2 new Philly articles about racism and the election

Here is Phila writer David Love's new article, and also a new one from the national site Counterpunch.org. Hope you enjoy these. On this topic, also check out the recent piece by Keith Olberman:

The Failure of McPalin Lynch Mob Politics – You Betcha!

By David A. Love

(reprinted with permission of author)

“Terrorist!” “Traitor!” “Kill Him!” “Bomb Obama!” “Obama Bin Lyin!”

These are the words one can hear from the crowds at the McCain-Palin rallies. Through race baiting and inflammatory xenophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-Obama rhetoric, the GOP presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and their surrogates, have whipped their supporters into such a frenzy, one can only include that they hope physical harm befalls their Democratic opponent. Truth be told, the assassination of Black leaders is not a new story in America. It is no accident that Senator Obama had to receive super duper Secret Service protection earlier than any other presidential candidate. And it should be noted that a group of White supremacists planned to assassinate Obama during the Democratic convention in Colorado.

Senator McCain was offended and outraged when Rep. John Lewis of Georgia compared McCain’s incendiary tactics to that of the late Alabama segregationist George Wallace. I conclude that had McCain’s race baiting succeeded, he would have found a way to get over his anger. After all, when you purposefully stoke the fires of hatred, you should expect that someone will call you out on it. Rather, it is likelier that the Manchurian candidate’s sense of indignation stems from the feeling that the time-tested Southern Strategy—the Republican Party’s dutiful use of the race card to scare the White electorate in national elections, with a bonus if the other candidate is actually Black—was supposed to work as it has always worked. It was supposed to work as it did eight years ago, when operatives for then-candidate Bush (who now work for McCain), smeared McCain in the South Carolina primary by claiming he had fathered a Black child. But apparently, in 2008 it did not work for McCain against Obama.

Stirring up disgruntled, frustrated and bitter White folk over fears of a Black planet, the Republicans borrowed their strategy from the segregationist Dixiecrats of the Jim Crow South. Back then, racist politicians, members of the White Citizens’ Council, the “white-collar” Klan, spewed invective when it came to verbal attacks on African Americans. While keeping their hands clean of any wrongdoing, these politicians stirred up the “unwashed masses,” their poorer, uneducated Klan brethren, who could be then counted on to respond to that rhetoric through assassinations and lynchings of civil rights workers, the bombing of Black churches, and other acts of physical violence and domestic terrorism. It was understood that the words of the politicians went hand in hand with the murderous crimes of the foot soldiers, cause and effect.

As for today’s ideological descendants of the Dixiecrats, the conservative Republicans, racism and inciting racial violence have won them elections. And given this crowd’s emphasis on killing to meet public policy and foreign policy objectives— whether through the second amendment, unjust wars, coups or assassinations— I wouldn’t put anything past them.

And color-coded character assassination is all you have left when you are a party bereft of any ideas and vision short of war profiteering, trickle-down economics, corporate welfare and tax cuts for the wealthy. And the self-proclaimed mavericks who would mis-lead this nation have been operating on smoke and mirrors. At the top of the ticket is a man whose only claim to fame was being in a country where he had no business, fighting people who meant him no harm (sounds familiar), then getting captured and refusing to leave when the “enemy” told him he could go. His running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, was sly and vindictive enough to unlawfully abuse her authority as governor of Alaska, and is dumb as bricks on any matter of domestic or foreign affairs. Palin—who has used hate speech to stir up crowds across the country, causing them to boo Obama in absentia—came into the national spotlight at the Republican convention by quoting an anti-Semite who had hoped for the assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt.

In past years, the race card might very well have worked even for this pair of untalented, mediocre individuals. Perhaps it is too early to write their political obituary, although many commentators across the political spectrum have already done so. And the fact that their campaign is fighting for dear life in bright-red Bush country may provide all the proof we need that it is done, time to stick a fork in it. Nevertheless, it appears that McPalin is a casualty of the changing times, changing demographics, an economic collapse, the youth vote, and an opponent who has excited a multiracial electorate like no other politician in generations. Has the Southern Strategy already made its last stand? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Palin now has had the tables turned on her. This self-described “hockey mom” was booed while throwing out the puck at the opening game of the Philadelphia Flyers. Philly is Obama territory, to be sure, but the hockey fans? They were supposed to be her people, or so she thought. But even having her two daughters there could not save her. Perhaps some people are determined that they will not be fooled again, that the cost is simply too high for any of us to bear.

—-BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a lawyer and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges.

Bowling Alley Blues
Racism Dies Hard in Johnstown, PA


I just watched on YouTube a video clip taken outside a rally for Sara Palin in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a town where I worked for thirty-two years. The crowd was raucous and racist, blithely spitting out vile remarks. Congressman John Murtha later told a Pittsburgh newspaper that 'There’s no question western Pennsylvania is a racist area. ...' Murtha was roundly chastised for his comments, mainly by Republicans, which had to mark a new height in irony. Murtha, sad to say, was right on the mark. Racism was endemic when I lived in Johnstown, and it appears little has changed. What follows is a story I wrote about a confrontation in a bowling alley. The events occurred in 1984, but by the looks of things, it could happen just as easily today in the Flood City.

'Bowling Alley'

It was a mid-Sunday afternoon in late winter. We had just finished our match, and I was disappointed with my poor performance. For some reason I could not prevent my left wrist from turning over when I released my bowling bowl, and this caused it to hook disastrously to the right. My teammates groaned as my scores plummeted about forty pins below my average and our chances of winning the league championship melted away. It wasn’t a cutthroat league, so they commiserated as I packed away my equipment and put on my coat to leave. As I passed by the manager’s desk, I glanced up at the television set on the wall. A professional basketball game was in progress and since I am a basketball junky, I stopped to watch. The Chicago Bulls were playing the Boston Celtics. I disliked the Celtics and their rabid fans and arrogant general manager and former coach, Red Auerbach. I was gratified to see that the Bulls’ star, Michael Jordan, was playing a spectacular game, on his way to scoring more than sixty points in what turned out to be a double overtime Celtics victory.

Another man was watching the game, along with his young son. I recognized him—an average bowler and delivery truck driver, something of a loudmouth with a higher opinion of his bowling skills than his ability warranted. Normally I would have ignored him, but Jordan’s great game was so exciting that I just had to say something about it. So I said,'Boy, isn’t he an amazing player.' This innocent remark sent the man into a tirade. 'That nigger’s not the best player. The best player is that white guy, Larry Bird.' Now Johnstown is a racist town. It is almost impossible to go into a bar in a white neighborhood and not hear the word 'nigger' within thirty minutes. While warming up before a basketball pickup game, one of my students commented that he liked the Boston Celtics because they were the 'white team.' In 1922 the mayor of Johnstown ordered all black residents who had not lived in the town for at least five years to leave. Black men had been recruited to work in the city by the steel companies in the wake of the bitter 1919 strike, and the mayor issued his order after an incident involving a black person and the police. It is not known exactly how many African Americans left town, but the growth of the black population stopped. In the 1980s, blacks comprised less than 3 percent of the city’s residents.

Yet even though I had often experienced open racism in Johnstown, I was startled by the this man’s vehemence. His face turned red, and the veins on his neck were showing. I said, 'What difference does skin color make? Jordan is a great player.' He glared at me and yelled, 'Don’t tell me about the niggers. I lived near them. I know what they’re like. They’re no fucking good.' I looked down at his son and said, 'Hey, you’re really setting a fine example for your kid. He’ll grow up to be a bigot just like you.' At this, he lost his composure and said, 'Listen, four eyes, I’ll knock your fucking glasses off. I don’t give a fuck who you are.' I noticed that no one at the desk was making any effort to defuse this situation. So I just said, 'Go ahead and hit me if you want to.' He didn’t, and I picked up my bag and left.

Filmmaker Michael Moore once chided liberals for not spending much time with working people. He suggested that they go to car race tracks and bowling alleys. Moore was probably thinking of workers as the 'salt of the earth,' the men and women who do the work. He is right, but he should remember that being a worker doesn’t mean that a person’s mind is clear and free of dangerous hatreds. My antagonist’s racism was disgustingly blatant, but no more so that of millions of others.
Most racism is more subtle, so woven into the fabric of everyday life that whites just take it for granted. It crosses all classes, but that of white workers is the saddest and says the most about how this economic system deforms our personalities. The man who confronted me in the bowling alley was a delivery truck driver, doing menial labor at low wages. He obviously had been poor as a child. Yet he hated the poorest and most exploited of workers. He had been led to believe that black people are the lowest of the low, and since he grew up with them, he must be contemptible himself. This filled him with shame, but he dealt with this by coming to think that black persons must in some sense be responsible for not only their own misery but his as well. His hatred transformed shame into superiority, a feeling encouraged by other whites, not least of whom were employers who used racism to drive a wedge between those whose alliance would be most dangerous to their power.

It is hard for me to think of the incident in the bowling alley without remembering the examples set for me by teachers, friends, clergy, and other adults. The minstrel show my ninth grade English teacher had us perform. The college biology teacher, a monk no less, who told us that if a white woman gave birth to a black child, there must have been a 'nigger in the woodpile.' The geography of my hometown, where the part where black residents lived was called 'the lower end.' The endless abuse my father took in the factory after my sister married a black man. I won’t deny that progress in race relations has been made, but the white suburban kids who filled my classes were, just a few years ago still writing racist graffiti on the bathroom walls and fuming about welfare in their essays. Just how different was their upbringing from mine? White people are raised to be racists, and it takes a mighty effort to overcome this. I know. I’m still trying.

Michael D. Yates is Associate Editor of Monthly review magazine.He is the author of Cheap Motels and Hot Plates: an Economist's Travelogue and Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy. Yates can be reached at mikedjyates@msn.com

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