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October 15, 2011 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Some of the politically liberal felt that the election of Barack Obama ushered in a “post racial” America. Few can forget the image of Oprah Winfrey crying on the shoulder of a complete stranger, a white man, as they stood in a park cheering the President elect. But those high hopes for a post racial America faded before the new President completed his first year in office. Racism survives.
I was born in an era of harsh racism, but when I was young I never saw blacks mistreated. Make no mistake, blacks were mistreated, but the separation of races was so enshrined in our culture that there was little interaction between the races. But, there were words, words that sounded as natural as sunshine but words that clearly defined the status of blacks in cruel and clear terms.
My father was a fox hunter, he had hounds, and kept hounds for a couple of friends that lived in the city. One such friend who worked in a factory during the week would visit on weekends and occasionally bring a black man with him. That black man, Dough was his name, loved dogs and thrilled to hear them chase the fox at night. Dough spent many weekends in our presence.
Although my parents, my aunts and uncles casually used the “n” word at home and among neighbors, they were careful to use “colored” in the presence of strangers or coloreds. And everyone I knew was quick to dissociate themselves from some racist event that was so awful that it could not escape the news.
When that happened my parents reaffirmed their humanity, and that of the community, by recalling that “Dough”, a colored man was welcomed at our house and had spent many weekends with us. It did not matter that Dough always slept on the porch and ate outside. Since he was from the city I suspected that Dough might have lived in a better house than we did.
My parents, like our neighbors, never spoke in anger to a black person or advocated violence toward anyone and would never have admitted to racial bigotry. But they hid their racism. Even when Jim Crow raged, they intuitively understood that there was something inherently wrong with racial prejudice.
Much has changed since then. Separate drinking fountains and bathrooms for the “colored” are only images on print and film. But racial prejudice and bigotry remains; some is overt like virulent signs and posters that caricature the Obamas in unflattering and obscene ways.
However, today’s racial bigot, like my parents and their neighbors, abhor the thought of being racists and try to hide their racial prejudices by concealing them in codewords and political soundbites. Not all Republicans are racists, neither are all Tea-Publicans racists, but racism lives in a swatch of that Tea-publican core.
Although untrue, the racially charged term “welfare queen” typically meant an unmarried, black woman who had one baby after another just to gain more welfare benefits. Whenever Michelle Bachmann or Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich talks about taxing 47% of Americans that do not pay income taxes they are fully aware of their audience. They conjure up images in that core crowd of someone getting something for nothing--a welfare queen. But no presidential candidate has a better understanding of and plays that core crowd better than Herman Cain.
When Herman Cain, a black man, says that Black Americans have been brainwashed by Democrats, that validates beliefs held in that core group. When Mr. Cain praises Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), a man who used a term associated with slavery to describe how he would beat President Obama, that corroborates feelings in that core constituency. When Herman Cain tells audiences that he stayed out of trouble during the civil rights upheaval that signals that he is not a troublemaker.
Herman Cain will not become President of the United States. No one believes, not even that core Tea-Publican crowd, that Herman Cain will ever get the Republican nomination. He is as unqualified to hold that office as Sarah Palin and the conservatives know that, yet he gets their support.
It remains a perverse joke that his 9-9-9 economic plan was lifted almost verbatim from a video game my children once played--SIM, a game of urban planning including a financial plan for local government. But Herman Cain is useful to the Tea-Publicans in a way he probably never intended.
He provides a buffer against charges of racism for those in that racial core who will unleash a scathing racial tirade against President Obama and one that is paid for by unidentified donors.
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Jim Crow era Movie Theater in Mississippi (Double click to enlarge)