Thursday, July 22, 2010

Maddow Gave an Interesting History Lesson Last Night, and I'll Add My Two Cents

Talk about a good history lesson on The Rachel Maddow Show. All she needed was Pat Buchanan to give a first hand account of implementing the Southern Strategy during the Nixon era.

I knew that if this country had ever reached the point of electing a black President we would have had some problems. Frankly, the problems that we have seen are not nearly as bad as I suspected, and I think that that is remarkable considering where we were when I arrived on the planet in 1968. Though most reasonable people know that the vast majority of Tea Party people aren't racists, there are some questionable ties (and the movement is beginning to sever those ties, which is great). Though most reasonable people know that the vast majority of people do not believe that critics of President Obama critique him only because he is black, there are some people who strangely hold on to that fallacy.

But getting back to the history that Maddow put forth last night, it is true that race is an instant powder keg in a political discussion. Some would rather not look to the past at all, and others won't move beyond it. Neither position makes the history less true. It is true that there have been those in politics, from Reconstruction through current times, who have used race and fear (and culture) to garner votes.

And they have been used for different reasons by different sets of people. Blacks in the 19th century supported Republican candidates, because they were afraid of white Democrats regaining power and "redeeming" the South, which actually happened. Whites in the South during the Populist Movement of the late 19th/early 20th centuries, eventually abandoned the notion of the fledgling class/occupation based interracial movement, because their "bourbon" opponents convinced them that blacks would usurp the whites' positions in society (the old "if black people gain something, then white people have to lose something" tactic). Minority politicians have also used race and fear in their campaigns to gain and/or preserve power (though that history isn't nearly as long). The case that stands out most to me was Corey Booker's first attempt at becoming mayor of Newark, NJ. Former mayor Sharpe James used a number of tools to scare black voters from Booker, including suggesting that Booker's very integrated upbringing, and his wide support from whites made him suspect for the majority black town.

That is my only criticism of Maddow's otherwise excellent piece. This tactic of using race and fear can and has been used by non-white folks. Yet, my small criticism neither diminishes, nor negates her main point.

The bottom line is that we should call out these tactics when we see them emerge, and call them what they are. But to do that, we have to acknowledge the use of race and fear (and culture) in our midst (the proposed mosque in Lower Manhattan anyone?).

Are we mature enough as a society to do that without falling into hysterics?

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