Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Raw racism, Republican style


This button apparently was a hot item at the Texas Republican convention.

Most of us work hard at constructing lives where we don't meet unreconstructed racists, unless perhaps they are family. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone talked with some of the sparse McCain crowd on the night Obama clinched the nomination. He got an earful.

Immediately after his speech in New Orleans, a pair of sweet-looking old ladies put down their McCain signs long enough to fill me in on why they're here. "I tell you," says one, "if Michelle Obama really doesn't like it here in America, I'd be very pleased to raise the money to send her back to Africa."

The diminutive and smiling old lady's friend leans over. "That's going a little too far, dear."

"Too far?" says the first. "Farrakhan is saying they were brought here against their will, and their bodies are still feeding the sharks at the bottom of the sea! I mean, really!"

"OK, sharks still eating bodies," I say, writing it all down. "Could I have your name, ma'am?"

"Janice Berg," says the first old lady. "And lest you think I'm Jewish, the name comes from Norway. Berg is 'mountain' in Norwegian. I'm part German, part French myself."

A few paces away, I catch up with a man named Ron Saucier and a woman who would only identify herself as Mary. Ron says his problem with Obama is the integrity thing. "He exaggerates too much," Ron says. "He's not honest."

"OK," I say. "What does he exaggerate about?"

"Well, like that time he was saying he had a white mother and a white grandmother," he says.

I ask him how this is an exaggeration.

"Well, he was saying . . ." he begins. "As if that qualifies him to . . ."

Despite my repeated prodding, Ron seems unable or unwilling to say aloud exactly what he means. Finally, his friend Mary, a grave-looking blonde with fierce anger lines around her eyes, jumps in, points a finger and blurts out one of the all-time man-on-the-street quotes.

"Look, you either are or you aren't," she says.

"And he aren't," Ron says, nodding with relief.

This election will certainly reveal how many of this sort there still are -- and how much of the country has moved on. We may still condone systemic racism, but we sure don't, mostly, let it all hang out there like that.

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