Thursday, March 13, 2008

This Week in Racism!

Racism has proved an ever-evolving subject of debate for white people in this country: once upon a time, we were all for racism; then we realized racism was not good; then some people thought we’d gotten rid of racism and could therefore continue being racist; and now some of us (perhaps a little carelessly) identify as “post-racist,” which sometimes gets us into trouble with our black friends when we toss around racial slurs.

But even now, comfortably into the occasionally post-racial 21st century, there continues to be controversy over what is and isn’t “racist.” And so to help clear up some present disputes, it’s time to play one of my favorite games: Racist/Not Racist!

This week, race has once again reared its inexhaustible head in the Democratic primary, with Geraldine Ferraro, formerly of the Clinton campaign, unapologetically charging that Obama owes his success to the color of his skin. As the Times reports:

Ms. Ferraro made the comments that touched off the latest exchange of Democratic brickbats after she gave a paid speech last week to the Torrance Cultural Center in Torrance, Calif. The Daily Breeze, a newspaper in Torrance, reported that she said: “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Mr. Obama called the remarks “divisive.”

Mrs. Clinton, saying she did not agree with the comments, called it “regrettable that any of our supporters — on both sides because we both have this experience — say things that kind of veer off into the personal.”

Ms. Ferraro made no apologies. “Am I sorry? No, no, no,” she said. “I am sorry there are people who think I am racist.”

And so Ferraro lays the smack down in a devastating bait-and-switch: “Yeah I’m sorry—sorry you’re an idiot!” Let’s cut the woman a little slack here—have we not heard enough blathering about how earth-shatteringly “historic” this election is because Obama is black, black, black!? On the other hand, does Ferraro really feel that if Obama were white, he wouldn’t be a formidable opponent to Hillary? In other words, that no one could possibly be so enamored with a charismatic, inspirational white guy?

Then again, I think it's splendid that Obama’s dad is from Africa and that he’s got Muslims in the family. I’m quite amenable to that warm, fuzzy argument that says our brown-skinned “enemies” will like us more if they are dealing with someone who’s not white. Ultimately, though, Ferraro’s claim rests on an unverifiable counterfactual (yeah, that’s right, I said it). Who the hell knows how Obama would have fared had be been white?

Verdict on Ferraro: Not racist. The woman may be wrong (or right), but let’s not infer bigotry here based on a unsubstantiated theory. (Additionally, let's also note that the Obama camp seems to have done just this; why they should have felt the need to ask that Clinton "repudiate the remarks" is beyond me. I'd much prefer a candidate let the voters decide for themselves what to make of statements to the public.)

Our next subject of inquiry: Ryan Seacrest’s sudden bout of insanity after Chikezie’s ridiculously awesome performance on American Idol this week. At the risk of sounding racist by comparing two otherwise dissimilar black guys (okay, that's pretty much just being racist), this Chikezie is what Rubin Studdard could have been if he’d been at all exciting, charismatic, or at low risk for a coronary. That twinky little David Archuleta may know his way around a torch song, but Chikezie’s “She’s a Woman” was hands down the most exciting performance of the night.

After Chikezie's number was met with unanimous judiciary praise, a suddenly uncontrollable Seacrest galloped around the stage, circling the singer while cheering: “Chikezie! Love to see that enthusiasm, man! Move around on this stage! Feel it baby, feel it! Work this stage, Chikezie, work it! It’s all you! Work it! Attaboy, yeah! All right! Woo! Yeah! That’s what it’s about, man! This a big deal—top twelve! You work it!”—here he paused to maul Chikezie’s sweaty head—“Soakin’ wet, my man! Soakin’ wet! Feel that sweat! Woo! You got us all fired up now, baby!” Watch the whole spectacle here.

Now I’m willing to entertain the idea that perhaps I’m the one being racist here, in imputing some sort of “blackness” to Seacrest’s reaction. And Chikezie didn’t seem terribly offended (which means that should he ever read this, I may be the one stoking racial tension). But I’m sorry: I don’t recall Ryan Seacrest turning into James Brown for any of the other contestants on Tuesday night. Verdict on Seacrest: Racist.

All right, enough of this. I should be working. But should I manage to update this blog at a respectable rate in the future, I've no doubt we'll play lots of Racist/Not Racist some other day. In the meantime, feel free to leave any thoughts, racist or otherwise, below.

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