Republican Racism is an Air Raid Siren, Not a Dog Whistle
Continued from previous page
Knowing is half the battle. To that end, let's work through elements of the puzzle:
The speaker effect. Using one of the most gross examples, when Newt Gingrich talks about lazy blacks on welfare and food stamps who do not know the meaning of hard work he is mindful of his audience. Remember, politics is ultimately about the creation and reinforcement of imagined communities. Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, and Paul know exactly how to talk to their respective audiences in order to get a response. To point: white conservative populists have disdain for non-whites, see them as lazy, outside of the polity, and as rightful targets for appeals based on symbolic racism. In the eyes of the Right, "those people" are not "real Americans." They never can be.
The audience as a public who receives, internalizes, and circulates the Tea Party GOP message about race, white racial resentment, white oppression, and hostility to people of color. The folks in the audience and on the stage during the Republican primary debates "get" the terms of the conversation. In fact, they are deeply attuned to the language and rhetoric of the New Right, as anyone who either goes to one of these events, or votes in a primary election, are deeply invested in its outcome, and a return to white American normality. In all, they are chasing nostalgia and a Leave it to Beaver vision and lie of America. This audience is also "tuned in" to politics. Gingrich and his peers are sending signals to a group primed and ready for his racial appeals...without a need for explanation.
This reality speaks to why there should be no surprise when Republican audiences cheer the death penalty, dying people without insurance, or heckle soldiers who happen to be gay. There are unstated rules, a script, which govern social norms and behavior. The outliers who go to political debates are intimately familiar with this language. Like marks at a professional wrestling event they know when to boo and when to cheer.
Context matters. In isolation, perhaps it would be a more difficult case to suggest that Gingrich's appeals to white audiences about lazy blacks are predominantly and clearly about white racism. However, given that communities are created through speech, and that "discourse" is about a sense of shared meaning with unstated assumptions, any argument for conservative colorblindness is judged to be insincere.
In South Carolina, where the Confederate flag still flies, there was Ron Paul (a bigot whose newsletters continue to suggest that African Americans are ravenous, craven, criminal, stupid beasts); Rick Santorum (a man fascinated by bestiality and the idea that blacks are parasites who only want to live off of white people); and Newt Gingrich who sees all African-Americans and Latinos as being on welfare and the public dole until proven otherwise. In total, these candidates are a rogues gallery where white supremacist attitudes towards non-whites is a standing rule, one only to be disputed after the fact.
Juan Williams is an object of abuse, a means to prove a point. Juan Williams is a paid pinata for white conservatives. I do not know if he was legitimately hurt and surprised by their reaction to him, or if his pain was not feigned, and rather sincere and real. In understanding the logic of Republican racism and naked appeals beyond the dog whistle, Williams was the stand-in, the object of abuse through which to actualize rage and hostility. Barack Obama was not available. Any black body would do. The cheering, snide glee of Newt Gingrich dressing down uppity "Juan," and the audience's cheering of a "boy" being put in his place, would be missed by only the most in denial observer.