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And that’s why they invented the word ‘systemic’

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, September 27, 2009 18:23 EDT
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From litbrit, here’s the softer, more liberal version of the “there is no such thing as racism anymore shuddup” whining: admit that there’s still racism, deny that it’s a legitimate problem. litbrit handles it well, but I want to address a very specific thing I see cropping up over and over again in people are being defensive about their objections to health care reform. It’s the phrase, “Not everyone who disagrees with the President is racist.” This, of course, is a classic strawman argument. And it’s a particularly nasty one, too, because it shifts the discussion away from the important policy disputes and towards a single individual, and to what’s in people’s hearts, which they can always conveniently lie about, or at least be in denial about. But let it be said that the people who are most open about characterizing this downward spiral of nastiness in the opposition to racism are also more likely to be genuine liberals, and therefore we happily and repeatedly criticize the President for his centrist ways. It’s patently absurd to think that anyone is suggesting that criticizing Obama automatically equals racism.

And I will say this: Even if we had a white President pushing for health care reform, I’d still suggest that racism is a major motivator when thousands of older white people run screaming to town halls to protest expanding health care coverage to young people, especially when you realize that 40% of people under 25 are not white, and 50% of people under the age of 5 are not white. “Youth” is quickly overtaking “urban” as a demographic euphemism to describe people of color, and it’s just as silly and inadequate. I would suggest that white people waving Confederate flags, and holding up signs indicating that they think health reform is a giveaway to “illegals” would be racist no matter what color the President is.

This isn’t about Obama the person. This is about pointing out that this kind of thinking is delusional:

Racism is still everywhere.

But it’s not as important as it used to be.

I’ve got a buttload of statistics that says otherwise. Did you know, for instance, that schools are becoming more segregated, not less? Schools are more segregated now than in 1970! And did you know that the rates of the uninsured aren’t as colorblind as would be convenient for those saying, “There’s no racism here, move along”? Here’s a handy chart!

Fancy that. Looks like white people are far more likely to have insurance than anyone else, by a long shot. I suspect that while good liberals may not think about this, conservatives obsessed with “welfare queens”, “thugs”, “illegals”, and ACORN might be a little more likely to grasp the racial disparities in health care access, and they obviously prefer to keep it that way. Obama’s race isn’t why the town hall protesters have got it in their head that there’s only so much health care to go around, and so they need to hoard it from racial minorities. Indeed, I don’t particularly think that conservatives care if middle-class black and Hispanic people get into the employer-provided health care system. But their objections to covering more people are racially tinged. We grasp that it’s racist when someone says they don’t hate group X, because they know a few exceptions to the rule, but that most of group X is (fill in a vicious stereotype). That’s the basic argument being wielded against health care reform here.

That doesn’t mean I think that Obama’s race has nothing to do with this. For the more paranoid elements of the right wing, his race looms large. They see him as a vigilante out to get white people, ACORN as his foot soldiers, and health care reform as an excuse to steal their money and give it away to black people and immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. Obama’s race gives them more reason to get hysterical and paranoid. But it’s an accelerant, not the primary cause.

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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