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I think we will never have an honest discussion about race or about whether gestures -- verbal, images and physical -- imply white superiority over people of color. I just don't think it's possible because no matter how hard one might try to keep the discussion neutral, it just degenerates into a defensive, angry pile on the floor.
Megyn Kelly was just breathless and wider-eyed than ever on Monday over the mere suggestion that anyone could possibly think Arizona governor Jan Brewer's finger in the face of the President and disrespect shown to the office, much less the man, could possibly be construed by anyone as racist.
Enter David Webb, creator of Tea Party 365 and BigGovernment.com contributor, who takes a dim view of anyone calling Brewer's contrived gesturing racist. Jehmu Greene rounds out the panel for Megyn, where they hash out the issues.
Greene has a strong point when she points out that whether or not it was overt racism (she doesn't believe Brewer is racist), it had racial undertones that played out for people viewing that image. Combined with Brewer's claim that the conversation left her feeling 'intimidated', there's no question that the dog whistles were sounding loud.
David Webb is Andrew Breitbart in the body of an African-American man. He loves meanness, just like Breitbart does. It's not enough to dislike someone if you're Webb. Dislike is too kind. It must be hateful and mean, spewed with sneer and squinty eyes. I saw him give Sally Kohn a hard time last week, and today he actually managed to get the usually unflappable Jehmu Green close to livid with his repeated references to the "black mafia" and denial that there could possibly be racist overtones to the Brewer incident.
Webb leads off his argument with this question: "Did Jan Brewer's finger have the N-word written on it? That would have made it racist." He follows that up with this: "Or is this a case where the President and his acolytes need to call out the Black Mafia, which is what they are, to turn it into racism?"
I understand the need on these 24/7 networks to be outrageous in order to garner attention, but these comments were stomach-turning to me, not only for their obtuseness, but for the sheer joy he gets in trying to criminalize President Obama and other respected members of the black community like Greene. The fact that he, too, is black doesn't give him free license to spew racism on the airwaves, even if he thinks it does.
This exchange is particularly difficult, starting at about 3 minutes in.
GREENE: She [Brewer] wanted a confrontation on immigration because it is good right now for anyone on the right to show that they are standing up to the President, that they're being aggressive against the President, and that is where I do point fault at her because she may not be a racist, but she also understands by her taking that stance, she is tapping into some of those racial undertones that we have in this country. And for David to deny that they exist is ludicrous.
-- to deny that a white felon is more likely to be called back for a second interview than a black man with a high school diploma. That is the reality in this country. Get out of your bubble. Get out of your bubble, you know this exists, and stop trying to deny it. We can have an open conversation about it, but stop trying to deny the reality of it.
WEBB: Those are the typical talking points of the Black Mafia here in America. But here's the reality. Racism exists, Megyn. This does not rise even to the level of beyond, if you will, impolite pointing in a conversation. What we don't do is we don't -- I want to see the Black Mafia -- Joe Madison, Jehmu Greene, Al Sharpton, all of them -- come out and denounce what we discovered and exposed this weekend...
He goes on to discuss some videos about the OWS movement and racism within. This isn't unknown to people of color. There has been a divide from the beginning between people of color and the Occupy movement as a whole, largely due to lack of understanding and a perception that Occupy opposes the President. Over time, those tensions have been ameliorated to an extent through discussion and awareness-raising, but I'm sure Webb could have dredged up video of people within the movement aggravated with each other in an effort to paint Occupiers as racist.
Webb argues that the conflicts within the Occupy movement are evidence of "real" racism, but not the contrived image of a white woman wagging her finger in a black man's face, especially when that particular black man is the elected President of the United States and should be respected as such.
Jehmu Greene was not about to let Webb get away with his reference to her or others as members of the "Black Mafia", either. After letting him go on about the Occupiers, she calls him out on the characterization, telling him that he "has no right to criminalize her or others speaking out and on behalf of the black community." She goes on to admonish him, saying "it's disrespectful, it's offensive, and I think that type of language is uncalled for." Hallelujah, Jehmu. It certainly is.
That leads Webb to his next rant about the "soft bigotry of low expectations being pandered by the left in this country, where if you are black you are a victim, if you are black you are immediately a seven-year old schoolboy who can't handle himself against a governor in the case of the President. That they have to roll out racism." I'm not sure how he gets from point A to point B on this one. This isn't about President Obama. It's about how that image is perceived by others observing. No one doubts President Obama's ability to handle Jan Brewer, but that doesn't negate the image of her treating him like that seven-year old schoolboy in Webb's rant.'
It ends hotly and I will just provide a transcription for you to consider. I felt pretty disgusted by it, but will at least give some credit to both Greene and Webb for defining the boundaries of this argument, and demonstrating how utterly impossible it feels to ever get past the question of what is racist to address the truth of racism.
GREENE: I think most Americans look at this and they say it was disrespectful for her and it is absolutely okay for the President to want to address her -- you know -- misinformation in her book, especially when she walked out of the White House and said that it was a cordial meeting. And then, as it related to the book, she wanted to have a confrontational stance. It helped her book sales. But at the end of the day, we have to get past the disrespect part for the President because there is a level of disrespect for this office that has taken place in the last three years that any American should find unacceptable.
I note that she never mentioned the President's race in her closing argument, nor did she say that he is disrespected for his race.
WEBB: Okay, this is ridiculous. For all the people who claim that people hate Obama because he's black, he's half-white. Which half do you hate? He's biracial. Who hates the white half, who hates the black half. That is the ridiculous nature of what Jehmu and what the left put out. It's ridiculous. We as Americans -- America is post-racial. This is not post-racial.
With regard to Webb's claim that America is post-racial, I strongly disagree. And I offer this excellent article about racial identity and being born biracial as evidence that we have a long way to go when discussing such things. This quote in particular resonates:
Also, we cannot have a conversation about biracial Americans being constructed as black without acknowledging the role slavery has played in racial identity politics. Historically, the child of a white male slave owner and a black female slave (many times through rape) was constructed as black, and was therefore another body donated (by the father) to the exploitation empire of slavery."
The U.S. alone adopted the one-drop rule, defining any child with "a drop" of black blood as legally black. Throughout our history, these racial classifications have been imposed to maintain white supremacy.
Surely Webb knows this, which is why I'm gobsmacked that he would claim the only racism is coming from the black community's reaction to Brewer because the President is bi-racial.
I was raised to celebrate civil rights and respect people regardless of their race. My parents placed a high value on that, but I also know every step we come toward understanding one another comes by actually being honest about attitudes, gestures and some mutual respect. When I hear discussions like this take place, where Fox News puts two African-Americans up to argue with one another about what a white woman's hand gestures mean, where one of them likens outspoken black commentators to criminals and links the President to criminals, and then closes his argument with the claim that we're living in a post-racial society where the only racists are those who took offense to the original gesture, I despair.