The propogation of negative opinions

Karol Collymore

For many people of color, there a hurtful frustration when listening to the media talk about this presidential race. For Barack Obama and other people of color, if there is an attempt to strive for more (read: equal to) than what "average Americans" expect, one is immediately classified with normally positive words used as degradations. Obama is arrogant, elite, self-congratulatory, superior, uppity - this is what John McCain is spewing and this is what the media keeps repeating.

As I sit and watch the news on MSNBC and CNN, I wonder why these words - no matter what the political opinion is - keep getting repeated. Then it hits me and I scold myself for being so naive. All the powerful voices are White - every last one of them. And what they do not see - because of their race - is this rhetoric will trickle down to other people of color who will have to endure this ignorance in their daily lives.

All I want is someone to say what Bob Herbert said, in part, in the New York Times:

The racial fantasy factor in this presidential campaign is out of control. It was at work in that New Yorker cover that caused such a stir. (Mr. Obama in Muslim garb with the American flag burning in the fireplace.) It’s driving the idea that Barack Obama is somehow presumptuous, too arrogant, too big for his britches — a man who obviously does not know his place.

Mr. Obama has to endure these grotesque insults with a smile and heroic levels of equanimity. The reason he has to do this — the sole reason — is that he is black.

So there he was this week speaking evenly, and with a touch of humor, to a nearly all-white audience in Missouri. His goal was to reassure his listeners, to let them know he’s not some kind of unpatriotic ogre.

For better or worse, being a minority means that one can represent all, even if there is no merit to the designation. Now when I do the things I want to do - say like being successful - suddenly I go from being wonderful to being arrogant in one news cycle. It also goes from being, "You are so articulate!" to, "Did you hear the way she talks? She's so arrogant!" Damn it. We just want to get ahead!

I like to think a person of color would eliminate some of this. I watched Gwen Ifill on News Hour last week shut down an attempt by a McCain surrogate to bring up arrogance. She shifted her to the conversation at hand and that was that. I could see her shift in her chair and I'm assuming her thoughts, something like, "Uh-huh! Don't do it, girl."

What do you think? Would Ms. Ifill at say, NBC, help quell some of the parroting of ignorance?

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    Not sure what happened there, but comments are now open.

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    I have been frustrated that none of the black commentators on the news shows like Gene Robinson on MSNBC or Juan Williams on Fox have spoken up on camera like Herbert did in print. I am waiting for one of them to bust a gut and actually say what they think. Robinson has to actually work with a bigot like Buchanan and I do not know how Robinson lets him get away with what he claims.

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    Well I spoke too soon. Here is Robinson in Tuesday's Washington Post.

    Who's Raising Race? The Messages Loaded Into a McCain Surrogate's Words

    By Eugene Robinson Tuesday, August 5, 2008; A19

    I'm confident that Sen. Lindsey Graham and the rest of John McCain's front-line surrogates know full well what messages they're sending about Barack Obama and race. On the off chance that they -- or, more likely, some of the white voters they're trying to reach -- don't know text from subtext from context, here's a deconstruction.

    On Sunday, the exceedingly thin-skinned Graham was still shocked, saddened and outraged over Obama's throwaway line, spoken days earlier, about not looking like previous presidents. Graham said on "Fox News Sunday" that "there's no doubt in my mind that what Senator Obama is trying to suggest -- that he's a victim of something." Graham later added: "We're not going to run a campaign like he did in the primary. Every time somebody brings up a challenge to who you are and what you believe, 'You're a racist.' That's not going to happen in this campaign."

    The key words are "victim" and "racist" -- which Obama did not say. Graham puts them in Obama's mouth because of their power to alienate.

    With the first loaded word, Graham is trying to tie Obama to a stereotype: the Great African American Victim. He's playing to the annoyance some whites feel at being reminded of racial sins committed long before they were born or even long before their families came to this country....

    Eugene Robinson

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    It would also be good to see white pundits call some of their fellows on this nonsense.

    It's my impression that this maybe particularly arises in cases, like that of Barack Obama, where a person of color also is clearly a person of superior ability -- where it's not possible to tear them down by (over)focus on some personal weakness, or with innuendo about affirmative action, however little justified that may be in cases where it is invoked.

    I remember reading an account of an interview with Harry Belafonte in which the interviewer asked him how someone like him, who had achieved large-scale success, wealth, wide recognition as a singer and actor across the racial spectrum, could reasonably complain of racism. Belafonte's response was that if he'd been white, he'd have been president.

    Arrogant? Sure. But quite possibly true. High achieving people usually are arrogant to a degree. What candidate for president is not arrogant and presumptuous? It's a prerequisite to be even a potentially successful candidate for president. Any human being who thinks he or she can handle the responsibilities of that power is by definition presumptuous.

    Highly able people of color have to be allowed the same scope for self-confidence based on recognition of their own abilities as white people. The alternative is to diminish their individuality.

    This kind of "propagation of negative opinions" gives the lie to claims to be "color blind."

    And it's a double bind -- if people of color, or women, have to better in order to be acknowledged as being as good, and then attacked for self-confidence, they can't win, which is the point.

    However, the "have to be better to be acknowledged as being as good" may also contain the seeds of the dynamic, insofar as the white people who are "as good" may recognize, however unconsciously or semi-consciously the reality of the situation, and then blame the person of color or woman for their awareness of the truth.

    John McCain is arrogant and presumptuous as hell, of course.

  • Sam Geggy (unverified)

    We have a chance to talk about what is really ailing America here. ALL of America, not just the once numerically-dominant mainstream. We are all sick in this together. I hope for an engagement in the reality.

    Jellyfish brain digression here: thank god he looks different from the others. Fine features, mobile expressions as he speaks. Capable speech writer or he himself an authentically tasty orator. A pleasure to listen to as his articulations veer so close to substantive I break a sweat; and the intonations of his speaking voice suggest he might be a good singer, or at least musically educated.

    Thank god for a person who is a pleasure to observe, and puts a hurt on my ability to control my Charisma Addiction. I liked Hillary for her bluntness, and her strength - hated the press for never allowing a sip of her subtlety and nuanced expressiveness to make it past the edit.

    I love to hate Bush's maladroit way as much as anyone. A jester is alive and well in me. But I was so angry the day he was "elected", I kid you not, I got one little taste of what must be "homocidal rage". I'd never felt that kind of rage in my life. Stolen election. WHEN will there be monitors set on the process?

  • GregorZap (unverified)

    Do we [white people] fear to discuss race? There are only five posts here on such a critical issue.

    Frankly, I think a lot of us [and I am including me] might come to tears if we were ito have an open discussion about race with people of color. Racism is such an ugly thing, and to get accused of it is truly devastating, even if it is something minor. To people of color they are keen to the insidious existence of racism, while we people without color{?} can actually be totally unconscious of it. It hurts to have that consciousness given to us, particularly by someone rightfully upset by its persistence in this society. We really have no concept of how it is a BIG DEAL!!!

    We are all going to have to talk about it, because only then will we have any HOPE of change.

    The brutal reality of this Presidential race is that Obama will have to work twice as hard to get half as much, even in these United States in the 21st century. We, all of us, need to step up as well. The civil rights movement could not have been successful without the concerted efforts of people of every origin. I feel we need to defend and support Obama at every opportunity because the Reich is relentless. Take nothing for granted, leave no lie unchallenged, and talk openly about how things really are. This country is moving into a new generation and, while we are not yet clean of racism, race means a lot less to this next generation then it does to the last.

    PS - Does anyone recall Bush appointing his cainet before the final decision was made in 2000? I thought THAT waa presumptuous, but I guess we all knew how the Supreme Court would determine who would be President. We have to be sure it does not come to that.

  • JimL (unverified)

    We had a conversation with my brother-in-law in Florida the other evening in which he grudgingly admitted that what I have been telling him is true--that there is a lot of baseless and unsourced anti-Obama propoganda coming from the right wing. He said that while he now admits that, "I and a lot of my friends will never vote for him."

    "A lot of the opposition to Obama is just racism," my wife said, putting her usual point on it.

    "Oh, no, I don't think so," he replied. "It's just that we don't stand for what he believes in."

    "Such as?" I asked. He was unable to answer.

    The current columns wondering why Obama can't break loose from the tight race with McCain and assigning it to uncertainty over who Obama is and what he stands for miss the point: Many white people won't vote for a black person. When you call the obvious fact to their attention, they backpedal and say it couldn't possibly be that. Not them. But what is it? They can't say.

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    Racism is stereotyping by race. There's a lot of that going around in this country. Those who won't vote for Obama are doing just that. I'm a victim of the same thing as a, you know, Jew -- but it's a lot more subtle --and as a, you know, queer -- and that's not all that subtle in certain circles.

    Anyhow, the content of Barak Obama's character is all that ought to concern anyone in this country. For the ones who are stereotyping Obama by color, my advice is to look instead at the content of his character. My advice to the campaign is to start a crash PR campaign emphasizing character.

  • scott (unverified)

    "arrogant, elite, self-congratulatory, superior, uppity"

    There is a wide gulf between the words "arrogant" and "uppity" and I am not sure that the word arrogant when applied to Obama means uppity. There is no doubt that race has been injected into this race by both the public (through direct email attacks with ugly words) and the political professionals (through code when done by the professionals). Still, there is also no disputing that Obama must have a good deal of arrogance:

    (1) He wrote a memoir when he was 35 years old. Doesn't that take just a little more than the ordinary chutzpah? He had achieved academically and had an interesting (albeit developing) life story, but hadn't really achieved anything at 35 that merited a memoir.

    (2) He started running for President after just a few years in the Senate (and just removed from the Illinois legislature). Doesn't that take more than just a trace of self-confidence?

    I am a huge Obama fan and glad he has some arrogance (really, who could make a serious run for President and not have that quality), but whether the arrogance label is code for something more sinister or not, it isn't completely off base here.

    Regardless, I am not sure that the "arrogance" and "celebrity" themes are going to work for the R operatives. America loves celebrity and arrogance (as long as it has the occasional humor mixed in). Also, no one who has heard him could believe that Obama is a lightweight Paris-Britny celebrity.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    JimL said, "The current columns wondering why Obama can't break loose from the tight race with McCain and assigning it to uncertainty over who Obama is and what he stands for miss the point: Many white people won't vote for a black person."

    While I don't doubt that racism is playing a role in Obama's failing campaign, I think that "uncertainty over who Obama is and what he stands for" does not "miss the point".

    I worked with real progressives for Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition in the 80's, but Barack Obama is no Jesse Jackson, and real progressives who are increasingly disturbed about Obama's regressive views cannot be counted on to support such a candidate. This is a major factor which, added to the racism, makes Obama's election increasingly unlikely.

    Progressive Dems need to stop supporting Republican lite. If you did that, you might still lose some elections, but you would be contributing to a progressive movement. As it is, you lose the elections anyway (except when Ross Perot runs), and the political spectrum keeps shifting further and further to the right.

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    Mr. Kershner says: "real progressives who are increasingly disturbed about Obama's regressive views cannot be counted on to support such a candidate."

    For whom would they vote? Would they be willing to accept the burden of guilt for the election of a McCain? Do they think that Obama is being too uppity for their refined tastes?

    Mr Kershner also opines: "Progressive Dems need to stop supporting Republican lite. If you did that, you might still lose some elections, but you would be contributing to a progressive movement. As it is, you lose the elections anyway (except when Ross Perot runs), and the political spectrum keeps shifting further and further to the right."

    Obama is "Republican lite"? Or is it that he's just too uppity for "real progressives" -- wanting to win votes in the swing vote sector (the 20 percent in the middle between the 40 percent on either side)?

    I would submit that the so-called "real progressive" element on the left wing of the 40 percent in the left-voting sector are, in this case, merely racists reacting against a stunning candidate who just happens to have a dark tone to his skin but is too uppity for their tastes. Uppity is just another word for "doesn't conform to the group's norm."

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Lee Coleman: Your accusations are offensive to me and to all other true progressives who choose to see Obama or any other politician on the basis of his political positions rather than the color of his skin. Shame on you.

    Furthermore, your apparent ignorance about the racial identities of my choices, Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez, is very telling. Are you an anti-Arab racist because you reject Nader; or an anti-Mexican racist because you reject Gonzalez?

    I also have been very critical of Joe Lieberman on BO. Does this make me an anti-Semite? Do my criticisms of Hillary Clinton mark me as anti-woman?

    I have spent a great deal of time and energy providing links to information that can lead only to the recognition that Obama is just another right-of-center poseur. It has nothing to do with race. That you cannot see any reason other than racism that a progressive would choose Nader over Obama is a reflection of your and not my prejudice.

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    Mr. Kershner says "Furthermore, your apparent ignorance about the racial identities of my choices, Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez, is very telling. Are you an anti-Arab racist because you reject Nader; or an anti-Mexican racist because you reject Gonzalez?"

    In the first place, nowhere in my comment was any mention of either gentleman. Secondly, my comment was entirely about looking at the content of the character of the person under discussion -- Barak Obama -- and no one else. Thirdly, the title of this thread is "the propagation of negative opinions" and my comment was directed at Mr. Kershner's propagation of negative opinions about Barak Obama.

    In discussing politics, I believe it is essential to understand how elections are won or lost. As I stated earlier, generally speaking, statistically, there will be 40 percent on the left and 40 percent on the right, leaving elections to the opinions of the 20 percent in the center. Any candidate must win more than half of those in the center to win an election.

    The entire tone of the entire government rests on installing a president who is, contrary to Mr. Kershner's opinion, most definitely left-of-center. For anyone on the left to attempt a character asassination of the acknowledged candidate on the left is to give aid and comfort to the right and therefore politically and practically unacceptable.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Mr. Coleman: You called me and "the left wing of the 40 percent in the left-voting sector" "merely racists", so don't pretend that you said something else. In that context, it was appropriate for me to discuss the races and ethnicities of the candidates I support.

    I deny that I am in "the left wing of the 40 percent in the left-voting sector". I am a progressive, and my positions on the issues are centrist. Supporting Obama, who is to the right of center on the issues I care most about, is therefore giving "aid and comfort to the right".

    I advise you to read Obama's legal advisor Cass Sunstein's positions on blocking any prosecution of Bush for "non-egregious" crimes such as torture and unlawful surveillance, supporting John Roberts for Chief Justice, or supporting the Bush theory of inherent authority to spy on Americans without warrants (Sunstein Rejects Prosecution of “Non-Egregious” Bush Crimes and Sunstein An Advisor To Barack Obama) before you conclude that Obama is "left of center".

    Furthermore, I think you should consider more carefully Obama's right-of-center positions on trade, increasing military spending, FISA, withdrawal of all U.S. personnel from Iraq to home, single payer health care, nuclear and ethanol, corporate crime and welfare, impeachment of war criminals, unionism, Wall Street securities speculation, even-handedness in dealing with Palestine/Israel, and living wage.

    Here's what David Sirota (In search of the American 'center') has to say about both Obama and "the center":

    "As the Associated Press claimed in a typical description, Obama's shifts are designed 'to appeal to the center of the electorate.'

    However, empirical data prove 'the center of the electorate' is exactly the opposite:

    -- Polls by Quinnipiac University and the Mellman Group found majorities support warrant requirements for wiretaps and oppose immunity for companies that released private consumer information without such warrants.

    -- Surveys by Fortune magazine, CNN and the Wall Street Journal report that most Americans oppose NAFTA-style trade policies.

    -- For years, major polls have consistently shown Americans want a firm timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. As just one of many examples, five separate USA Today surveys since 2007 have shown majorities want the president to 'set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and to stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq.'

    So, the undebatable evidence tells us precisely where the center of public opinion is. Yet when a presidential candidate moves away from the center, we are told he is moving toward it. What gives?"


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