I can’t recommend enough this video of Tim Wise being interviewed on CNN about the racism underlying the right wing freakout over health care:
Watching it, you realize that the debate “is this or isn’t this racism?” is lopsided. The side arguing “is”—increasingly, most liberals are getting it and thankfully, the mainstream media is starting to accept it—has research and history on its side. The side arguing “isn’t” is basically hoping that you feel bad enough about using a loaded word like “racism” that you’ll shut up, because it isn’t polite to call a racist racist. What’s important to understand is that this isn’t a matter of awkwardness based in unexamined privilege or unintentional racism. Those are the occasions, I suspect, that make people uneasy to use the word “racist”. The people here are, as Wise explains, are working under old-fashioned, obvious prejudicial beliefs. The one he names is “hard-working whites” vs. “lazy blacks”, and again, that they’re smart enough to try to dance around the issue to the cameras doesn’t mean that this stuff doesn’t come out in research or just when you’re a white person who gets behind closed doors with these folks.
Since I think about this issue all the time, I’d say that you could probably even narrow down which code words are more obviously racist than others. For instance, I tend to think that flinging around the word “socialism” is a lot more intentionally racist than priding yourself on being a Real American®. It’s a narrow distinction, but the former is intended to invoke images of non-white people living on the dole that you pay for. The latter is a racist term—since non-white people are automatically excluded from Real America® 99% of the time—but it’s also about imposing an ideological test, wherein you prove that you’re not Real America® by voting for Democrats, not waving 6 million American flags around, etc. I’m sure that you get kicked out of the Real America® club for shunning the fanny pack at this point. Calling Obama a “terrorist” or “Hitler” is overtly racist—Wise explains why the “Hitler” thing is in the video. All this is hair-splitting, but that’s what blogs are for, right? But the distinctions matter to Republican politicians. If you’re John McCain, for instance, you feel comfortable suggesting that your base are the only Real Americans®, because while the term is racist, it’s not as overtly racist as terms like “socialist” or “terrorist”.
By the way, love how the kid in the video, in order to prove he’s not racist, says that he thinks Obama is as stupid as Bush could be. The flaw in that logic should be immediately apparent, but if you don’t get it, let me spell it out for you: He’s giving Bush a 50 IQ point handicap for being white.