Thursday, September 1, 2011

Boy! You Best Get Off the Sidewalk and Let the White Man Pass: Race and the GOP's Petty Opposition to the Timing of Obama's Speech on the Economy

Where blacks had since slave days been expected to step off the sidewalk to allow white persons to pass unimpeded-failure to do so could result in being murdered-some communities with the new century began to require blacks to keep off the sidewalks altogether when any white children were occupying any part of them. Much the same held for the roadway, where blacks could expect to be stopped by police if they dared pass a white driver. So offensive to white sensibilities was a black driving an expensive car that even well-to-do African-Americans kept to older models so as not to give the dangerous impression of being above themselves...
One requirement was to sometimes illogically cede the right-of-way to a white driver-or even to a black driver who was chauffeuring white passengers. At many four-way-stop intersections in the South, the right-of-way was determined not by who reached the intersection first, but rather by the race of the drivers. When confronting a white driver who was female, a black male driver in the South could and sometimes did face a life-or-death decision. Compounding the difficulty facing African-Americans was the lack of universality of any of these conventions. In some places whites did maintain normal driving rules. But in others, Jim Crow was more important than highway safety.
Boehner just pulled a "boy you best get off the sidewalk and let a white man pass moment" in his demand that the President reschedule his jobs speech scheduled for next week before Congress. If President Obama is not careful the Right may get him for "reckless eyeballing."

Of course and once more, the Tea Party GOP are behaving like spoiled children.

Here MSNBC's Richard Wolffe is spot on: to casual observers the spat over the time of the President's speech on the economy, and how it "conflicts" with the Republican debate, seems mighty petty. This obstructionism on all things is the dominant political strategy by the GOP in the Age of Obama, and it is fueled by a deep hostility to Obama's legitimacy as President.

As I have suggested many times, the idea that a Black person could be in the White House is too much for the White Conservative Soul and the white racial frame to handle. The symbolism is anathema to their conception of America.

In our discussions of race and American life, social scientists and others tend to focus on institutional forces, disparities in resources, the law, and power. There is another element to this country's centuries-long struggle against white racism and for true and full citizenship for all Americans. That element is respect and dignity. Of course, most black folks can recycle stories of our kin and colleagues, where in both the past and present, the hurt was not so much that someone said or did something "racist" (as we are certainly made of sterner stuff than that). Rather, the hurt is because we were not given the basic respect earned and deserved as American citizens.

The examples here and now, in the past and the present, are legion.

When we are profiled as a potential terrorist while reading a book about airplanes and not even given an apology for our humiliation.

When we are followed around stores and asked to show our identification when making a purchase and the white person in front of you was not.

When you walk into a seminar to conduct a training session or teach a class and there is the eye roll or anxiety by those in the room that somehow you are not competent to teach them.

When doctors and lawyers and engineers had to take jobs as Pullman car porters and shuck and jive for the pleasures of white people in order to earn a wage with which to take care of their families.

When grown men and women were called "Auntie" or "Uncle" by whites because "Sir" or "Madam" was an impossible utterance.

When the Birthers, the Graders and Donald Trump led a witch hunt and demanded to see the transcripts of the President, a Harvard grad and University of Chicago professor, because he could not possibly have earned his bonafides (and they remain curiously silent about Rick Perry's abysmal college career as a "Gentlemen D" student).

In sum, these are moments where black Americans as a community have been collectively slapped in the face and denied their dignity simply because of the color of our skin, and the ways that race works to locate people in a hierarchy of "naturalized" relationships. America no longer has laws demanding that blacks get off the sidewalk when whites pass, or that African Americans cannot try on clothes or hats at a store without buying them first.

But, the intangibles of full and equal respect from whites towards non-whites cannot be legislated: history's weight is too great and private thoughts and attitudes are often immune from legal precedent. In the United States, one of white supremacy's most damning and difficult legacies is that for centuries the lowest, most ignorant, stupid, lazy trashy White was elevated above the most educated, refined, literate, and hard working black person.

The Tea Party GOP and their foot soldiers are drunk on that legacy. They may claim to respect the Office of the President, but they most certainly don't respect the man. And no small part of that is because he is Black.


Alliyah Gallows said...

Brilliantly spelled out.

Brotha Wolf said...

"In the United States, one of white supremacy's most damning and difficult legacies is that for centuries the lowest, most ignorant, stupid, lazy trashy White was elevated above the most educated, refined, literate, and hard working black person."

Damn! That was powerful.

Anonymous said...

At what point is President Obama going to be responsible for his actions? We live in a racist society, the blatant racism is expected. Why doesn't he demand respect as the PRESIDENT OF THE US? Why would he WILLINGLY postpone the speech? Appeasement and compromise are not the same; if you continue to bend over sooner or later you will fall! There is one question I continue to ask myself, who is more dangerous? A president who has inherited priviledge to be ignorant and deny my reality. Or a president who is conscious of history, understands how society operates,but chooses to deny the truth in order to continue on with a false perception of reality. IMO, the latter is far more dangerous.

Chris Sharp said...

Even as a white man, I felt embarassed for the President when I saw how quickly he caved into Boner's refusal to call the joint session of Congress. The word that keeps coming to my mind is emasculate.

This has to be one of the ugliest episodes of compromise and groveling by the POTUS since the last time he kissed Boner's ring, which was all of a few weeks ago. Can you imagine the outrage from the Right if Nancy Pelosi had refused a similar request from George Bush?

I used to almost feel sorry for Mr. Obama for getting pushed around by the Right, but now I am starting to think he may truly believe in some of the Republican positions he claims that he is being forced into against his will. And in the end, that could make him far more dangerous than someone like John McCain or even Rick Perry.

Say it ain't so Mr. President and grow a set of balls while you're at it, or at least get yours back from Mr. Boner, by any means necessary. Our old friend Malcolm must be rolling over in his grave right about now.

ish said...

Chauncey, in that classic but only hypothetical novel you once speculated about, I believe this is where the character named Herman Cain comes in and murders our main tragic protagonist at its climax before hurling himself off a bridge at midnight while the citizens below march about with rope and torches.

I find this small episode to be one of the most tragically revealing of the past two years.

chaunceydevega said...

@Ank. Thank you. Much appreciated.

@browolf. Sometimes it just writes itself.

@Anon. I am all with you. He has taught the clowns in the Tea Party GOP that he will bend, cave, and surrender on most things. He has had some good successes abut doesn't develop a narrative to sell them. On this one, once more he is being a coward who is trying to be reasonable with a bully. I don't know, maybe Brobama never learned how to throw a solid right and pop a bully in the mouth if need be.

@Chris S. Emasculate is the perfect word. Sadly, Obama won't man up. He is supposed to be the most powerful man in the country, with the ultimate bully pulpit. Sadly, he is leading from the rear.

@Cain. Where is Cain? I would think they would trot out he and West to shuck and jive and buckdance for Boehner on this one.

Plantsmantx said...

but now I am starting to think he may truly believe in some of the Republican positions he claims that he is being forced into against his will.

I came to that conclusion a while ago.

chaunceydevega said...

@Plants. I hear you. But here is my problem. Why go so far, do so much, to be perceived as a loser by playing to your enemies hand. That doesn't make sense.

Plantsmantx said...

...because the end justifies the means for him. Actually, his ability to but aside his ego in pursuit of the outcomes he wants is rather admirable, in a perverse way. As far as why he does it- come on, we've all seen this before. He doesn't want to make people nervous by coming across an an "angry black man, but we know that "angry" really means "unabashedly assertive". Sure, it's not working with crazy-assed Tea Party types, but it may work with "independents", and it's nmbedefinitely working with his most avid white supporters,who are normally very liberal, for the most part, but appreciate his deference so much that they're willing to put their political convictions aside.