Stacking the deck with the race card

Have you ever been called a racist? It is one of the worst things you can call a person. It’s down there with “child molester,” “murderer” and “misogynist.”

With President Obama’s presidency, I looked forward to a post-racial America where old wounds could heal. Unfortunately, racism is still not being confronted directly.

The country’s reluctance to deal with racism directly can be exemplified through reactions to Vice President Joe Biden’s recent statements to an audience in Danville, Va.  A town whose population is 48.6 percent African-American according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Danville residents were told by Biden that the GOP would put them “back in chains.” Biden temporarily adopted a Southern drawl in his voice, despite being from Delaware.

President Obama’s campaign did not repudiate his comment and Mitt Romney reacted by demanding the president take his “campaign of division, and anger, and hate back to Chicago.”

On the other hand, MSNBC commentator Touré Neblett immediately insisted that Romney’s criticisms involved racial coding like a dog-whistle. He accused Romney of pigeonholing the president into the “angry black man” stereotype. You can see how hollow this argument is when you realize he is insisting that the common human emotion of anger is somehow belongs exclusively to African-Americans.

Touré baited his audience with race. He used racially divisive language to intimidate and silence opposition. The message to Romney and his supporters is clear: If you don’t agree with me, your words will be “decoded” to prove you’re a racist.

Democracy is unhealthy if people are cowed silent by false accusations.

It was then that I saw a response video on YouTube that laid out my feelings and suspicions perfectly. A young black woman named Kira Davis shared how she faced complacent and violent racism nearly every day of her youth growing up in Canada — not to mention she had the n-word hurled at her frequently.

She called Touré out.

Every time someone calls someone else a racist, they leave an ugly legacy of racial slurs, fire hoses and attack dogs behind the alleged racist. If the accused clearly has no measure of that legacy, then people like Touré devalue the struggles of people like Kira who have endured real racism. Crying racism desensitizes us to the very real racism around us.

Commentary like that of Touré makes people complacent and unwilling to discuss issues of racism out of fear that. If they don’t properly walk on eggshells, they may be called racist. Those who dare to call others racist without factual grounds have already lost the argument and embolden those who discuss racism honestly. Race-baiters prefer to inflame rather than inform.

As for Vice President Biden’s comment, he knew what he was doing. I doubt that Biden planned on saying it ahead of time, but I also doubt he didn’t see the high African-American representation in the crowd. He was playing to his audience’s fears off the cuff. Does this make him racist? No, it makes him a politician. A lesser evil, I suppose.

 

Reach the columnist at colton.gavin@asu.edu. Follow the columnist on twitter @coltongavin