FISH NUGGETS: RACISM IN THE NEWS

by E.C. Fish on July 21, 2013

FISH LOGOThe Supreme Court of the United States announced on June 25th that a qualitative improvement had occurred concerning the state of racism in America, and thus, that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — and by extension, the enforcement mechanisms of the Act in Section 5 — should no longer apply to jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting. “Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “Problems remain in these states and others, but there is no denying that, due to the Voting Rights Act, our nation has made great strides.”

In the ensuing weeks, people of all races and creeds have come together to celebrate the end of the scourge of personal and institutional racism in this land of the free . . .

Just kidding. In the ensuing weeks — indeed, since late spring — people of all races and creeds have been exposed to a mind-boggling array of racially motivated statements and incidents that show the court majority’s assumptions about race in this country to be opportunistic, partisan claptrap, to wit:

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS, PART ONE: Former Food Network celebrity chef Paula Deeny’all has seen her multimillion-dollar endorsement and cookware empire crumble since her deposition in a discrimination lawsuit, which revealed that — in addition to her hearty support of the proud Southern traditions of obesity, hypertension, and “the sugar diabeeteez” — she was also foursquare behind grossly racist attitudes toward black people (or, as she called them, “niggers”). Other testimony in the case found her lamenting her inability to bring her dream of staging her brother’s wedding reception to fruition:

“Well, what I would really like is a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts, and black bow ties — you know, in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around. Now that would be a true Southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that, because the media would be on me about that.”

Despite her long history of public incitement to suicide — a point proven by the existence in the Deen family empire of a Cooking Channel show hosted by her son, offering versions of her recipes that won’t kill you quite so quickly, and this readily available video wherein she appears to be trying to poison an African-American woman — Deeny’all has had her share of defenders, and her fate seems to be a sort of justice unseen in most cases. Those defenders, however, are justifying attitudes as dangerous as an all-Deen diet, and her fate seems to have more to do with the sin of getting caught than anything else.

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS, PART TWO: Speaking of proud family traditions, Kentucky senator and winner of The Spleen’s 2012 Bono Award for least mentally acute member of Congress Rand Paul (R) was recently revealed to be following in his father’s footsteps a little too closely for comfort. Jack Hunter (coauthor of Paul’s 2011 memoir and a key Paul aide since 2012) was exposed not only holding some unquestionably racist attitudes, but actively promoting them as a talk show host and activist in his guise of The Southern Avenger, a Confederate-flag-masked “superhero” fighting for racial purity, unequal justice, and the neo-Confederate way. Mr. Hunter has been defended for these “youthful indiscretions,” and Senator Paul has brushed off suggestions that he be fired.

Senator Paul is considered to be a rising star in the Republican party.

LOST TRIBE OF REDNECKS DISCOVERED: Speaking of the Republican Party, one of the few bright spots in the national picture — besides the fact that the party is sufficiently out of touch with reality to have rising stars like Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, and Ted Cruz, and thus should be easy to outwit — was the demographic promise that their vaunted “base” consists of, not to put too fine a point on it, people who will (relatively speaking) be dead soon. In a country where birth rates for nonwhites outstripped those of white people a couple of years back and where whites will be simply the largest of the American minority groups within a generation, basing your party’s political philosophy on a the opinions of a bunch of elderly white people is not a recipe for political longevity.

After getting their collective asses handed to them in 2012, the party made a few feints in the direction of correcting this morbid decline through a desultory rebranding effort and a newfound interest in immigration reform, but it was clear from the first that they could not do this in any meaningful way without alienating an electoral base that views change and immigrants with equal suspicion.

The time was obviously ripe for Republicans — whose governing philosophy seems to have reduced itself to “we would prefer not to” — to discover A Reason Not To. Into the breach stepped Sean Trende, journalist and electoral analyst for RealClearPolitics, who, in a series of blog posts since the last election, has discovered a so-called Lost Majority. According to Trende, northern, white, working-class voters have been sitting out the last few elections, and there are enough of them to more than make up for the ascendent minority vote.

Conservative Republicans have, in their own inimitable fashion, adopted Trende’s ideas (mostly without bothering to read or understand them) as an argument for the premise that they can alienate as many brown people as they please and still thrive at the polls. Never mind that that’s not really what Trende is saying, nor that his argument is itself based on some pretty questionable premises, nor that the party’s platform has very little to offer working-class voters, white or otherwise. To paraphrase the aforementioned Ms. Deany’all, they is what they is and they don’t want to change, and if a fundamental misunderstanding of a questionable premise says they don’t have to, then that’s good enough for them.

This renders immigration reform a dead issue — and good riddance. It effectively has been a dead issue since it became subject to such “bipartisan compromises” as ridiculously beefed-up border security. It is as perfect an example as you can find of the futility of trying to legislate in the current Congress: in order for legislation to pass, it has to be both diluted to the point of ineffectiveness and as self-sabotaging as possible.

It also renders the Republican Party — itself an amazing example of how a political minority can wield a measure of power wildly out of proportion to its actual numbers — hoist for the foreseeable future on the same petard that cost them 2012. Progressives should enthusiastically support giving them as much rope as they need.

A HEARTY CHUCKLE FOR THE DEAD: On the lighter side of offensive racial stereotyping in the news, Oakland television station KTVU carried an exclusive report on the names of the pilots of ill-fated Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which went viral after it was revealed to be a prank. The pilots’ names were reported as Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow. Tee Fukien Hee was, understandably, not listed.

At this point, the Flight 214 tragedy has claimed three lives. Isn’t that hilarious?

SHOT THROUGH THE HEART, AND YOU’RE TO BLAME: While deeply shocking and offensive, last weekend’s verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was far from unexpected. It was (as apologists have been chanting all week) entirely in keeping with Florida state law — a body of law that, lest we forget, supposedly justified Zimmerman’s remaining armed and at large for almost six weeks after he killed Trayvon Martin, and one that has been under the control of the largest collection of right-wing kookaboos east of Texas for the last couple of decades. We have nonetheless spent the last week in a sort of mediated national dialogue about who is to blame and what can be done, a dialogue that has twisted this way and that trying to avoid its inevitable conclusion: we are, and what can be done is what we decide to do.

The notion that the verdict’s technical comportment with Florida law somehow precludes it from being about race in any way is completely ridiculous, and those who have taken comfort in that notion are part of the problem. The law itself in these cases is racially biased, both in its form and its application, and this case became inseparable from race the second George Zimmerman decided not to let the “fucking (unintelligible)” (I hear “coon“) get away. The deeply racist and completely unfounded fear that the verdict would result in Helter Skelter-style race riots — that the result of a case based on the fear of black people should result in a greater fear of black people — demonstrates just how racially contextualized this situation is, whether we’re comfortable with that or not.

Those who have fallen into the fashionable social default setting of “both sides have a point, and isn’t it a tragedy” are warned that the line between open-mindedness and moral simpletonism is exceedingly fine here. Tolerance of intolerance is intrinsically part of this problem.

Those who have responded to the verdict by, for example, wearing a hoodie to the farmers’ market in hot weather should be given the message that if they are white, then no, they are not Trayvon Martin at all, and claiming to be shows an ignorance or denial of both white privilege and black experience that is also intrinsically part of this problem. Now ain’t the time for your tears.

If our supposedly renewed national conversation about race is to mean a goddamn thing in the long run, it has got to be an uncomfortable conversation for all concerned. The extent to which we as a society are comfortable with any of the above provides a good measure for just how uncomfortable it will have to be.

* * * *

E. C. Fish is to blame, too. He is uncomfortable with that.

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