about the privileges that whiteness, maleness, power, and status confer.  The TPM is an influential, well-connected, mostly white organization, backed by popular pols and associated with white disaffection with the direction of the country; the administration is terrified to touch them.  A lone black woman like Shirley Sherrod, though, is apparently an appropriate target of withering criticism and disenfranchisement by the NAACP, USDA, and White House.  Make no mistake, this is a story about the perceived expendability of black women.  In this case they made the serious error in judgment of assuming Sherrod would slink away quietly.

Even in the wake of the revelations that the video clip was misleading, many conservatives are still claiming that this incident shows that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – in other words, that Sherrod and other NAACP supporters can be racists just like TPM supporters. I keep coming back to the irony that supporters of the TPM are for the most part Christians, like Shirley Sherrod, who say they believe in the possibility of repentance and the hope of redemption.  The difference between Shirley Sherrod and her TPM critics is that Shirley Sherrod owned up to her sin of racial prejudice, and repented of it.  She gave a speech at an NAACP meeting calling her listeners to the same repentance, to forgiveness of a society and government that had deeply wounded them, and to embrace reconciliation with all people.  Meanwhile, the TPM’s response to allegations of racism has not been to examine themselves and repent as necessary, but to point fingers and call for the heads of people like Shirley Sherrod – a woman they could have seen as a example of the redemption they say they believe Christ offers.

Shirley Sherrod should be held up as an example and hero for us all.  She could have continued just “doing enough” for white people and feeling hatred for them, and felt justified in doing so, given all had been taken from her, her loved ones, and her community by white people, with the support of a mostly white government.  But she chose not to.  She chose to love.

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Here’s RNC Chairman Michael Steele talking about the Reid scandal on Meet the Press:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Steele: Reid Should Resign as Senate …“, posted with vodpod

Here’s Steele last January talking to Sean Hannity about maintaining the dogma of the Republican Party:

I guess consistency is this man’s Kryptonite.

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In our state, ’tis the season for political mailers and at our house, we’ve been bombarded.  We’re getting it from both sides, and almost all of it immediately hits the trash, but today, this ad sponsored by the Republican Party of Virginia caught my full attention:

I <3 Caputo

In case your eyesight is about like mine, I’ll highlight some of the salient points.  This ad is an attack on Virginia Delegate Chuck Caputo.  The ad’s headline reads:

Chuck Caputo wants to use our tax dollars to pay for illegal aliens to attend Virginia’s colleges and universities even though there’s not enough space for our own students.

So, we begin with the Republican Party telling us that not only is space in the Virginia public university system rare (a fact that, in my opinion, greatly exaggerates the impenetrability of schools’ admissions criteria), but illegal aliens are taking our tax money and taking our spots at universities.  Gasp!

The point is reinforced by language like:

Chuck voted for illegal aliens and against our deserving students…

This statement presumes that the “illegal aliens” had no qualifications and just walked right into class without any proof that they were competent.  They were certainly less deserving than our students.  Then, next to the sad white girl holding her rejection letter we read in bold green caps:

IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT.

I guess the expected response is, “You’re dang tootin’.”  We are then told that despite the popular wisdom of the Republicans and Democrats in the Virginia House, Caputo remained steadfast in his support of illegal aliens in a 3 to 1 vote against his position.  So now, Caputo’s fate has been sealed as an outsider, an extremist who wants to give away your money to people who broke into this country to learn.

I am consistently amazed at the lengths political operatives will go to in an effort to foster an already racist “us vs. them” mentality.  We all know politics is dirty, but to create hatred toward the children of people who broke the (probably immoral and certainly un-American) law is shameful.

Several years ago, NPR featured a story on two different bills that would help undocumented students go on to college and follow a path to full-fledged citizenship.  Many of these kids were brought into the U.S. by adults when they were children and had no say in whether or not they would enter this country.  Imagine what life would be like for you if because of mistakes your parents made, you were barred from going to college, regardless of the work you had done academically or in your community to merit admission and affordable access to higher education.

About a week ago, some kid with a clipboard asked me (as I was trying to load wriggly children into my car) if I was voting for Mr. Caputo.  I told the guy I didn’t know yet.  I think I know now.  I may also be keeping an eye on C-SPAN Friday to see if they cover the House and Senate briefings on the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors).  It’s one of the stalled bills that the NPR report above was talking about…5 years ago.

We have to move forward here with compassion and hospitality.  The vitriol and racist rhetoric in our discussions about immigration has to stop.  It’s just not right.

I <3 Caputo2

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