Few things demonstrate the right wing ability to exploit people’s short attention spans and lack of nuance like the ritual of accusing people of doing or being things that shouldn’t be considered that bad in the first place. The latest example is the Washington Times op-ed titled “America’s First Muslim President”. The piece by Frank Gaffney is a delicious bouquet of right wing obsessions and myths, a snapshot of the racial obsessions in the mind of the angry white man. Witness:
During his White House years, William Jefferson Clinton — someone Judge Sonia Sotomayor might call a “white male” — was dubbed “America’s first black president” by a black admirer. Applying the standard of identity politics and pandering to a special interest that earned Mr. Clinton that distinction, Barack Hussein Obama would have to be considered America’s first Muslim president…
Don’t you love how vague the “first black President” comment was? Either Gaffney doesn’t know (quite likely, since he doesn’t care) who the “black admirer” was, or he doesn’t want you to know, or you might commit the greatest crime possible against wingnuttery, which is looking at a quote in context. Quotes are for taking out of context, in order to prop up illusions about an organized movement to oppress the white man. The admirer in question was Toni Morrison, and she wasn’t actually licking Clinton’s ass, as wingnuts would have you believe, but using metaphorical language, in this case to expose certain tropes about race and show how stereotypes that right wingers believe are the gospel truth are anything but.
After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear “No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and–who knows?–maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.”
Certainly worth pondering in light of the treatment Sotomayor is receiving at the hands of people who would deny her a spot on the Supreme Court, on the grounds that they feel that “wise Latina” is a categorical error.
But I digress. Right wingers love to call people names that are things that the people in question aren’t, but which the person in question probably considers a fine thing to be. Calling Obama a Muslim is about putting his defenders in a bad spot, because obviously we can’t offer a nuanced reply in our short attention span world. So you feel put on the spot—do you deny that he’s a Muslim and therefore allow the right wing belief that Muslims are subhuman to stand? Or do you deny the belief that Muslims are subhuman, which allows a falsehood to stand?
Feminists see this tactic all the time. The classic example is the “hairy-legged lesbian” slam, which puts you in a tough spot. Do you validate the slur by pointing to your razors and boyfriend? Or do you say, “There’s nothing wrong with that,” which is true, but also allows a falsehood to stand and creates the incorrect impression that there’s no diversity in feminism? Ideally, you approach it from a nuanced point of view, saying both, but then there’s the fear that any potential audience has tuned out.
The urge is to avoid the discussion entirely, but I’m not a fan of avoiding discussions that require nuance and maturity, because avoiding these difficult discussions leads to really horrible situations where we cede huge amounts of ground to vicious right wing liars. But it would be nice to have a pithy retort that at least opened the door to a nuanced discussion.