Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Loud and Clear

So E Pluribus Unum thinks more African Americans are not Republicans because we don’t listen to them. He suggests to us,
“how about listening? How about listening to what Republicans have to say, instead of what the Democrats say we say? How about listening to what we have to say before booing us out of the building?”
I’d like to argue that we hear very well what you’re saying. The historian in me would like to point out how long we’ve been hearing it.

In the late 60s, when Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon* were both positioning themselves as law and order candidates, with illegality shaped by the fact that the dominant group often criminalizes what they fear, don't like or don't understand in marginalized communities, and lack of order being defined largely as previously disfranchised people pressing for their rights, we heard you.

When Richard Nixon tried to slow down school desegregation, when one of his strategists heralded the use of the Southern Strategy, we heard you.

In the late 1970s, when Ronald Reagan waxed poetically about fictional welfare queens—giving proof, you believed, to your long held beliefs that African Americans were promiscuous frauds who did not want to work—and “strapping young bucks” using food stamps to buy something other than dry beans (poor PoC, in keeping with their sackcloth and ashes attire, should never eat delicacies like steak, especially when white people were eating hamburger!!! Think about all the attention paid to Pres. Obama's "elitist" eating habits), we heard you.

And re: food stamps, welfare, public education—as you’ve engaged in rhetoric over the last, oh, million years, that equates “taxpayers” solely with white people and “taxpayers’ burdens” with PoC, we heard you.

When your hero opened his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, MS, site of the brutal murders of three civil right workers not even two decades before, talking about poor people’s "dependency" and states’ rights, we heard you.

By the way, I’m not sure if states’ right is supposed to be some sort of sooper sekrit kode, but, fyi, we knew what it meant in the 1850s and 60s; we knew what it meant in the 1950s and 60s, we knew what it meant in 1980 and we know what it means now.

When he was elected president and tried to secure tax exempt status for Bob Jones University, supported South Africa’s apartheid government as an anti-communist measure, slashed social programs that assisted the most vulnerable Americans, saw the annual income of the bottom 20% drop, hired aides who reveled in what you thought were the subtleties of the Southern Strategy, we heard you.

We still hear you downplay all that as you to try to canonize the man.

Emboldened by your successful Southern Strategy, you produced lovely ads like the Willie Horton one—support Michael Dukakis and you support scary! violent! black! men!—and Jesse Helms’s “Hands” ad—because no way could a PoC ever be equally or more qualified than a white person and plus, you’d convinced everyone that affirmative action was nothing more than unfair quotas (that's why Bush I had to veto that Civil Rights Act!) that were unnecessary since racism and sexism were things of the past (and your other beloved meme—figments of PoC’s and women’s imaginations). We definitely heard both of those.

You vowed to launch a culture war, in which all of us non-WASP-heterosexual-men were to forsake our cultures, heritage, languages, selves to support the idea that the real U.S. history (and the real U.S.) was one characterized by consensus, that since “Western Civilization” was man’s (yes, man’s) greatest achievement, the ends justified the means—the means being the systematic murder, assault, and oppression of millions of us. Nevermind that your winning the war was predicated on our silence and our invisibility. Yes, we heard you.

We heard you when you made your Contract on with America, vowing “to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement” even as it was becoming obvious how the so-called War on Drugs, with its harsh sentences and sentencing differentials, was disproportionately affecting our communities and feeding us into the emerging prison-industrial complex and when it has long been known that “law enforcement’s” role in our communities is markedly different from the one they play in white communities.

Also in that contract, you promised to encourage “personal responsibility” (which you get to define) by “cut[ting] spending for welfare programs, and enact[ing] a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements” because, damn poor working mothers, they shouldn’t be having sex or babies anyway and because you really believed the lie that most women on welfare didn’t work.** You didn’t give a damn about how those women and children survivedafter welfare” as long as you could glowingly report that the state’s caseload was reduced.*** We heard that, too.

And Lord, George W. Bush. When he campaigned at Bob Jones University in 2000, when it still banned interracial dating, we heard you.

We heard you, during Hurricane Katrina, when people were left to suffer, he was clueless, and you all were going on and on about how many people, with little money and no means of transport, should’ve magically gotten out before! The response to Katrina was not proof of egregiously unresolved issues of race and class, not evidence of what has always been a narrow definition of who is “deserving” of help in this country; it was proof of too much government dependency (as you’ve been arguing for forever!).

When his administration tried to downplay a Bureau of Justice statistics report that “found that minority drivers were three times as likely to have their vehicles searched during traffic stops as white drivers,” we heard you.

Other gems from this very century? We heard Trent Lott's plaintive yearning for the victory of the States' Rights (**sigh** here we go again) Democratic Party who left the plain old Democratic Party because of a civil rights' plank in the party platform and a desire to preserve the "southern" way of life (euphemism for segregation).

And you hit poor Harold Ford, Jr with a double whammy, warning Tennesseans to be wary of the African-descended (wherein Africa roughly = uncivilized jungle) guy who might engage in sex with a white woman! Now that one, we're tired of hearing.

And now, so many of you back claims that the first black President is not really American. In your feeble-mindedness, you posit that it is literal—searching for birth certificates and calling him Kenyan. You don’t seem to grasp that what is bothering you is mostly figurative—you live in a country where citizenship and who is “really” American has usually been the domain of whites. Having a black man occupy the highest office in the land is mind-boggling. So when you have your Tea Parties, demanding “your” country back, as if the rest of us are not American, when you hold up signs invoking slavery and images of monkeys, we hear that too.

When you are such navel gazers that you believe your party doesn’t appeal to us because we, African Americans, don’t value freedom, we hear you.

But mostly, E Pluribus Unum, when you write screeds that invite me to check off a racism bingo card—black people are emotional, sensitive, vain, childlike/easily led, angry, unapproachable, ungrateful, unable to recognize their best interests, looking for handouts or special benefits, illogical (and those are just a few of the tropes you recycled and spat forward)—we hear you.

When the comments of said problematic post further tokenize/exceptionalize black people—“Alas, there are a few intrepid, noble savages; we call them black conservatives,” we hear you.

The many African Americans who believe, like me, the words of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free, ‘til everybody’s free,” also hear other things.

We heard you positing building a fence and criminalizing people because you are selfish enough to believe that trade can flow across borders, largely to our benefit, but labor will not follow.

We hear of your exploiting them and tossing them aside, dehumanizing them by making words like “illegal” a noun, casting them as a threat to our economic well-being, our culture (which, despite your self-deception, has never been singular), and our health.

We hear you fighting to continue the deprivation of civil rights for members of LGBTQI communities and continuing to vilify and dehumanize them as well. We hear your rhetoric as members of those communities and as allies.

We hear you—and black women hear you acutely—as you continue to try to define, in the words of Stephanie Shaw, “what a woman ought to be and do” including what we “ought” to do with our own bodies.

So, I suggest you listen, if you want to figure out how to approach the “unapproachable” black strawman monolith you've constructed. This list is in no way exhaustive, and in fact, really only details a fraction of my issues with the Republican Party:
1. Acknowledge and remedy the fact that your party’s strong in the old Confederacy for a reason. Where I’m from, the Republican Party is a refuge for racists. You can dismiss that however much you want, but I’m not the only black woman who sees that.

2. Acknowledge and remedy the fact that a portion of your party’s platform rests upon “misogyny, homophobia, [and] transphobia,” as well.

3. Realize that your glorification of the individual (and the lie that successful people primarily pull themselves up, with no help, by their bootstraps) may not play well in communities with a more community-oriented ethos.

4. Stop pretending that only conservative white people value self-help and entrepreneurship.

5. Recognize why some of us are not as wary of a government that intervenes as you are—and, no, it’s not because we all secretly long to laze about on “taxpayers’ (wink, wink) hard earned money.” You know some other occasions when the government intervened? During the 1870s when the Klan was terrorizing and slaughtering us. During the 1960s, when, despite previous efforts and laws, it was federal officials who had to register us to vote in many southern locations.

6. De-center for a sec. Just look at your party from the point of view of someone from a marginalized community. Prepare yourself by purchasing Dramamine before hand, though.

7. Don’t ever, ever again write racist bullshit such as this.
I am not writing this to position the Democratic Party as the site of some sort of racial utopia.

*I think Humphrey pegged Nixon adroitly here

** Many studies done around the time of 1996's so called welfare reform, demonstrated that most mothers who received welfare worked.

*** And yes, I do criticize the Democratic President who signed the 1996 PRWORA.


Unknown said...

this post is perfect.

elle said...

thank you!

ZIRGAR said...

WOW! Beautifully and truthfully rendered. Thank you for your beautiful humanity and your straight ahead, no BS writing. I'm a fan! I'm definitely adding you to my reading list.

Patrick said...

The truth is a beautiful thing. Your brilliant summation of the GOP's racist agenda should be required reading by those who suggest that the Republican party is a mainstream political party. They use fear and ignorance to pander to the fearful and the ignorant. Thank you for writing this fantastic article of truth.

Shirl said...

My first (but not last) visit here via A Time For Change.

Excellent, dead on post. My hat off to you.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! And not that you need any backup, but I ran across this yesterday!


"WASHINGTON (AFP) – Most US single mothers work, live in the suburbs and are white, according to a report released Wednesday, shattering the stereotype of single mothers as inner city-dwelling leeches who have babies to claim state benefits.Beginning in the 1960s, US single mothers were depicted as largely black, urban women who had babies to get government handouts, said the report by the Eleanor Foundation, a group that helps working women to achieve and hold onto economic independence."

I know that this is of course a conspiracy by the evil alien overlords to foist Feminism on Republican Males, but there it is.
Female Economic Independence--that's *kode for Operation Emasculation.

LeftLeaningLady said...

Wow! I am going to print this and pass it out to most of my family and friends who SWEAR the repubs are not racist. Super post!

Sidhe said...

Found this post via A Time for Change, I cannot even begin to express the sadness I feel that your post is absolutely necessary, even in this new century, and the anger that people like E Pluribus continue to spread lies couched as truth to the seemingly huge populations of citizens who simply cannot be bothered to verify any "fact." This post is so damn powerful.

elle said...

Thank you all.

Unknown said...

my dear sistorian--you are on FIRE!.

I've got so much I'm thinking about and I don't know where to start in expressing it--but DANG. this with your previous post about white women going to "pick up" a black woman to do her cleaning for her...

**shakes head**

amanda said...

w-o-w -- on FIRE is right.

changeseeker said...

Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!! (Beautifully written!)

changeseeker said...

I've been reading blogs for two days and this post knocked me out. Beautifully written. Thanks.

kcfoodtruckgroupie said...

I actually think you might have been a little easy on the GOP.

I know that the Democrats aren't that much better, but there is no denying the historical guilt of the GOP when it comes to a question of playing racial politics.

Great post and well said!

Cirze said...

I am soooooooo proud to call you sister.

And I'm blogrolling you!


I’d like to argue that we hear very well what you’re saying. The historian in me would like to point out how long we’ve been hearing it.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...