Saturday, December 09, 2006

Election 2008--Race Baiting Starts Early on the Right

The significance of race-baiting for the right. You have to give our friends on the right-wing credit. They waited a whole month after Barack Obama first expressed interest in the presidency to start race-baiting him. Because political racism is viewed as morally repugnant, there is very little comment on the the significance of racism in American politics. For the activist right, however, race-baiting is an important part of their rhetorical arsenal. Of course, race-baiting allows right-wingers to express their own racism and this is far from insignificant. It also serves the political purpose of connecting them with others who resist the "politically correct" orthodoxies concerning the worth of blacks, women, gays, immigrants, and disabled people.

Even more important for right-wingers is the way that baiting blacks, Muslims, and hispanics allows right-wingers to demonstrate what they see as their moral superiority over white liberals. Right-wingers see themselves as smarter, tougher, more determined, more willing to defy social convention, and more authentic than white liberals and race-baiting is one of the pre-eminent ways that the right demonstrates these qualities. The right especially relishes shoving their race-baiting down the "whiny little throats" of liberals while taking any outrage on the part of the left as a sign that they've won. In this sense, race-baiting is an integral part of the right-wing's "war against liberalism."

The Technique for Obama. The trick to public race-baiting is to express racial loathing without directly attacking blacks in the manner of Michael Richards. So, people on the right are constantly looking for clever new ways to employ symbols of racial hostility, remind minorities of racial stereotypes, attack minority public figures, or defend race-baiting as non-racist. When George Allen called the Indian-American guy a "macaca," he thought he was using a clever and defensible way to call a black person a racial epithet. Of course, that one blew up in his face.

With Barack Obama, what people on the right are doing is playing with his name. Ele_, a poster on Slate's Fray, notes that you get "Osama" when you substitute an "s" for the "b" in Obama's name. The race-baiting trick here is to associate Obama's African-sounding name with terrorism so that "Obama" can become a synonym for terrorism. What's clever here is that the rhetorical manuever is defensible as "word-play" used to score a point against Obama even though the effect of the word-play is generated through attaching Obama's name to a stereotype--i. e., race-baiting.

In the same thread, "JackDallas" sticks in the knife a little further by associating the Osama connection and Obama's middle-name of "Hussein" with a traditional symbol of racial animosity. "[Y]eah that's it," says "Dallas," "Just what this country needs, an arabic lawn jockey for president." Here, "Jack Dallas" fuses the Arab associations of Obama's name with a traditional American racial image. Once again, this is defensible approach to race-baiting. Even though lawn jockeys are well known as demeaning images of racial servitude, they don't have the same force as the n-word or cotton images. Consequently, if Obama himself or any white liberal were offended, they could readily be seen as "over-reacting," "emotional," or "weak" because they were upset over such a minor bit of racism. For a right-winger like Dallas, the lawn jockey image would be a two-fer. He gets to engage in some race-baiting at the same time that he has an opportunity to make liberals look bad.

The Prognosis. Assuming that Obama is going to run and that he's competitive, we're in for at least a long 18 months of race-baiting. And the race-baiting will hurt his candidacy because it will tend to transform Obama from a symbol of hope into yet another black symbol of "racial controversy." In my opinion, the best way to counter race-baiting in the context of Obama's campaign is to respond quickly and go beyond the accusation of racism to emphasize what the right-wing is trying to accomplish with their racism.

1 comment:

catnapping said...

well put.