Yesterday, the print news, the blogosphere, and the radio world were filled with stories about the MSM’s sudden discovery that Obama’s spiritual mentor is a very angry man, who speaks hatefully of whites and of the United States of America. The common conclusion: Jeremiah Wright is a racist, and it doesn’t help Obama’s broader reach that he’s been partnered with this man for 20 years and that he refuses to disassociate himself from Wright (although it does reveal a loyalty I find surprising in an opportunist like Obama).
So, do I think Wright is being racist, here? To be honest, no I really don’t. I think he is highlighting some truly egregious truth in the United States while exploiting some legitimate grievances to encourage a victim’s mindset; he’s playing to the cheap seats with some of this, to be sure, but so did Gloria Steinem when she supported Hillary by writing that if Obama were a woman with his resume, he’d never be where he is.
What is going on here is a profound slight-of-hand, or an illusionist’s expert misdirection. You are being told to think you’re seeing one thing, when you’re actually seeing another. Except for the fact that whoever released these tapes has played it, this sermon would not be an example of a “race card” being thrown. It’s a victim card. This is about the Primacy of Victimhood over all else. And frankly, I think if white America falls for this and starts freaking out over Wright’s “racism” then they will be submitting to a HUGE and insidious manipulation by the Clinton team, who, as Instapundit suggests, may reasonably be assumed to have brought this forward.
Both Democrat candidates have been playing victim cards in their turn, for months. Yesterday Geraldine Ferraro upped the ante by playing the gender and reverse-racism victim card.
These are not “racist” or “sexist” gambits being played by Wright or Steinem, but appeals to emotion, and appeals to emotion are too often used to gloss over a lack of substance, or so I have been told by my correspondents on the left, lo these many years, as they accuse the GOP of governing on “fear,” (because terrorism is not a real threat).
I think the Anchoress is on to something here, because this is all about victimhood, but I think she errs when she substitutes victimhood for racism. In the Wright universe (and, by extension, in the Obama universe), I suspect that the two concepts exist simultaneously and feed off of each other.
“Inextricably intertwined” is a legal phrase that is, I think, pretty self-descriptive: it refers to situations in which two causative factors are so tied together that it is impossible for the court to tease out the separate strands. It occurs a lot in attorney’s fees battles, when one side claims huge attorneys fees, arguing that matters both compensable and non-compensable are so intertwined that they can’t be separated, so the attorney should be paid for them all.
I see that same concept operating here, when it comes to modern victim hood and its being yoked to old-fashioned racism. Since the 1960s, as real racism of the KKK variety vanished, a new racism arose. In the old days, blacks were victims of explicit acts of racism, such as “whites only” jobs, restaurants, bus seats, drinking fountains, pools, etc., not to mention the sheer venom rained upon them in ordinary conversation and interactions. The racism was the dominant note, with the victimization being the result.
Nowadays, however, with a few anomalous exceptions, those overt acts are gone. All that is left for the American blacks is a pervasive sense that they’re not getting ahead. As compared to white and Asian Americans, they’re doing less well economically, more of their men are in jail, more of their girls have sexually transmitted diseases, few of them do as well in school, etc. How does one account for these myriad failings?
Because the black establishment is so deeply invested in the Democratic social welfare policies, blacks cannot even consider the possibility that their status results from the fact that liberal government policies, by infantilizing them, makes it virtually impossible for blacks to stand up and succeed. John Doggett, whom the liberals attempted to destroy back in 1998 when he stepped forward to defend Clarence Thomas, understood this:
When I started my career as a legal services attorney in 1972, I thought that liberals really cared about the poor, the oppressed and people of color. Twenty-six years later, I have learned that while some have good intentions, many liberals are closet racists. They claim to be “sensitive, progressive and concerned,” while in reality far too many of them truly do not believe that blacks or Latinos are as smart as they are. In fact, their liberal orthodoxy cannot exist in a world where blacks and Latinos no longer “need” their help.
You can get even lengthier analyses along these same lines from a few other African American writers who look at the soul-destroying culture of enablement emanating from the liberal white establishment: John McWhorter’s Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America and Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America (although I was saddened to learn that, despite his great insights into the damaging effects of the tight relationship between blacks and the Democratic party, he supports Obama); Larry Elder’s Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card–and Lose; and Keith Richburg’s Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, which describes how blacks in turn use these same enabling concepts to damage Africans by supporting dictatorships.
If you’re African American and are denied a large batch of analytical tools necessary to examine your situation, how then do you explain the fact that blacks, on the whole, are not doing that well in America? If it’s not the fault of Democratic policies, and if you can’t (or won’t) blame yourself, you must be the victim of some nefarious scheme — and that scheme can be only one thing: racism.
This modern victimhood/racism analysis, then, is the mirror image of the reality in the 1960s, when racism was the dominant note, with victimization as the inevitable result. Here, the victimization becomes the dominant note, with the victims backing into racism as the only possible causative agent. From there, it’s easier to keep taking that conclusion to further and further extremes: Because blacks are deeply invested in the Democratic party, which therefore by definition cannot be a contributing factor to racism or victimization, that racism must come from some amorphous “government” — not the same one that demands affirmative action, quotas, welfare, etc., but some evil, secret government controlled by people who are not Democrats, and who therefore must be Republicans.
Mentally inhabiting a logical universe that prohibits investigating or recognizing certain facts, demands false syllogisms that force together two ideas that may have been a pair in the mid-20th century, but that no longer work in harness in the 21st century. For Wright, things aren’t going well, therefore he’s a victim. And if he’s a victim, there must be racism. And if there’s racism, it must be because of evil white conservative men covening in the back rooms of government offices. QED.
(One more thing: if you’ve noticed, as I have, that the entire angry African-American argument seems rooted in realities of the past, not the present, you’re noticing yet another example of the Left’s perpetually regressive take on the world, something I wrote about here, at the American Thinker. The African-American community is, in many sectors, a suffering community. Its problems should be identified and addressed, but that can never happen if “progressive” rhetoric remains stuck in 1963.)