(Tonight’s guest poster is Steve Gilliard of The News Blog)
If you’ve ever wondered why the right seems to trade in race online, the answer is very simple: it works.
In an era where Barry Bonds gets letters which start "Dear Nigger" one should not be surprised by this. But it isn’t that simple. The fact is that they only say what liberals refuse to admit they think. Cynthia McKinney was violently denounced for a conflict, not her first, with the Capitol police, by liberals. Now McKinney isn’t an easy person to deal with by any means, but she was vilified, called an embarrassment, for a simple conflict with the Capitol Police. It may die with a DC Grand Jury but liberals have no reason to be proud of themselves over this. Silence would have worked well. But people are unnerved when the police are challenged.
The right isn’t stupid. They know these issues transcend politics. It was liberals who supported Rudy Giuliani until it was clear he was wiping his ass with the Constitution and who attacked the NYC Transit Workers as idiots who made too much money. When they realized that the "idiots" make their jobs a lot easier, they looked stupid. When it was over, a lot of liberals realized they had bought into stereotypes about race and work and were not a little ashamed.
And this works with people who are trying to not be racist.
With any issue, the right leaps into the fray with the worst sort of stereotypes and ideas about minorities. The racism flowed during Katrina, it’s around again over immigration and again, liberals bite into the need to "control" immigration. Why? Because the right touches these issues which frame how people think about them. Both liberals and conservatives were shocked when Hispanics flooded the streets in numbers not seen since the 1960′s and Monday may have been the largest protests to date. Because there was a lot of soul searching on how to deal with the issue. Until the GOP made it about race. Some people still want to see this as a work issue, but the rantings of Tancredo and Sensenbrenner, as well as the protests, made this about how Hispanics fit into America. Even though there are 600,000 illegals from the EU.
If these themes work on liberals, who oppose them, they have the power to fuel the right, or did.
But here’s the problem: there is a fork in the road and the online right represents the past. The world of blowhard rightists with their hostile racist language is not the language of the future, but the past. Part of the reason that the immigration debate is so potent is the fact that whites will be a minority in the US before the end of the century. In that environment, the language of fear and exclusion is a death sentence. But at the same time, a powerful pull for the GOP base and their online supporters.
A study, which scared the shit out of the GOP, showed what everyone knows: not every Republican is a racist, but racists join the GOP in overwhelming numbers.
A quick tour of the right sees nefarious links between themes used by conservatives and themes used by white supremacists.
The most common? Idolatry of the Confederacy, from admiring Jeff Davis to talking to Southern Partisan. It can be hidden as historical interest, but usually it goes beyond that rather quickly into wingnuttia like "slavery wasn’t the cause of the Civil War."
The right blogosphere divided into two parts: the GOP-centric sites like Red State and the hard right like LGF. Anyone can rant on LGF and pretty much be ignored, but Red State — which had fairly close ties to the GOP — was gobsmacked when their racism was revealed. Because LGF isn’t serious – offensive, but not serious. RS was, and thus, the effects of being confronted with their racial attitudes hurt them seriously.
The GOP needs to create a new image both on and offline. One far more friendly to minorities.
The problem is that they don’t know how to.
The black conservatives online range from the ridiculous to the regrettable. They don’t have the ability to convince people that conservatism can work for minorities. Instead, they alter between targets and objects of pity. In a now infamous interview, Mychal Massie, an official with Project 21, a group of black conservatives, was quoted as saying slavery was good for blacks.
Part of the reason the right blogosphere has been losing interest and readers over the last few months is that they are representing ideology which is not working for people. The left blogosphere has broken the code the right has used in public and it is no longer effective. From Josh Marshall’s work on Trent Lott to finding the links between racism and slandering the Kings as communist — all old code once restricted to Johnny Rebel records and Stormfront but which now appear on the right blogs. Part of this is the intimacy of the online world, part due to a lack of understanding about using the code.
Discussing this here this week has been about the past, what has happened.
We need to look at the future.
The first thing is that liberals have to be far more aware of the coded language.
And then they have to pounce on it. They can’t shy away; if they think something is racist, it probably is. Don’t let the issue slide or back away because of discomfort.
The second is that they have to define this as language of the past, attitudes of the past. As a forward looking people, racism should be defined as part of a painful past and the people who hold on to it have no interest in the future of America, a multicultural future where everyone is included and respected. This has always been the case. I bet you didn’t know that during the settling of the West, that one-third of cowboys were black, one-third were Mexican vaqueros and immigrants. Only one-third was the image Hollywood projected. Hungarian and German were spoken on Civil War battlefields. German was common in Revolutionary America and Spanish has been spoken here before the Mayflower landed
The right is looking towards a fantasy past which never existed and for good reason.
Third, liberals can not be baited into falling into the assumptions of the right which are used to trigger our learned racist responses. We have to think hard about how we respond to any issue, especially those where race may be an issue. If the right is using insulting, demeaning language, it’s a good sign that you should take a different tact.
But keep in mind, the right is obsessed with the past and recreating it. We are concerned about building a better future for all Americans.
Previous posts in the series:
Matt O. over at The Great Society has been compiling racist quotes from right-wing websites. It is quite a resource.