Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kelly gives us a chance to look at racism

Are liberals sometimes as ham-fisted and narrow-minded as their conservative counterparts? Well, yeah. The reason I am happy to call myself a liberal is because of chosen intentions: liberals generally think the country is wealthy enough to help the poor, and additionally generally think the country (and world) is wealthy and smart enough to find solutions for climate change.

But that doesn’t mean I approve of all actions all liberals take, or of what all liberals say. And besides verbal gaffes and other tactical mistakes, I would be the first to admit that a) declaring a desire to “help” the poor carries an extreme danger of paternalism and b) the poor will tell us that what we have done and are doing has only worked somewhat, and there are still lots of poor. In particular, African Americans started out in this country as slaves, then became discriminated against poor people, with some number in virtual slavery, and now are just most discriminated against poor people, with illegal aliens taking up the role of virtual slaves. So while the lot of African Americans in America has improved somewhat as a whole and in particular for some individuals and communities, it has not gotten better and in some ways gone backward for many, almost certainly most African Americans (the state of the Hill and East Liberty as shopping areas is an indication of that).

Now, when there is a recession, such as now, this is when we see the calls to cut back on government spending. Except that when conservatives call for government to behave more wisely in a fiscal respect, they don’t mean cutting in defense spending or raising taxes. Conservatives mean cutting (whatever remains of) spending on the poor.

Now, if you think maybe two seconds, you can probably come up with a particular group that has spoken out strongly against “big” government and for smaller government..Jack Kelly noticed that NAACP connected the dots, and adopted a resolution “condemning the tea party as "a threat to the pursuit of human rights, justice and equality for all" because of "the racist elements" within it (according to an early draft; the final text won't be released until October)”.

Now Kelly starts this column talking about how Democrats like to have and play the race card when they are “losing an argument”. Now, no one would say that the NAACP and the Democratic party are *not* close, but I think the NAACP would strongly disagree that they are part of or controlled by the Democratic party, especially when you consider history (the party of Lincoln versus Dixiecrats). But Kelly thinks his readers have a simplistic view of the world and politics, so he thinks he can get away with a rather racist insinuation that the NAACP can be treated as part of the Democrats.

The issue of whether or how racist the Tea Party is, is actually a complicated issue. In a realistic and rational view of the world I think it is safe to say that a group that wants to cut spending is not stressing helping poor people. Also when you have images from Tea Party rallies and meetings with very few or no people of color, and with signs that indicate no strong desire for spending for unemployment benefits or welfare, it is hard to believe that none of these people have some negative views about race (or at least few or no positive views about race).

Of course, the real question is whether the Tea Party advocates racist policies, or perhaps is even institutionally a racist organization. Evidently (according to Kelly himself) the NAACP is making the former, rather more limited argument, although Kelly seems to want to be saying that the NAACP/Democratic monolith is making the later argument (and references what is probably an entirely different conflict among African Americans with respect to the NAACP).

Among pundits, on Sunday morning talk fests, there is back and forth about whether the Tea Party is in fact racist, or just has some amount of racist elements. Kelly himself wants to argue that the Tea Party is innocent of any racism, offering anecdotes of blacks speaking at Tea Party meetings and dismissing anecdotes of racism by Tea Party types. But between Jack Kelly or the NAACP, I think that many of us might choose the African American as more able to identify racism than Jack Kelly.

Racism has always been complicated in the US. Slavery was antithetical to our announced goals when the country was created. We fought a civil war at least in part to address the issue, yet to our great shame we allowed racism to continue after the civil war all around the country (think the selling of black prisoners to private corporations in the South from 1870 to the ‘20’s all the way to white Boston’s reaction to busing). It has become less fashionable to be overtly racist, but I do not think it has disappeared, just become more subtle and if anything, more complicated. Questions of where to apply tax incentives and where in education to spend money (inner city schools versus school vouchers versus charter schools) are government actions that directly affect the lot of the poor, and what the Tea Party might say on them bears on whether they actually do end up confirming the racist label.

No comments: