Several people I know were convinced by the 2008 Presidential election that America was quickly moving into a 'post-racial' society. There were lots of articles and essays suggesting that kind of notion and many folks believed that President Obama would be a symbol that America has moved past its racist past.
I tried not to say much in response because I don't like highlighting hate. Well, not only was it clear to many of us that America was nowhere near ‘post-racial’, I was quite worried that the election of a Black President would encourage many silent bigots to rally around their fear/anger. Last summer’s gun toting binge at Presidential events was a clear indicator of this reality and the storm of vicious comments surrounding Congress’ Health Care reform votes this weekend is another symptom of the same malady.
This weekend, that bigotry manifested itself not just in the use of racial slurs but also in anti-gay epithets directed at Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). What, if anything, Lewis’ race and Frank’s sexual orientation have to do with Health Care has not been made clear. For many Tea Party protestors, however, obscene chants and shouts were part of their method of expressing discontent.
I should make it clear that I am emotional regarding this issue. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) is one of my personal heroes. His life and career are beyond impressive to me and I’d be hard pressed to find a current political figure for whom I have even half as much respect. For people to believe they have the right to call Lewis names, especially ‘nigger’, infuriates me. Calling him names because he’s doing the work of representing his constituents is even more baffling to me. Rather, it used to be baffling to me. Now, I’ve come to feel confident that many in our country believe that anyone who disagrees with their opinions is undeserving of respect. Even though that’s patently ridiculous, many seem to operate that way.
What continues to confound and sadden me is that a few years ago, I was able to suggest that the right wing fringe was being moved along by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and other people whose interest in politics was directly connected to their ability to draw ratings. Now, these folks on the right margins are being coddled by elected representatives. The shift is important, I believe, because of the suggestion of authority Americans have always ceded to our officials. It’s much harder to dismiss Steve King (R-IA) than it is Glenn Beck.
I use King as an example because he’s already downplayed the importance of civility in public assembly being bold enough to assert, “There are a lot of places in this country that I couldn’t walk through. I wouldn’t live to get to the other end of it.” I can only think of a couple interpretations for this statement. One, being a White, straight, conservative male is the social equivalent of being Black or being gay and is just as likely to result in being targeted for death or two, America is dangerous enough that if my car broke down I might get killed depending on where I am. I don’t know which I find more objectionable but either would be ridiculous.
Sadly though, this kind of statement provides license for people to use the same kind of language and engage in the same kind of conduct as yesterday’s protestors. It also directly connects uncivil speech to the possibility of death. While I’m sure it was unintentional, it’s still real and particularly in this kind of political environment is a horrible link to make.
It appears to me that I’ve been wrong. That, in fact, I should be making every effort possible to highlight hate. I suppose I just wish there were not so much of it.