The Right-wing media are up in arms over a "racist" speech given by then candidate Barack Obama at Hampton University, a historically black college, during 2007.
In trying to read through the 2,500 comments on the conservative website The Daily Caller which leaked this "new" story, I have come to a few conclusions.
One, conservatives who believe that Barack Obama hates white people, and that this speech is a smoking gun of sorts which will derail his campaign, have probably not listened to it.
Two, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and other Right-wing bloviators are also apparently shocked and surprised that black folks may speak to one another with one type of inflection and tone, while modifying their speech habits for other audiences. This peek inside the black community's semi-private spaces requires an appreciation for what is called "code switching."
At present, racial resentful and reactionary white conservatives seem incapable of understanding this simple fact: code switching is not an act of lying or dishonesty; it simply is a fact of life for those of us who have to navigate the color line, and are possessed of Du Bois' famous observation about double consciousness, and the "two-ness" that is being both black and American in a society which has constructed citizenship on your back, neck, blood, and stolen labor.
Black Americans love a country that has for most of its history not loved us back; Part of the genius of Black Americans is that we have found a way to be the best of what America can be, while also pushing her forward to fulfill the promise of the democratic creed and the Constitution in order to make the country better for all of its citizens.
Our capacity for adaptability and genius terrifies many in White America--far Right conservatives are most vulnerable to this terror when they realize that black and brown folks know more about liberty and freedom than most white Americans ever will, for they were lazily grandfathered into Whiteness and civic inclusion.
By contrast, liberty and freedom were a condition systematically denied to black folks (and other people of color): not allowed its fruits, we appreciate and know democracy much more deeply than many others in this country.
And ultimately, there are some conservatives, the Fox News, Tea Party Crowd especially, who hate Barack Obama as a human being. These sentiments go deeper than mere partisanship.
I do not use that language casually.
After watching the parade of white racial resentment, overt racism, and "polite" deployment of anti-black bigotry--a variety of racism which is rooted in stereotypes many centuries old about African Americans--by Mitt Romney and other Republicans during this campaign season, the rage at President Obama is beyond that of "normal" politics.
The symbolic body of a black president, leading what was for most of its existence a formally White Republic, must be destroyed so that the White Conservative Imagination can return to a state of settled peace. This is the only way that the latter's cognitive dissonance can be resolved.
In pursuit of this goal, the Right-wing media is dedicated to misrepresenting everything that Obama says, his personhood, his humanity, and his patriotism in order to further a narrative that the country's first black President is an alien outsider, a caricature of a black nationalist from the 1960's who has it in for "the man" and the "ofays" who did African Americans wrong for centuries.
I have listened to President Obama's speech at Hampton University in its entirety several times. Despite some very questionable, dishonest, and selective quotes from it, Obama offered up a set of policy prescriptions and diagnoses of the problems facing inner city communities that are a neat fit for the long and deep tradition of political, economic, and moral conservatism that is at the heart of the Black Freedom Struggle.
There, Obama repeatedly called for personal responsibility. Despite what The Daily Caller would argue, he also rejected any racially conspiratorial thinking about Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administration's criminally pathetic and incompetent response to the near destruction of a major American city:
Look at what happened in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast when Katrina hit. People ask me whether I thought race was the reason the response was so slow. I said, "No. This Administration was colorblind in its incompetence." But everyone here knows the disaster and the poverty happened long before that hurricane hit. All the hurricane did was make bare what we ignore each and every day which is that there are whole sets of communities that are impoverished, that don't have meaningful opportunity, that don't have hope and they are forgotten. This disaster was a powerful metaphor for what's gone on for generations.If conservatives were fair observers, they would be pleased by much of Obama's speech. He suggested that families, communal institutions, and upstanding motivated people, can solve many of the problems facing the ghetto underclass: this is not too far afield from the politics of Booker T. Washington.
If conservatives were at all honest, they would have applauded Obama's call for consensus in the pursuit of the Common Good:
And when we try to have an honest debate about the crises we face, whether it’s from the pulpit or the campaign trail, the pundits don’t want us to find common ground, they want us to find someone to blame. They want to divide us into Red States and Blue States, and tell us to always point the finger at somebody else – the other party, or gay people, or people of faith, or immigrants.
This journey teaches us that they are going to keep driving that wedge; they are going to keep the distraction going. They are going to keep our faiths separate until we shout from the mountain top, “Our Father who art in heaven, we are going to take the bullets out. We believe in your will and your way.”
Right here in this room, we believe that God is big enough to overcome the smallness of our politics; that He is big enough to overcome our doubts and our cynicism and our worries; that He is big enough to love children of every color and creed and political label.The rage by white conservatives towards Obama's quite traditional, morally conservative policy prescriptions regarding how to solve the plight of the black poor, is very revealing: many on the White Right are befuddled by black folks' support for the Democratic Party because on paper more of us should support the Tea Party GOP on these "Culture War" issues.
However, African-Americans are sophisticated voters who long ago realized that despite those contingent areas of agreement with Republicans, that they should not be in league with a party, which in the modern era, has repeatedly demonstrated utter disdain for people like them.
Barack Obama's 2007 speech reveals that he is essentially a "compassionate conservative" whose words are not too far afield from those of either Jack Kemp or Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Yet, somehow Obama is painted by the Right-wing echo chamber as an anti-white, beat up whitey, support the parasitic blacks and welfare queen baby daddy and mommas, inscrutable and rapscallion negro who wants to steal from Caucasians.
The level of delusion and willful denial of reality that must be mustered in order to support such a state of mind would boggle the mind of any rational person. As demonstrated here, the true power of the Right-wing media is that they have mastered how to efficiently create such a psychological condition among their public.
Barack Obama's speech at Hampton in 2007 reminds me of an old joke. Obama is very conservative, and in another era would likely have been a forward thinking Republican in the Rockefeller mold. However, he made a crucial mistake.
There was once a black man who was very well liked by a white family. They ate dinner together, socialized, and enjoyed each other's company. One evening the black man made the error of mentioning that he was a negro. The white folks were very upset and summarily ended the dinner. Their child asked them what had happened, and why one of their favorite guests had been so rudely sent home. The matriarch of the family looked down at her daughter and carefully explained that their guest had made a mistake: he had the bad manners to remind them that he was a negro.
Obama's error was reminding a group of racially resentful white conservatives of a self-evident fact: the President of the United States of America is a black man. On occasion, he will make the horrible mistake of reminding you of that fact. How utterly shameful and contemptible of him.
And they say say that America is "post-racial?"