Saturday, May 05, 2007

Geaghan: A homegrown surge

Barack Obama's strengthening candidacy has incited hordes of white racists to discard their inhibitions—if they have any at all—in what Dave Niewert at Orcinus* calls the "new racism." He describes this phenomenon in the following terms:
Today informed its staff via email that they should no longer enable comments on stories about presidential candidate Barack Obama. The reason for the new policy, according to the email, is that stories about Obama have been attracting too many racist comments.

So far, we have been regaled with the oft-repeated "Hussein" note, the Fox smear of Obama's Muslim background, followed by Limbaugh's astonishing riff on "Barack the Magic Negro". That these reflect a barely concealed racial animus mixed with general white xenophobia should be obvious, and notably, these are all occurring on a national scale, within ostensibly mainstream media sources.

For right-wing audiences, cues like this signal just how far they can take things themselves. So on the public level, the result of this kind of talk is a regular outpouring of old-fashioned racist bile, permission having been granted by leading right-wing voices.
Niewert continues:
This resurgent racism likes to cloak itself in the pretense of rebellious individualism standing up to the oppression of overbearing "political correctness," or else in academic-sounding terms that fling about misinformation regarding the sciences and sociology to construct a pseudo-rationale for what they euphemistically like to call "race realism."

But pull the cloak aside, and the same old, decrepit racism of a century ago is there, festering like a decaying zombie who refuses to die.

And as the summer goes on, and the presidential campaign picks up steam, and Obama solidifies his already formidable position as a front runner ... well, expect to see a lot more of those zombies crawling the streets of our public discourse.
Or, as I wrote last month in reference to the Imus controversy:
Imus is part of a nauseating (and apparently growing) cultural phenomenon founded on an in-your-face racism, sexism and homophobia that proudly flaunt what they call their "political incorrectness." In reality, "politically incorrect" is nothing more a euphemism for language and symbols that are meant to hurt other people, especially minorities and women. When someone objects, they're accused of being "hypersensitive" and urged to get over it.
And we still have eighteen months until the election. If either Clinton or Obama emerges as a nominee, it's hard to imagine how deep the effluent will get between now and then.

Meanwhile, Harvard has put together an online test (the Implicit Association Test) intended to evaluate whether a person has an automatic preference for one race over another. It's free and takes about 10 minutes. While I have some questions for the assumptions and utility of the test as designed, here are the results for the "European American - African American IAT:"

The most important result: 70% of the respondents had a preference for whites that ranged from "slight" to "strong." 54% had a "moderate" or "strong" preference for whites. About 12% showed a "slight" to "strong" preference for blacks, or about the same percentage as African Americans in the U.S. population. Less than one out of five people had "no preference."

The results could be significant, since 732,881 people took the IAT between 2000 and 2006. But who chooses to take these tests, and why? I suspect that overt racists would be less likely to take it, but the data still reflects a 70% preference for whites.

It's not too surprising that people would have a "preference" for those of their own "race" (whatever that is). Still, it's hard to believe that this is a healthy condition in a very diverse society.


*Thanks to Digby at Hullabaloo for the link to Orcinus.

NOTE: There are many other types of IAT's available at Harvard's site.

PHOTO: Sens. Barack Obama and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) tour a Russian base where mobile missiles were being destroyed as part of the Nunn-Lugar program.

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