Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Republicans and "Freak Show" Racism

One dimension of Republican politics that needs to be canvassed is "freak show racism." It's important to emphasize that racism is far from freakish in many ways. For a not insignificant percentage of white people, racism is still the norm. Blacks are viewed through the prism of racial stereotypes, white people occupy a fair amount of their time exchanging racial jokes, and e-mails, and acknowledgement of the worth of black political figures like Martin Luther King or Barack Obama is either non-existent or grudging in the extreme. In these kinds of environments, it's any kind of overt opposition to racism that is stigmatized as snobbish, unusual, weird, obnoxiously self-righteous, or "politically correct" in the pejorative sense of the word.

Just to give a couple of examples of "racist normality," George Packer reported in The New Yorker before the Democratic primary last year that racism was pretty much the norm in rural Martin County in Kentucky. In my town of Morehead, KY there's a strong undertow of "normal" racism. Blacks refer to Morehead as one of the worst places for African-Americans to drive. Somebody burst into a convenience store and announced that "we've elected a monkey for president" the night Obama won. Just today, there was a group of Confederate re-enactors with Rebel flags waving at my university. To be fair, there aren't as many Confederate flags (Confederate flaggers are all racists!) as there used to be, but the battle flags are still all over the place.

One of the things that's happening now is that the "normal" white racism of figures like Rush Limbaugh or places like Martin County, KY is being brought into the mainstream media as part of an on-going conservative "freak show."

What I mean by "freak show" is that the manifestations of racism are being brought into the mainstream media as examples of the "bizarreness" and "strangeness" of the Republican Party in general and conservatives in particular. Unlike the Glenn Beck and Alan Keyes dimensions of "freak show" politics that emerge from the conservative movement itself, "freak show racism" is pulled into the public arena by African-American political figures, African-American bloggers and the progressive media for a variety of reasons. Whether it's protesting racism, scoring points against the Republicans, or entertaining liberal audiences with bizarre examples of racism, reports on the "freak show racism" of Republicans and conservatives are becoming a standard element in the repertoire of the progressive and mainstream medias.

This is certainly the case with the "watermelon" card sent out by the Republican mayor of Los Alamitos, CA to an audience that included an African-American businesswoman. For the mayor, Dean Grose, this kind of card is evidently part of his "normal" run of racist comments and jokes and he doesn't see anything wrong with it.

Grose confirmed to the AP that he sent the e-mail to Price and said he didn't mean to offend her. He said he was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons.

He said he and Price are friends and serve together on a community youth board.
"Bottom line is, we laugh at things and I didn't see this in the same light that she did," Grose told the AP. "I'm sorry. It wasn't sent to offend her personally - or anyone - from the standpoint of the African-American race."

Yeah, right. I bet Grose wasn't aware of the relevant racial stereotypes. But seriously, the key thing here is Grose saying that "we laugh at things" which I take to mean that he and his buddies laugh at this kind of racial humor all the time.

But times have changed and what's funny to Republican mayors like Dean Grose and his buddies is morally objectionable, strange, and bizarre to the rest of the country. Somebody reported Grose's e-mail to the Orange County Register, the report was picked up by Huffington Post, and now it's all over the African-American blogosphere (here and here), the liberal blogosphere, Yahoo, and CBS as Dean Grose becomes yet another exhibit in the on-going freak show that's become the Republican Party.


jinchi said...

He was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons?

What exactly did he think the joke was? Would it have been funny if it was a field of potatoes, instead?

Ric Caric said...

Being from Orange County, you think he would have thought of oranges first.

a said...

I agree with Jinchi. Makes no sense.

- Amanda M.

Ric Caric said...

You're both right. That's why it has to be racism. It's interesting to me that this kind of "casual racism" is getting more publicity though.