If you paid any attention to the health care town hall meetings this summer, you probably saw one of the videos of someone, nearly in tears, talking about how this isn’t “my America” and they want “my America back.” While the direct cause was the idea of health care reform, which brought in fears of Big Government and socialism, there also seemed to be a general fear of change. After all, this older version of America (whenever it supposedly existed) was a place where Black men don’t become president, where we’re not in a recession (that was someone else’s America), and so on. I think some of it was the resentment and fear of groups who feel like the changing economy has left them behind; I certainly have family members that are looking for someone to blame for the loss of manufacturing and U.S. oil field jobs. But a lot of the opposition seemed to me to be racial–opposition to undocumented immigrants and, quite likely, some discomfort with President Obama himself, not just a Democratic president. It seemed like the conflict over health care reform provided a platform to express some of the racial anger people had in an indirect way.
Kelsey P. sent in this audio clip of Rush Limbaugh that illustrates this racial resentment well (found at Think Progress):
This is very clearly anger about even the smallest loss of total dominance by Whites (you know, one Black president out of 44). This isn't an isolated incident, or even the "new America, this is specifically "Obama’s America.” Now that Obama is president, Blacks get revenge on White people. It’s the ultimate fear, present in America from the early years of slavery (especially after the Haitian slave rebellion in 1791) and reappearing in heightened form at any small amount of progress for African Americans: that Blacks will then turn into crazed animals and attack Whites and their property.
Limbaugh also misrepresents (or misunderstands?) the concept of institutionalized racism (from The Raw Story):
“If homosexuality being inborn is what makes it acceptable, why does racism being inborn not make racism acceptable?” the talk show host asked. “I’m sorry — I mean, this is the way my mind works. But apparently now we don’t choose racism, we just are racists. We are born that way. We don’t choose it. So shouldn’t it be acceptable…”
Of course, the idea of institutionalized racism does not in any way imply it’s something people are born with. That would be, I don’t know, biological racism or instinctual racism or something. The whole point of institutionalized racism is that it’s built into social institutions such as schools and the criminal justice system, making it difficult for individuals to eradicate racist consequences even if they try.
I will give Limbaugh credit for one thing. There’s a lot of talk about a quote from Limbaugh on a radio show where he said something about segregated buses (also from The Raw Story):
I think not only it was racism, it was justifiable racism. I mean, that’s the lesson we’re being taught here today. Kid shouldn’t have been on the bus anyway. We need segregated buses — it was invading space and stuff. This is Obama’s America.
I don’t think he himself is actually calling for segregated buses here, I think he’s saying that in “Obama’s America,” we’re supposed to believe it was perfectly okay for Black kids to beat up a White kid, and that probably the White kid shouldn’t even be there. It was more of his hyperbolic “Black people are in charge and are calling all the shots now” rant. It’s more of the expression of “White people, fear for your lives!” panic that illustrates that there’s a lot more discomfort with a Black president (and the symbolic change in race relations) that we might have thought after the outpouring of support at the Inauguration and his first couple of months in office.
UPDATE: A helpful commenter provided a bit more context about the “we’re all born racists” statements by Limbaugh:
…for the sake of contextualizing his horrible rant it’s worth noting that all the talk about babies being racist was a reference to a recent Newsweek cover story about potentially innate aspect of racism
Unfortunately Newsweek went with the awful and inflammatory cover title of ‘Is Your Baby Racist?’…