Redefining "Racist" in the Rather Complicated Age of Obama
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racism: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race(Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary)
If I had a nickel for every time someone has asked me "Is X a racist?" in the last year or so, I would be a rich woman (and therefore off sunning myself in Tahiti at the moment instead of chained to my laptop here on the East Coast, but I digress.)
Apparently, I'm not the only one. Not too long ago I had a conversation with a high profile black journalist about Harry Reid's meal of foot in mouth stew regarding the word "negro." This journalist joked that every time he/she gets asked whether or not some public figure is a racist following some public misstep or misspeak involving race, said journalist feels like replying, "How the __would I know? I've never met them, never asked them and don't know them or their opinions on race up close and personal." (Yes, you know who the journalist in question is and no, I will not tell you who it is because they did not expect to be quoted on the record.)
But I will say on the record that I second that emotion.
It appears that somewhere on the road to this imaginary post-racial destination that President Obama's election was supposed to magically catapult us to, that our country has made a few weird turns along the way and instead of ending up in Post-racial Land, (which is as mythical as Dorothy's Oz) we have ended up in Obsessed-With-Racial Land. I was reminded of this with the latest "Is he or isn't he a racist?" controversy to captivate us, this one involving news legend Dan Rather.
For the record: yes, Mr. Rather, I was one of those who tweeted about your comments. In the same way I would tweet about a noteworthy verbal gaffe by any public figure. Despite your noble efforts to clarify right here on the Huffington Post, your watermelon gaffe was executed with the same level of precision as Sarah Palin writing on her hand, which is to say, none at all. (Also, I checked with my Texas dwelling mom, who would kill me if I revealed her age but let's just say that she and Mr. Rather are not quite that far apart, and she has never heard of this alleged "common expression" regarding watermelons -- but maybe she just ran with a different crowd.) Yet in spite of that, I never accused Mr. Rather of being a racist. As our journalist friend said, "I don't know the man."
But I would agree with Mr. Rather on one point he attempted to make in defense of himself. I do think that the media is complicit in getting the story of race in the Age of Obama wrong. Clearly I'm not alone in this sentiment. According to a poll commissioned by UNITY, the coalition of journalists of color, and TheLoop21.com (for which I am a contributor) only 1 in 7 journalists of color think that coverage of racial issues by the mainstream media has improved U.S. race relations in the last year, while nearly twice as many believe it has worsened race relations.
If you were to turn on the television in the last year, you might think that between the Rosa Parks poster ripping town hallers, the epithet spewing members of the Boston PD, the all white basketball league, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, John Mayer's Klan friendly penis, Harry Reid's negro problem, not to mention the countless conservatives who have made monkey jokes and every other racially inflammatory joke about the Obamas, that it's simply not safe for we black Americans to leave our homes.