In recent months, we have talked a good amount about historical memory and how race is a variable in our shared--yet often different--understandings of American life. For some, these matters are intensely personal, for others they are asides, and for many more, a cultivated naivete about the centrality of race in this country's long struggle towards full democracy is a luxury afforded only by white privilege.
I have alluded to the book a Country of Strangers on a few occasions. It is a good text, not particularly rigorous, but very readable, "journalistic," and full of great stories about how real people negotiate (or not) the color line in America.
With all of the back and forth about the Republican Party regarding its embrace of the Confederacy and the Lost Cause as a way to mobilize conservative white voters against Barack Obama, we must also acknowledge how this literal whitewashing of history by the Right would not be so compelling this process was gross and obvious in its bigoted hostility towards black and brown people.
While the Tea Party GOP uses dog whistles, and at times naked appeals to white racism to motivate their voters, electoral calculus in the post Civil Rights era demands some feigned effort at color blindness and race neutrality. As I have pointed out previously, conservatives who are motivated by racism in their hostility towards Obama, specifically, and "liberals" (as "race traitors," the imagined advocates for the interests of people of color) more generally, need some chaff, a convenient out, so that they can continue to feel like good people.
Few people want to be labeled as active racists--even if their political worldview and decision-making are animated by white racism on a semi-deep, yet not quite subconscious, level. The following exchange detailed in A Country of Strangers between two friends--one white and one black--about the movie Gone with the Wind captures the willful ignorance of the Tea Party GOP faithful on these matters.
Just as I suggested about Santorum's and Gingrich's public(s), Right-wing white populists are not necessarily pernicious racists. Rather, they simply subscribe to a type of common sense that is based on excluding people of color, and on the assumed superiority of Whiteness, White values, White dreams, White hopes, and White politics as the very definition of what it means to be "American."
Is the white woman in the following situation a "racist?" Perhaps, but only a "passive" one such that her assumptions, lack of asking questions about her own universal "I," and lazy thinking about a shared life experience with others who happen to not be white, is her shortcoming. However, this type of ignorance is a short stones throw away from the type of prejudice and bigotry that is the foundation for Birtherism, and all of the American exceptionalism, nativist, "Real America" talk that is the Esperanto of the New Right.
Do tell me. Am I onto something here? Or am I being too hard on an otherwise well-intended woman, one who is simply blinded by the gaze of whiteness...so much so that she is unable to see how race is central to the full personhood and humanity of people, even her close friends, who may not be white?
In all, this is an epic face palm moment: