Given how much was talked about and how little was said this Sunday on the subject of race, it seemed, sadly, like an appropriate time to bring this post from 2008 out of storage. I'll be back with a regular Sunday morning Mouse Circus Round-up if I can keep my lunch down long enough to finish it.
The Negrological Constant
Because the prevailing model of the Universe at the time was fundamentally flawed (presumed to be static, not expanding), when Albert Einstein first tried to apply his general theory of relativity to the Universe\, the results thoroughly freaked him out (Universe collapsing! Cats and dogs living together!)So, being a clever man, Einstein invented a kind of mathematical fairy dust -- a “cosmological constant” -- which, when factored into the equation, made everything come out ever so much nicer and less Armageddonish. Einstein later dropped the whole idea and acknowledged that it had been his biggest blunder.In this election, the predictive model we use to explain our cultural Universe is also deeply warped. Warped by race. Race is, yet again, the 17-ton mastodon in the room, but continues to scud and swirl quietly around the dark corners of American political discourse like errant dust bunnies.And so the media develops a suite of “Negrological Constants” to explain what is happening in the polls without having to face the reality that we are not a post-racial society.Not by a damn sight.Better than we have been? Yes.Getting better every generation? Yes.But in 2008, to pretend that that all objects in motion in the American political system are not being acted on by racism is as silly as pretending that all objects on the face of the Earth are not being acted on by gravity.During Big Convention Roundup on the Charlie Rose Show, Ronald Walters pointed out that he (rough, high speed transcription):"…cannot understand why the press keeps insisting that Barack Obama is not being specific. I went over the +100 speech he has given since 2007 and there are dozens of specific policy recommendations all over the fucking place."To which David Fucking Brook responded:"I think there is no doubt that Barack Obama is much more specific than John McCain. If this were about issues, Obama would be winning by 15 points. The mystery is, why he's not."driftglass: No, David Fucking Brooks, it is absolutely no mystery at all.It is about race, and our pathetic, comical and ultimately lethal refusal to understand racism's many faces and means of transmission. How it is passed along, generation to generation, like hemophilia.White male Christian supremacy was a major component of America's Genesis meme; long before the radical notions of liberty and democratic rule took root in the soil of the New World, racism and chattel slavery had set up shop and become a highly profitable self-replicating and self-propagating idea, which act (from the Wiki definition of "meme"):“… by natural selection (similarly to Darwinian biological evolution) through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance influencing an individual entity's reproductive success. So with memes, some ideas will propagate less successfully and become extinct, while others will survive, spread, and, for better or for worse, mutate."Racism is a highly successful and seductive virus that bundles White Privilege in with Divine Right and market economics, and has always sought to aggressively reinforce and spread itself through media, law and violence.From an epidemiological point of view, the Missouri Compromise was nothing more or less than an argument over whether or not America was going to arrest the spread of its Racism Virus.The Civil War was the disease's violent response to being quarantined.And when Lee Atwater said this in 1981 --Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps…?Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.-- he was merely affirming that, in order to survive and grow, our Racism Virus had mutated. Had adopted the protective coloring of “economic things” in order to continue to poison and destroy the culture.9/11, of course, gave the Racism Virus a massive dose of rocket fuel: now, instead of having to sneak behind the barn and talk about “quotas”, bigots can once again scream a simple, simpleminded, two syllable word – Muslim, Muslim, Muslim -- wave around an American flag, and feel perfectly certain that their dog whistle has been clearly transmitted.Of course some people do speak up.Like Charles Barkley.Like this from the Guardian:US elections: Why has Obama stalled? No one mentions raceOn the eve of the Democrats' convention in Denver, Barack Obama finds himself struggling against a resurgent John McCain. Why isn't Obama doing better in the polls? There is one answer no one wants to hear. Paul Harris reports on how race has become the great unspoken issue in the campaign for the White House - and why it may yet be the decisive factor.This week's events in Denver are fast turning into a critical moment in Obama's bid to be America's first black President. What was once seen as an anointing of his candidacy is becoming a chance to right a campaign facing a series of unexpected crises.The Democrats are starting to struggle in a presidential race which they should be dominating. America is beset by economic troubles, mired in an unpopular foreign war and facing an unpopular Republican party. A stunning 80 per cent of Americans think that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Yet Obama and McCain are virtually tied in the polls. The possible explanations are multiple. The Democratic campaign is being daily assaulted by withering Republican attack ads. At the same time, there are still deep scars in the party left by the ferocious battle between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.And then there is the issue of race. It gets much less attention than the battle with Clinton, or the daily barbs traded with McCain, or Obama's struggle to rise in the polls. Yet it might provide the key to understanding the strange inability of the Obama campaign to achieve lift-off in the polls.'The question of this election is race. The answer we are looking for is, how much will it matter?' said Professor Shawn Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside. America will soon find out. When Obama speaks on Thursday to more than 80,000 people in Denver's football stadium he will also reach a television audience of millions of Americans. They will look into the face of a man who could be their next President and for the first time it will be a black face.By the end of this week, America will finally be facing up to the question that might truly define the 2008 presidential race: is America ready to elect a black President to the White House?…In research published in New York magazine, the pollster Thom Riehle, who founded the AP/Ipsos survey, calculates that even if the black turnout were to rise by 25 per cent from 2004, with Obama gaining a 92 per cent share, and significantly more Hispanic voters and under-50s voted for Obama than voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, he would still need to win 40 per cent of the white vote - just one point less than Kerry got. As Riehle points out: 'This is a daunting task as the first black candidate for President. To get there, he's got to win roughly the same proportion of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents that all other Democrats get. If he doesn't he's in a world of trouble. He can't win it just by changing the electorate.'…There is little doubt that race is going to play a starring role in this election after the convention season. 'It has not been too much of an issue so far. Or, at least not talked about. But that is not going to last,' said Bowler. It is already getting a lot of play on conservative talkshows and in books. Rush Limbaugh, the 'shock jock' who is hugely popular with white conservatives, has stepped up race-baiting on his broadcasts. He recently claimed Democrats chose Obama as a sort of 'affirmative action' programme. 'I think it really goes back to the fact that nobody had the guts to stand up and say no to a black guy,' he told his millions of listeners. Warming to his theme a few days later, he said: 'You can't criticise the little black man-child.'…Like Michele Norris appearing on the Charlie Rose Show over the past two nights:"One thing we've only touched on lightly here is the issue of race, and the polling has shown that many of these voters when they say "he's not patriotic enough", "we just don’t know who he is", "we don’t know what he really stands for", if you dig down a little deeper there are suggestions that some of these issues are proxies for this issue of race."Like Connie Schultz of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, also appearing on the Charlie Rose Show over the past two nights:“It hurts me to say, as the child of working class people, what these people were saying. When I get email from these people, there ain't a lot of nuance.”AndConnie Schultz: I think Michele makes a very important point about race ... I've been writing about this because I come from the working class, and I am very troubled by some of the things I'm hearing from the working class. About race. And I said, you gotta go home and have the tough conversations with family members.Rose: What do they say?Schultz: (They say) "I will not vote for..."Rose (because he is congenitally unable to stop interrupting people trying to finish their sentences): "...an African American?!?"Schultz: Right. If they say it well. If they say it kindly. I think it's code when they say "Well we really don't know if he's a Muslim" and "we don't know if he's patriotic". That’s all code for race. And for us to pretend that isn't happening is irresponsible for us in the media.And let me give it up for the usually unctuous and trifling Charlie Rose. With a couple of exceptions, the people gathered around his table over the last two nights actually talked about race and politics in remarkably clear language.Which is a very good thing.Because among all the trivial nonsense being kicked up by wilding packs of network haircuts going mad chasing each other's tails and getting bent sniffing each other's panty-liners, that is real, genuine news.Because 100 years from now, the Tale of Election 2008 will be the story of several million ignorant, white, working-class voters – both Democrats and Independents (the Republicans are a lost cause who will remain an unashamedly morally bankrupt open-sewer for at least another 30 years) and which way they turned.Period.Right now there is so much pressure on these voters -- so much torque to their sense of identity being wrenched onto by them by the economic and cultural disasters wrought by the liars and sociopaths they keep electing -- that they are almost in tears, moaning and clawing at their skulls, trying to figure out how to simultaneously:A) Keep from drowning in a rising tide of ruin and failure of their own making, andB) Stay faithful to the deep, ugly foundation stones of bigotry they dutifully learned at their father’s and grandfather’s knees and which, up until now, they have been spared the pain of facing by the use of pretty, perfumed code.They are becoming unhinged trying to reconcile this massive, existential dissonance at the core of their lives, except this time applying the Negrological Constant to magically explain away their fundamentally defective model of the Universe will not work.This time there they cannot escape the choice they have to make. And this time we on the Left will remind them -- loudly, rudely, and from every street corner, blog, and microphone -- exactly what those choices are: to adapt and change and live in a Progressive and tolerant nation, or stay just as they are and die in a Conservative and bigoted one.And right now it is 6-to-5 and pick ‘em which is stronger: the people, or the American Racism Virus that hagrides them.