Racists have officially lost their minds. In recent weeks, the venom spewed at President Barack Obama would leave one to believe that we are in the midst of a racist renaissance. “A dick,” “jackass,” “tar baby, “your boy” — you name it and the president has been called it. For some reason, some people are so enraged by how this country is purportedly being run that they cannot separate a real critique of the president’s decisions from mean-spirited name-calling related to his race.
Yes, the country that likes to pretend that it is far removed from its racist past has engaged in the verbal equivalent of a throwback jersey. Some people have reached far back into that Reconstruction-era closet, pulled out that dingy jersey adorned with racial slurs, shaken it out and put it on proudly. Elected officials have reduced themselves to behaving like petulant children, storming in and out of meetings and running to the media to lob personal attacks at the president, then offering lame apologies shortly afterward.
Is this the postracial era that so many people theorized about following the election of the nation’s first black president? Try post-Reconstruction, because the harmful slurs and images being tossed around the Internet and in public spaces hark back more to a racist past than to a racially ambiguous future.
It’s not surprising that President Obama is being received in such a way.
Trouble From the Start
We got a peek at what was to come just seven months into President Obama’s tenure. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted, “You lie!” during the president’s speech about health care reform. Clearly Wilson had a flashback to legalized segregation, when folks publicly bullied, threatened and heckled blacks to remind them of who was “in charge.”
Wilson subsequently issued an apology, saying his actions were “regrettable” and he’d let his emotions take over. He was just the first of a series of elected officials acting like fools and then offering weak apologies as a remedy for said actions.
To be clear, “You lie!” is not a racist exclamation. Yet and still, it is insulting and in recent memory has not been used against any other president, even when he may have been lying about one thing or another. President George W. Bush and the weapons of mass destruction, for example, or President Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal could have triggered such a response.