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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Civility and Racism: A White Suburban Christian Girl Plays The Race Card


We seem to have lost it.

Or is it that we've lost our minds?

Even as the President was calling for civility during an historic Joint Session of Congress, it became obvious that it had already left the building.

In case you've been under a rock or in a monastery on silent retreat for the past week, I'm talking about this: Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) heckled the President during his speech on Health Care Reform. That's him in the picture above during the historic moment of shame.

I watched - and heard - it happen and I still can't believe it.

The President was in the process of debunking the horrible lies and scare tactics that have been circulated by the Radical Right. He had just spoken about the rumors - the horrible flat-out lies about "death panels" which had been circulated by none other than Sarah Palin - and was just asserting that legislation for health care reform would not mandate coverage for illegal immigrants.

"You lie!" shouted Rep. Wilson - another man from South Carolina, doing his state proud. You can hear the moment recorded here.

The Associated Press noted:
It wasn't the only interruption during Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives. Earlier, Republicans laughed when Obama acknowledged that there are still significant details to be worked out before a health overhaul can be passed.

Wilson's outburst caused Obama to pause briefly before he went on with his speech. Overhead in the visitors' gallery, first Lady Michelle Obama shook her head from side to side.

What the what? I mean, this was a Joint Session of Congress, not a meeting of the British House of Commons (admittedly the 'Lower House' of Parliament - the 'Upper House' being the House of Lords, but that has nothing, nothing in the world, to do with a two-track Anglican Covenant) where heckling and brawls are standard operating procedure.

All of that renowned British Reserve goes right out the window -- which may be due to the fact that there are more pubs around Parliament than tea shops or cafes.

This is the kind of behavior one expects from the comment section of some of the "orthodox," so-called "Christian" blogs. In fact, I'm thinking Joe Wilson might be either the one who signs off as "BornAgainAnglican" or, perhaps, "SaintAnonymous".

Joe Wilson is a Man of the South. A Southern Gentleman. Someone whose Momma taught him Southern Hospitality and How to Behave in Public. ('Yes, sir. No, Ma'am')

Then again, so is the governor of South Carolina, a family man with family values with a wife and four kids, who had that steamy-hot, notorious affair with a South American woman ("my soul mate").

Remember him? Sanford. Mark Sanford. Some folk are continuing to call for his resignation. During his last tryst with his mistress, the story he told his staff and his staff told the world was that he was "Hiking the Appalachian Trail."

Yeah, that's right. That's the ticket. Sheesh! Is there something in the water in South Carolina?

Which reminds me: The Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina is Mark "I'm not going to leave the Episcopal Church" Lawrence, who is heading up the "Common Partnership Bishops" who seek to find a way to be Anglican (and orthodox) so they can gather up those who have gone astray under the more broken of the right winged brethren and THEN fulfill the dream of supplanting The Episcopal Church as the "true church."

No, they haven't said that, flat out, but if you woke up the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina at 3 o'clock in the morning in the midst of one of his dreams of glory and asked the question, my money is on the fact that he would not yell, "You lie!"

It is also home to the founder of "Chicken Little Anglican Theology", the ubiquitous and peripatetic Kendall "The Anglican Sky Is Falling" Harmon, as well as "orthodox" acid-tongue blogger Sarah "Dolphin and Maternal Like" Hey.

Let us not forget the former South Carolinian senator Strom Thurman. Remember him? He's the only US Senator to have reached the age of 100 while still in office. He also holds the record for the longest filibuster ever by a U.S. Senator in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, at 24 hours and 18 minutes in length, nonstop.

Oh, yeah. He was also a "Dixiecrat,' a 'segregationist' who, it was revealed after his death, had fathered a child at age 22 with Carrie Butler, a then 16-year-old household servant, who was African American.

I'm going to resist playing into the stereotype of the Southern Man as the Face of Racism in the United States of America. God knows, there's enough racism hidden in the most surprising corners of this country for me to know that Racism is not a Southern Malaise or one that has geographical boundaries.

But I am going to call it for what it is - or, at least, what that tawdry demonstration of lack of civility was fueled by: Racism.

There, I said it.

A White Girl from the Affluent Suburbs of New Jersey played the Race Card.

Not a difficult feat. It's not exactly Rocket Science.

Since we were talking about 'lies', let's tell the truth, shall we? That would never - EVER - have happened if the President were Caucasian.

You know it. I know it. Some of us understand that one does not have to be civil to the "dhakies". So, Joe Wilson wasn't. Didn't have to be. It was also part of his childhood training in How To Behave in Public.

"You have to be carefully taught."

I understand he apologized within the hour, saying, "I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President's remarks" . It was pretty clear he apologized only because he was told he had to or he would be banned from the floor of the house until he did. That's hardly an apology.

It wasn't even the first time the man "let his emotions get the best of him." Turns out, in mid-December 2003, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, an African American and daughter of the above mentioned Carrie Butler, came forward with the bombshell that she was the illegitimate daughter of the recently-deceased patriarch of South Carolina politics, Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Rep. Wilson, a former page of Thurmond's, immediately told The State newspaper that he didn't believe Williams. He deemed the revelation "unseemly." And he added that even if she was telling the truth, she should have kept the inconvenient facts to herself.

"It's a smear on the image that [Thurmond] has as a person of high integrity who has been so loyal to the people of South Carolina," Wilson said.

And, of course, Rep. Wilson is a veritable paragon of virtue, a virtual bastion of 'high integrity'.

Smear? 'Takes one to know one', eh?

While racism is certainly a central dynamic to the lack of civility in our public discourse, it can not be underestimated as the underlying cause of the outbursts during the Joint Session of Congress, which are fueled by the volatile, toxic fodder spread by Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh, as well as the . . ."concern" . . . expressed by parents who didn't want their school-aged children to listen to a special address by the President of the United States.


And, what did the President say? Oh, stuff like this:
"But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed."
"We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country."
Hard work? Personal Responsibility? Patriotism? Even 'honor thy father and mother'?

Sounds like the making of a 'commie socialist plot' to me.

Yes, all of this is being fueled by the religious fervor of Radical Right Fringe groups. Yes, it is part of the "Political Theater" that has always been part of our system of government since the Boston Tea Party - not to be confused with the present day 'Tea Baggers'.

It's pretty clear to me that Obama's race leads some of his critics to feel they have permission to deny him the legitimacy, stature and common courtesy that are any president's due.

The ugly, public demonstration of the lack of civility among some members of Congress is just the tip of the iceberg of escalating violence in this country.

Yes, people are anxious about the inflation, recession, depression and rising unemployment that are part of our present reality. All of these anxieties find an unhappy home in the issue of Health Care Reform.

Those who are most anxious, however, seem to have forgotten that the same Right Wing Nuts who are feeding their fears are the very ones who helped to bring it about.

During his speech to the Joint Session of Congress on Health Care Reform, President Obama said "I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last."

Given the building climate of violence in this country, I don't know if I'm the only one who had the thought, "That may be the greatest line of this speech" while simultaneously experiencing a cold chill.

I'm hoping and praying that this was not an awful premonition of the consequences of his determination.

Take a good look. The lack of civility we saw the other night is the public face of racism in this country.

It's far from a pretty picture. The question is: What are we - especially those of us who are Christians - going to do about it?


Kirkepiscatoid said...


Having grown up just one step above "white trailer trash," I would also add poverty is another factor in the continuance of racism. There are a lot of people who grew up in my "border state" culture--this odd mix of Midwestern and mid-Southern--with not a lot, and had to have SOMEONE to be worse off than them. There's a lot of anger for having that taken from them. It comes out in things like this, in Christian Fundamentalism, and in politics.

My own family was this weird mix of "incredibly racist" vs. "not racist but not willing to buck the culture except under the table." I learned a lot from that experience. One of the things I always say I'm putting in "my book", if it ever comes to pass, is the story of my 2nd grade teacher and me--she and her husband were the sole African-American teachers in our district for many years--this was in the 1967-68 school year. It was a helluva year for this to be happening!

What I can tell you, Elizabeth, is that "Southern Gentility" hides more sins and doubts than you can shake a stick at--and not just about race.

I dearly love "Southern Hospitality." I practice it! But I will also be the first to acknowledge the flip side. It is the way my culture and the culture just south of me keeps secrets. Faulkner just showed the tip of the iceberg.

the cajun said...

Great rant!

Birthers = racist
Deathers = racist
teabaggers = stoopid racists ;)
States Rights = racist

Perfect hair Gov. Perry of TX is again talking about seceding and throwing out all the shifty blacks and liberals.

Oh, and please do not call Wilson a Gentleman, Southern or otherwise. There are very few real Southern Gentlemen left in the world which means more than courtesy and good manners. Neither of which are part of Wilson's make up.

btw, the first thing that popped into my head when I saw and heard the yell was "Carefully Taught" too.

Haldave48 said...

I'm sorry, but I don't buy your analysis. I think it is totally off base. It is far too easy to dismiss the actions of those who disagree with you as the rants of racists, particularly when those with whom you disagree are of a political and geographic persuasion that you find distasteful. The logical extension of your analysis is that it is impossible to disagree with the President unless one is a racist.

I particularly don't agree at all with your speculation that this wouldn't have happened with a caucasion male president. I'll speculate a bit on my own - that it was only a matter of time before President Bush received similar treatment. He was booed at a State of the Union speech, you may recall.

I think Rep. Wilson's outburst - which I agree was shameful - is a byproduct of an era in which it is not enough to disagree with someone. Instead, one must obliterate one's opponent. Such thinking originates not only in the waters of South Carolina, but in the Meadowland graveyards of New Jersey, the undersides of New York and just about anywhere else human beings have chosen to live. It is especially evident in the blogosphere, which seems to devolve into a collection of rants and condemnations, and is in too many cases simply a virtual echo chamber where one can hear what one wants and dismiss anything else.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Haldavid48 - I understand your criticism. It's easy to play the race card. I don't do it this time with any ease, but with great pain. It is what it is. Not dismissive, but sometimes I just have to call it the way I see it.

This is one of those times.

I couldn't disagree more strongly: It was not "just a matter of time" before "Da Bush" got the same treatment. He was, mercifully, out of time, and everyone knew it, so they held their tongue. At least, in the Great Halls of Congress.

The evidence supporting racism is overwhelming. It's beyond 'bad behavior' or the 'byproduct of of an era in which it is not enough to disagree with someone. Instead, one must obliterate one's opponent.'

"Garden State Joe" may behave badly at a sports event or on the NJ Transit, but never - NEVER - in the Halls of Congress the way "SC Joe" did.

The fuel of Wilson's comments is racism. That's my story and I'm sticking to it - because telling that story - over and over again - it's the only way to stop it.

J. Michael Povey said...

Thank you so much Elizabeth. You have expressed that which I believeto be true, and have hinted at in my blog and on FaceBook.

I have reproduced your entire article on my blog "Povey Prattle"



Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Michael. BTW, I LOVED your recipe for "A Darned Good Sandwich." Indeed, it is.

Fran said...

I think you hit it here. The culture of racism is so pervasive.

The other day there was a big FB blowup on my page because someone mentioned racism in regard to the president and one of my more conservative friends took offense at that.

Oh please.

Kay & Sarah said...

I'm a white girl raised in the deep south and I agree with you, Elizabeth. It is racism. I think we need to quit tiptoeing around the fact that the behavior displayed by Rep. Wilson is pure and simply racism. No more, no less. The more light that is shed on this kind of behavior will, hopefully, diminish it.

Malcolm+ said...

You are quite right that in the parliamentary democracies modelled after Westminster, vigorous debate is the norm.

However, in Westminster and those Parliaments decended from her, it is a clear and unequivocal violation of the rules to accuse another member of lying.

In the Canadian Parliament and provincial legislatures, where individual members are never referred to by name but only by title (the Honourable the Prime Minister, the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition) or by constituency (the Honourable Member for Sackville - Musquodobit - Eastern Shore), refusal to withdraw an unparliamentary word is one of the few occasions when a member can be referred to by name - and the Speaker's use of the member's given name signifies that the member is expelled from the Chamber unless and until the unparliamentary word is withdrawn.

In addition to accusing another member of lying, it is also unparliamentary, in Canada at least, to call another member:
* a parliamentary pugilist,
* a bag of wind,
* inspired by forty rod whisky,
* a blatherskite,
* a trained seal,
* a pompous ass,
* a sleaze bag,
* a racist,
* a scuzzball, or
* a weathervane.

In the Welsh Assembly, a member has been expelled for referring to the principal resident of Buckingham Palace as Mrs. Windsor.

Matthew said...

Elizabeth, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd agrees with you. And, she won a pulitzer prize so I think she has some credibility. Just as you have shown through all you have done to be enormously credible.

Haldave48 said...

Elizabeth, we'll have to agree to disagree on this point. I disagree with your conclusion and I think it is wrong. I think it also discounts the overall deterioration in the level of discourse, whatever the cause, and doesn't account for the overall bad behavior by all sides in the current environmnent. It is too easy to simply blame disagreements on racism, homophobia, "speaking truth to power", or whatever other label you want to put on your opponent and go no further.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Haldave48 - I think I made the point that our civil discourse is deteriorating over-all. I still think what we saw with Joe Wilson and the President's address to the school children as well as the hysteria over Health Care Reform are fueled by racism and feed into a culture of incivility.

I'm grateful for your sense of civility and your ability to agree to disagree. We need more of that.

Lapinbizarre said...

Not forgetting Rusty DePass, GOP "activist" and former chair of the SC State Elections Commission (!), who recently said, when a gorilla escaped at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, that it was "just one of Michelle’s ancestors". The choice of Michelle rather than the president was interesting - could it be that in DePass's judgment Obama's too light-skinned for "gorilla" status?

I've lived among these people for 35 years and I know how they talk among one another when they feel it's safe to do so, or when they're intoxicated. No excuses - it's Racism.

Used to be that the unofficial state motto was "Thank God for Mississippi". Could be that folks in Mississippi now say "Thank God for South Carolina".

Anonymous said...

Well, good for you for saying straight out what the problem is.

It'd be a lot more effective except the only time I ever hear the phrase 'race card' is from white people.

Bateau Master said...

Matthew - if a Pulitzer is a measure credibility, see Janet Cooke - if working for the New York Times is your measure, see Jason Blair.

Yes - I pretty sure Wilson's outburst was and his views are tainted by a racism .... but what about those of us yelling "Vague & Incomplete!" during the President's speech?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bateau - That wouldn't make you racist. That would make you Republican, which is not what I am, and not what I agree with, but I can certainly respect the claims "vague and incomplete" - which goes to the content of the speech, not the character of the speaker.