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Let’s not be Polllyannaish about this

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 13:19 EDT
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Now, I’ve written my share of posts defending Texas from overeager Yankee liberals who want to write the state off completely. I have my reasons: Texas has a progressive history, Texas has some of the more interesting cities in the country, and Texas is one of the most racially diverse states in the country (something that could be a plus if anyone was just willing to harness that diversity). But this article by Michael Lind defending Southern whites from the charge—in light of polling data that shows that the majority of Southern whites believe that Obama isn’t a natural-born citizen—of being a bunch of hate-filled racists? He’s just going too far. And if he really is a white man from Texas as he claims, he’s either lived ensconced in Hyde Park in Austin his whole life, or he’s being intellectually dishonest, because if you’re a white person living in Texas very long, you soon discover that most white Southerners are hate-filled racists. And I use “hate-filled” for a reason, because most white people—most people in general, which I’ll get back to—have to contend with a lifetime of vicious stereotypes worming into your brain, and so you are often a condescending or unintentional racist. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Those white people, in which I include myself, are well-meaning, believe racism is wrong, and often try really hard to overcome it. I’m talking about rolling in the mud, oinking, proud-to-be-racist racists.

Believe me, I’ve lived my whole life trying like hell to weasel out of conversations with people who get that gleam of pseudo-naughtiness in their eye before they drop some horrible stinking racist comment, and then puff up with the pride that comes from believing you’re superior for what is essentially an arbitrary reason. Name a racial slur, and I’ve heard a white person use it with malice. They assume you want to hear it, because you’re white. Or they know you’re a liberal, and they want to push your buttons. When dealing with the redneckeria, few conversations are safe from racist comments. I’ve even had a card game go sour because a player insisted on making racist jokes about the cards, due to the fact that they do come in different colors. Oh, racists all claim not to be racist, even if they find inventive new slurs to call black people or stick to the old ones like “wetbacks” to describe Mexican immigrants. It’s all in fun! Get a sense of humor! But the reaction that you’re seeing at these town halls, or the very existence of the birther conspiracy theory, proves otherwise. They very well fucking mean it.

As a Southern white who puts myself in the good guy column, I can relate to getting your hackles up when some liberal bloggers lump all Southern whites together. I’ve made similar lists to the one Lind makes: Molly Ivins! Ann and Cecile Richards! Jim Hightower! Lyndon B. Johnson! (Okay, these are all Texans. What can I say? We have the mojo.) But Lind pulls a sleight of hand that I find intellectually dishonest:

I grew up in Texas, which gave our nation champions of the New Deal and civil rights like Maury Maverick, Ralph Yarborough, Lyndon Johnson, Henry Gonzalez, Barbara Jordan, Lloyd Doggett and Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, who argued Roe v. Wade.

Or, Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe v. Wade, but I’ll let that one pass. Do you see a problem with marshaling a list like this in a specific defense of white Texans? How about the fact that Henry Gonzalez is Hispanic and Barbara Jordan was black?

Lind then proceeds to spend the rest of the article lashing out at what he assumes are liberal taboos, such as criticizing white women, blacks, or Latinos for having similarly backwards opinions like those of Southern white men. For someone who is preaching about creating bridges with others, he’s not being very politic. There’s a great deal of wisdom in the idea of tending your own garden, and liberal Southern whites have a duty, first and foremost, to resist and speak out against other Southern whites who are sexist, racist assholes. But Lind is doing the opposite here, lashing out at anyone who isn’t a Southern white man. First, you have black people.

Oh, those dumb white Southerners! No other group in American society could possibly believe in preposterous conspiracy theories. Well, maybe one other group, the most reliably Democratic demographic in the whole U.S. electorate. A 2005 study by RAND and Oregon State University showed that a majority of blacks believed that a cure for AIDS was being withheld from the poor; that nearly half believed that AIDS was man-made, with a quarter believing that it was created in a U.S. government laboratory and 12 percent naming the CIA as its source. Black paranoia about AIDS is understandable, given the Tuskegee experiments. Even so, the theory that AIDS was created by the CIA to commit genocide against black people is wackier than the craziest Birther conspiracy theories.

No, it’s actually not. It’s not that big a leap, if you assume that federal intelligence agencies have historically had it out for black people, which there’s piles of evidence to show that they have. Remember, the FBI tried to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into committing suicide, and that’s not a conspiracy theory.

But I’ve written about conspiracy theories before, and while spreading one is always wrong (even if done so unintentionally), the content of different conspiracy theories tells you a lot about the believers’ values and fears. People who believe the CIA created AIDS are just like 9/11 Truthers—they turned a case of criminal neglect into a conspiracy theory of active malice. But the birther conspiracy theory is about transmitting the idea that non-white Americans will never be “real” Americans. The levels of cruelty here differ dramatically.

But wait! There’s more! Lind thinks liberals are hypocrites about women, too.

By this test, it appears that there are a lot of angry white women and that they have been angry for decades. In 2008 white women preferred John McCain to Barack Obama by 53-47 (compare white men, 57-41). They backed George W. Bush in 2004 by 55-44 percent and in 2000 by a narrow 49-48 percent. A majority of white women in 1996 split their votes among Dole (43) and Perot (8), giving Clinton only a minority of their vote at 48 percent. In 1992 white women were even more anti-Clinton, giving Bush (41 percent) and Perot (18 percent) in combination a majority. White women gave the first Bush 56 percent of their vote in 1988, and they gave Reagan 62 percent in 1984 and 52 percent in 1980. They preferred Ford to Carter, 52-36. I could go on, but you get the picture. Clearly, to judge from their unwillingness to support Democratic presidential candidates since the 1960s, most white women, like most white men, are evil, hate-filled racist monsters.

I don’t think anyone’s disputing that, actually. Just because someone’s a woman doesn’t mean you’re immune to racial prejudice. Or sexism or homophobia, for that matter. Self-hating misogyny is epic in its proportions. Strawman. Feminists never said women weren’t capable of being bastards.

Lind then humps the “blacks and Latinos hate gays just as much as white Southerners” argument, and tosses in some Latino opposition to abortion rights on top of that. I won’t bother you with more quoting—you can read the whole article. Again, the problem here is that Lind’s priorities are all out of whack, if he’s defending white Southerners and lashing out at non-white people with conservative views, who he thinks Democrats tip-toe around because they vote Democratic. First of all, who says that they do? I see plenty of criticism of homophobia in black communities from our own Pam Spaulding, for instance. Maybe if Lind read a more diverse group of writers, he’d see the criticism he’s seeking. But he’s also obscuring the issue of sexism and homophobia. As Pam’s pointed out before, the common denominator is religion, and by focusing strictly on race, the real predictors of someone’s opinion on gay rights—one’s allegiance to a conservative church—is being obscured. That’s why the Mormon church because the focus of so much outrage. Because it was a stand-in for all churches that use homophobic scare tactics to control their congregations. And a fairly picked one at that, because they spent so much damn money on Prop 8.

Again, I have to point out that we need to tend our own gardens, not just because it’s more politic, but because it’s more effective. That’s why I was especially irritated to read this:

Here’s how I see it. Liberals should respect and promote the interests of working Americans of all races and regions, including those who despise liberals. They are erring neighbors to be won over, not cretins to be mocked.

These aren’t mutually exclusive goals, for one thing. Just because I mock some dumb redneck whose racism will cause him to prefer being unemployed and uninsured over voting for progressive politicians doesn’t mean that I think he should be excluded from universal health care, should it pass. I have to laugh at Lind’s idea that they’re erring neighbors to be won over. Seriously, we’ve been trying for decades. If you’ve lived in Texas, you’ll know that the number one quality of your average rolling-in-hate racist is that they are absolutely immovable on their opinions. They may not like being mocked behind their backs or on the blogs, but you know what they really, really, really, really hate? When someone actually tries to treat them like an erring neighbor to be won over, someone whose racism needs to be confronted and discussed. They don’t want to have that discussion. They know they’re being assholes. They don’t care. Again, I’m not talking about all white people or anything like that. I’m talking about the people who believe this birther shit.

The best we can hope for is their children grow up ashamed of their parents’ overt racism, and frankly, I see mockery as a tool in the box of achieving that goal. So is teaching a better version of history and exposing young people to diverse people and kinds of thought. Nothing is bulletproof, of course, and we have to remember that when we exhaust ourselves trying to fix the problem of white racism in the South, only to have small dividends returned. But such a complex problem really can only be addressed by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it, knowing that different strategies reach different people, and mockery is one of those tools.

Anyway, mockery is its own reward sometimes. Since I live in a city that’s hemmed in on all sides with Bible-thumping white conservative nonsense, then I reserve the right to fight back with jokes.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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