I am and have been transparent in my disdain towards Sarah Palin. She took stupid all the way to the bank; is a succubus of, and lightning rod for, the worst sort of Right-wing populist know-nothing nonsense; and is an expert performer of a particularly noxious type of rural blackface. Apparently, Palin follows through on the New Right's due diligence in her new "book" and includes an obligatory attack on Michelle Obama's patriotism and the then soon to be First Lady of the United States' honest comment that, "for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback"
Michelle Obama was pilloried by the Right for daring to suggest that America had long erred in its treatment of non-whites, and that as an American of color she could now be fully proud because the country seemed to finally be living up to its radically inclusive and democratic potential.
As has been repeatedly demonstrated, the myopia of whiteness knows few limits. The myopic whiteness of Conservativism knows even fewer. As the 2008 presidential campaign reinforced, the White Conservative Soul is wedded to the idea that there is just one American story, one American experience, and one approved nostalgia laden narrative. The realities of white supremacy as foundational to a country where supposedly democratic citizenship was bounded by race (and gender, as well as class) is simply too much to bear.
In short, conservatives need the good lie. It is a tale of a perfect America allows them to sleep easily at night. Unfortunately, not many Americans are afforded that luxury.
It is Sarah Palin who brings back these memories. In her new book, she reportedly takes Michelle Obama to task for her supposedly infamous remark from the 2008 campaign: "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." Instantly, Republicans pounced. Among the first to do so was Cindy McCain, who said, "I have and always will be proud of my country." It was a cheap shot, but her husband's selection of Palin for the ticket and plenty of cheap shots from Palin ("death panels," etc.) were yet to come.
Michelle Obama quickly explained herself. She was proud of the turnout in the primaries - so many young people, etc. Evan Thomas, writing perceptively in Newsweek, thought - as I did - that she was saying something else. He dug into her senior thesis at Princeton - "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community" - to find a young woman who felt, or was made to feel, "more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before." This was not a statement of racism. This was a statement of fact.
It's appalling that Palin and too many others fail to understand that fact - indeed so many facts of American history. They don't offer the slightest hint that they can appreciate the history of the Obama family and that in Michelle's case, her ancestors were slaves - Jim Robinson of South Carolina, her paternal great-great grandfather, being one. Even after they were freed they were consigned to peonage, second-class citizens, forbidden to vote in much of the South, dissuaded from doing so in some of the North, relegated to separate schools, restaurants, churches, hotels, waiting rooms of train stations, the back of the bus, the other side of the tracks, the mortuary, the cemetery and, if whites could manage it, heaven itself.
It was the government that oppressed blacks, enforcing the laws that imprisoned them and hanged them for crimes grave and trivial, whipped them if they bolted for freedom and, in the Civil War, massacred them if they were captured fighting for the North. And yet if African Americans hesitate in embracing the mythical wonderfulness of America, they are accused of racism - of having the gall to know more about their own experience and history than Palin and others think they should.
Why do politicians such as Palin and commentators such as Glenn Beck insist that African Americans go blank on their own history - as blank as apparently Palin and Beck are themselves? Why must they insist that blacks join them in embracing a repellent history that once caused America to go to war with itself? Besides Princeton, Michelle Obama is a graduate of Harvard Law School. It's hardly possible that she is not knowledgeable about the history of African Americans - no Ellis Island for them, immigrants in their colorful native dress waving at the camera. Should she forget it all simply because she went to Ivy League schools - be thankful for what she had gotten and the hell with the rest? Why should she be more grateful than Cindy McCain?
Sarah Palin teases that she might run for president. But she is unqualified - not just in the (let me count the) usual ways, but because she does not know the country. She could not be the president of black America nor of Hispanic America. She knows more about grizzlies than she does about African Americans - and she clearly has more interest in the former than the latter. Did she once just pick up the phone and ask Michelle Obama what she meant by her remark? Did she ask about her background? What it was like at Princeton? What it was like for her parents or her grandparents? I can offer a hint. If they were driving to Washington, they slowed down and stopped where the sign said "colored" - and the irritated Palins of the time angrily hit the horn and went on their way.