Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sarah, Black and White

From We Are Respectable Negroes, here’s an interesting object lesson in privilege and social structure: What if Sarah Palin were black?

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?”


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.

As for those who are tired of hearing about the former half-term governor of Alaska, Josh Marshall at TPM responds to a reader who takes him to task for writing about her.

This is actually a real blind spot for liberals in general — the idea that things that are crazy or tawdry or just outrageous are really best ignored. Don’t give them more attention. You’re just giving them what they want. Or maybe it’s not so practical and utilitarian. Maybe, they say, it’s just beneath us. Focus on the important stuff.

On so many levels this represents an alienation from the popular political culture which is not only troubling in itself but actually damages progressive and center-left politics in general no end. It’s almost the fatal flaw. Democrats often console themselves that even when they don’t win elections, usually their individual policies are more popular than those of Republicans. Too bad you can’t elect a policy. It’s true for instance that Health Care Reform — which still has more opponents than supporters — is pretty popular when you ask people about its individual components. But why is that? It’s not random, because that pattern crops up again and again. It’s another one of the examples where liberals — or a certain strain of liberalism — focuses way too much on the libretto of our political life and far too little on the score. It’s like you’re at a Wagner opera reading the libretto with your ear plugs in and think you’ve got the whole thing covered.

Politics can never be separated from policy, unless you’re in a political science class or getting a Phd in health care economics. The two are inextricably combined. And any attempt to pry them apart in a deep way is not only hopeless but also deeply wrongheaded.

I think there’s another point to the coverage of Ms. Palin and all the rest of the outrageous people on the right wing: these are the people whom the Republicans and the Tea Party consider to be their best and brightest. This is what we’re up against: intellectual laziness on a scale beyond reason, the ability to lie and distort without so much as missing a beat, the demonization of entire groups of people, and a level of infantile self-absorption that is, quite frankly, admirable for its purity. That has to be taken into account, and it has to be dealt with, because they are not going to wither and go away.