Sunday, November 04, 2012

Your Racist Friend

"This is where the party ends
I can't stand hear listening to you
And your racist friend.
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend."
-They Might Be Giants

The stage manager for Screwtape (Matt) would put music on during our group warm-ups. One time, he played Flood and it was notable that a little more than half the cast was knew every word by heart and sang along while the rest looked at us and asked how we all knew this record of which they were completely unaware. Which struck me as odd because we were all roughly the same age and it was a platinum record; I could see not knowing every song on the record, but if you went to college in the late 80s-early 90s, how did one avoid hearing Istanbul (not Constantinople) or Birdhouse In Your Soul? I'll admit, I wrote these people off as unobservant and dim, not to mention lacking taste (an assessment which was later confirmed when one of these actors announced that "Journey was a GREAT BAND" without the slightest smidge of irony. Um, yeah, don't stop believing, hold on to that feeling).

In a way, that is what the current political climate feels like. While it always feels like a near even split in the electorate, with 48% voting Republican and 48% voting Democrat and the horse race occurring in that 4% undecided, one would have to be blind not to notice that something was different this time around. A recent article in Slate described it as follows
White people—white men in particular—are for Mitt Romney. White men are supporting Mitt Romney to the exclusion of logic or common sense, in defiance of normal Americans. Without this narrow, tribal appeal, Romney's candidacy would simply not be viable. Most kinds of Americans see no reason to vote for him.
This comes as no surprise to so many of us. After all, we knew that despite everyone's hopes that an African-American president would help race relations in our country, one does not overcome the deep rooted systemic racism in our society in just a few years. We knew that the forces of evil would find a way to fight back and we know racial attitudes have gotten worse (we didn't need a study to tell us this, all we had to do was turn on Fox News and listen to what people feel comfortable saying in public)
For more than four years, without pause, Republicans have been campaigning and propagandizing against an imaginary Obama. At the most grotesque end of the fantasies, he is a foreign-born, anti-colonialist Muslim. In more reputable precincts, he is a power-mad socialist and a dumb affirmative-action baby, promoted all the way to the presidency by a race-crazed, condescending liberal elite. (As if the presidency of the Harvard Law Review were awarded to anyone but the hungriest shark in the shark tank.) This is the position of the party's mandarins and reputable spinners—that Obama was foisted off on regular Americans against their will, despite all those votes last time around.
We have been hearing the stuff said by conservative pundits and politicians and we can't understand how the Republicans we love can stand it, much less stand by and support it. For their part, those loved ones see no racism, coded or otherwise, and can't understand what we are all hearing and write us off as overreacting and seeing things. Even after we tell them exactly what we are hearing and exactly why it is racist, they brush it off and say we are just imagining it. Or they shrug and say they can see it is wrong, but that's not why they are voting for Mitt Romney.

I so want to take these people at their word. Because if I don't make excuses for them in my heart, the truth is, I respect them less and that is too painful a prospect. It is easy to write off all the people I don't know who make up the 48% of the population who will likely vote for Mitt Romney on Tuesday, but it is far harder to reconcile the votes of people I love. Especially if this vote is indicative of a larger political change which the person has undergone. I need answers and yet, there are none. How can someone who instilled in me a belief that it is not just enough to be anti-racist in one's heart, one must also speak out against racism when one encounters it, now be voting for people willing to pander and encourage those feelings if it means they will win? How can someone who once actively fought racism now be seemingly ignoring it? Was it all a lie? Was I a fool to believe?

So I rationalize. I tell myself there must be a good explanation, even if I can't find one. I tell myself it will all be okay. I tell myself they just can't see what I see.  I make excuses.

Of course, making excuses for people is precisely the problem, isn't it? We want to believe the people we love are good people. However, maybe it would be better if we reminded them that people are known by the company they keep. If they choose to stand next to a racist, they shouldn't be surprised if people will assume they agree with the racism. If they vote for people who use racist strategies to get elected they can't be surprised if those politicians assume they agree with the racist message. We need to hold the politicians accountable, but we also need to hold the people we love accountable. Because if it doesn't work, it will stop. It may well be a lovely party and taking a stand is hard. It is so much easier for some to just sit, bobbing and pretending. The rest of us, however, wonder how they can tolerate it? Because you can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding. If they care about our country, they need to have the courage to stand up and say, "This is where the party ends."

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