Monday, January 16, 2012

The Obamas vs the Romneys: The Republican Mind and Visions of Whiteness and Race Suicide on Dr. King's Holiday

The road to the world imagined by Dr. King remains long.

Some four decades after his murder, and the inauguration of the Southern Strategy, the sweet appeals of racial code words, and the succor offered by white racial resentment remain undeniable to the Republican Party. When Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney talk about lazy, parasitic African Americans who should pick up mops to learn about hard work, and where "the blacks'" exalted leader wants to turn America into a "Socialist-Communist-Fascist European welfare state," the signals to white racism are beyond dog whistles. They are blaring air raid sirens.

Dog whistles can also be subtle; they can be visual cues which speak to the faithful.

For example, some Americans see Mitt Romney's much publicized family photo as one of homogeneous whiteness and WASP glory.Whether in rust belt towns, gated communities, poor white rural America, or the nondescript suburbs, this is the America of "Nixonland" that so many yearn for. This is real America; the best of us; a country that they/we should die to protect.

Of course, this is a memory steeped in false nostalgia. It is whiteopian dreaming. Nevertheless, such illusions are both compelling and compulsive to many Americans of a certain age, hue, ideology, and experience.

Other folks see the family photo of Barack Obama and his kin as the future. Americans are a cosmopolitan people. While there exists a deep and historic nativist impulse, as well as a fear of the Other, the country's greatness has been its ability to include all folks that want to belong-- what is an all embracing sense of pluralism and "we the people" that is flexible, accommodating, and inclusive.

Citizens use heuristics, memes, cues, and slogans to make sense of politics, and to work through their own political decision-making. As such, for many, the photo of Mitt Romney's family is that of "real America," and to deviate from this approved model is hazardous to the Common Good, a decision that is perverse, and one that is "unAmerican."

By implication, for the collective consciousness of the white Tea Party GOP populist electorate--and although they may lack the vocabulary to express this cogently--there is something inherently wrong with the interracial, international, and "diverse" nature of Barack Obama's family. In all, the Obama way is "race suicide": it is a path of destruction for the United States, as to be American is to be quintessentially and unquestionably "white."

Folks like Pat Buchanan are honest enough to voice such sentiments, feelings which are the rotten, beating heart of the Tea Party GOP. Others who share Buchanan's anxieties and loyalties are not as courageous; they play around with his themes while not owning their substance.

Ironically, their need to couch such wickedness in race neutral talk is "progress." However, the concerns of reactionary white populists are centuries-old, near and dear to Whiteness and a country originated as a White Republic. For them the question remains unresolved (even in the year 2012): how much racial equality is "enough?"

The challenge here is that to be wholly inclusive, and to really create a radically democratic society, is to risk the privileges of Whiteness. It is to create a world in keeping with Brother King's vision where white people are forced to compete on an equal playing ground with people of color. Some of us are more than ready for that world.

Others, those White Dreamers, who foreground whiteness as "real and "idolized" America, are scared to death of a multiracial, multicultural, pluralistic 21st century. Whiteness is such a valuable currency, one whose rewards have been outsized for so long, that to consider further reductions in its returns is terrifying to many White Americans.

On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, conservatives will mouth breath about his legacy as they spin an empty story of racial equality, racist Southern Democrats, and white victimhood in the Age of Obama. These contortions are to be expected. The joke is--and has long been--that the real Dr. King, the radical visionary and not the deracialized, apolitical panderer for gross consumerism and empty politics, would be hated by conservatives, Red State America, and many others fearful of his progressive vision, if he lived in the present.

This fact is a signal to Dr. King's greatness.

All Americans should be reflective on this day. Sadly, many conservatives, and others who hold a deep disdain for people of color, the poor, unions, the working class, immigrants, and the disadvantaged, will try to find a way to steal Dr. King's vision. The time is long past for such antics to be made obsolete. In the year 2012, those on the Right who bastardize and rape Dr. King's legacy, should finally stop such foolishness.

Brother Martin does not belong to you. Sorry. He belongs to us. It is about time that his legacy and vision were taken back--without apology--by those who would stand shoulder to shoulder with him in the present, and that are the offspring of his struggle and martyrdom.

And Tea Party U.S.A. is not part of that vision. They never were and could not possibly be today.


fred c said...

There are still a lot of American family pictures like Romney's these days. There's nothing wrong with them, but it does seem a little strange and old fashioned to me.

A lot of American family pictures like President Obama's too, my family included. I prefer the blended families myself, and let's face it, from the point of view of evolutionary biology, the broader the gene pool the better. The goal is smart, healthy children, not the preservation of whiteness.

A Thai friend asked me recently about Black/White relations in America. I said it's still a problem, but I think that when I was a boy more Whites had a bad opinion of Blacks than now; these days the number of Whites that have a bad opinion of Blacks is lower, but the bad opinion is stronger. It was a glib answer at the time, but I wonder if it's not true.

I'd love a piece of Martin myself, but as you say, he's not one of mine. Who does that leave me? Daniel Patrick Moynihan? I guess I could do worse, he was a lovely man.

Monala said...

Fred, I don't want to speak for Chauncy, so Chauncy, please correct me if I'm wrong. The way I read the "Brother Martin does not belong to you. Sorry. He belongs to us" statement is not white people couldn't identify with him. Rather, it's that there are certain people, of whatever color, whose beliefs and values are wholly contrary to King's, yet they want to claim his mantle. (See for example, Glenn Beck). It's to those people that he's saying, "Brother Martin does not belong to you."

Plane Ideas said...

For the Team..See ya in November

Happy MLK Day

nomad said...

"Rather, it's that there are certain people, of whatever color, whose beliefs and values are wholly contrary to King's,"

I don't think so. That category would include a lot of black people. I think CD is referring to rightwing whites.

Anonymous said...

Nice post on the many MLKs from Thomas Sugrue:

chaunceydevega said...

@Fred. I am being intentionally vague. Dr. King was an American hero and visionary. From what you have shared over the years I do believe you fit nicely with his vision. We don't have to drag out silly oracles like his niece to validate his intent--he left behind many writings and speeches. This records allows us to easily "divine" his wisdom.

@Monala. You be onto something.

@Thrasher. Nice to hear from you. Be well.

@Nomad. Yes, it would include lots of blacks too. King was amazingly unpopular during his life and at the time of his death too.

We forget that.

@Daniel. Big fan of Sugrue. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Who isn't?

(h/t Brian Leiter, BTW)

Brotha Wolf said...


Reed said...

Delurking after a few months of reading so I can second Brotha Wolf's "Applause." Your posts are powerful and thought-provoking in all kinds of excellent ways and this one captures so much about the current national scene.

And can I give you extra applause for a turn of phrase? I mean, really, "whitopean dreaming" is just brilliant.


P. S. I've got one suggestion for the Romney family: skip the co-ordinated outfits/colors in the group photos. Our family did that once and while the photo is OK, there's kind of a "Stepford Wives" vibe to it…

Shady_Grady said...

So Romney married white and his children married white and this is problematic how?

Can you explain some more? I don't think the personal is necessarily the political.