What If Sarah Palin Were Black?
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The impenetrable stupidity of Sarah Palin knows no boundaries. She wallows in mediocrity. Palin is the queen bee of a cult of personality where to be anti-intellectual is a trait to be rewarded. Ultimately, she presides over a confederacy of dunces.
People of color have many a shared experience that comes from being racially marked in a White society. One of my favorite examples of this social reality is the moment when a crime is announced on the evening news and we collectively grimace with the thought, "I hope he or she isn't black/brown/yellow/or red." I must also imagine that in a post 9/11 world, my Arab-American brothers and sisters likewise have a similar moment where they hold their collective breath in dread upon the announcement of some act of terrorism (real or imagined, in any part of the world).
Question: Do white people lower their heads in collective shame when they listen to Sarah Palin? Is there a moment where white folks shake their heads in mass and say to themselves, "Lord, I wish she weren't white?"
To be White is to be "normal," "invisible," and quintessentially "American." It is also the freedom to be an individual. When crazy white people bomb buildings, kill cops in the name of radical right wing politics, go on shooting rampages, or more generally just act like fools, it is never framed as a "White" problem. I would suggest that these actions are rarely, if ever, interrogated for what they reveal about Whiteness and/or white folk at large. In short, there is no "I hope that person isn't white" moment. Why? Because a given white person's actions are usually a reflection of their individual shortcomings, not a commentary on white people as a whole.
Efforts to communicate the essence of white privilege in American society are often made difficult because of the denial, fear, and vulnerability that comes from self-reflection about power. Moreover, in a time of economic calamity, white Americans are probably (and quite understandably) resistant to hearing about some "unearned privilege" when they are fighting for their financial lives. Surely, this is a time when conversations about the deep linkages between race, wealth, and white supremacy in the United States are an increasingly hard sell, even in so far as they remain especially true (as the old saying goes, "When White America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu...or worse").
Nevertheless, the need to discuss how race structures life opportunities remains necessary--and perhaps even more so--during our Great Recession. As opposed to the heavy theory and abstractions often favored by academics, scholars, and public intellectuals, I prefer practical common sense examples to prove my point. To that end, Sarah Palin is a perfect object lesson.
So, let's play a game of fill in the blanks. I will start:
If Sarah Palin were black she would have disappeared into obscurity long ago.
If Sarah Palin were black, her daughter's out of wedlock, "baby daddy drama" would have been presented as an example of both pathological behavior and a dysfunctional family that is symbolic of the social problems in that community. If Sarah Palin were black, never would the poor decision making by the Palin family be marked off as challenges overcome, or deeds to be valorized.
If Sarah Palin were black, her neo-secessionist husband would have been the death knell for her political career, because as we all know you can't trust "those people."
If Sarah Palin were black, her lack of intellectual curiosity, willful and cultivated ignorance, and lack of grace both written and spoken, would not be taken as "folksy." Instead, Palin would be viewed as unqualified for any public office.