THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: It Takes a Symbol to Hold Back a Nation of Millions

The Empty Politics of Singularity

As an African-American, Ward Connerly uses his skin color to draw attention to his otherwise unremarkable politics: he’s a right-wing Republican who hates affirmative action. Now this ideological freak is using Barack Obama’s racial heritage (half of it, anyway) to argue that racism is all in the past.

“The entire argument for race preferences is that society is institutionally racist and institutionally sexist, and you need affirmative action to level the playing field,” Connerly told The New York Times after Obama claimed the Democratic nomination. “The historic success of Senator Obama, as well as Senator Clinton, dismantles that argument.”

Connerly said he “choked up” at the sight of Obama’s victory. “He did it by his own achievement. Nobody gave it to him.” Well, sure. Except for a little help from Chicago’s Daley political machine (a.k.a. white guys). Obama may also have benefited from a race-based preference when his application arrived at Columbia College. (Shout-out to my former colleagues at Columbia’s office of admissions and financial aid: free beers for a week for an hour in the archives.)

Behold the politics of singularity. If one (half-)black guy can make it, anyone can. Those who fail have no one to blame but their own lazy, excuse-making selves.

Seven years ago, conservatives like Connerly were pointing to George W. Bush’s cabinet appointments, 50 percent of which went to women or people of color, as proof that minorities no longer had anything to complain about. “If you look at my administration, it’s diverse, and I’m proud of that,” Bush said of Colin Powell and Condi Rice, charter members of African-Americans Against Blacks. Minorities may well have followed the right’s edict to quit whining and start working. But the rise of Alberto Gonzales to attorney general, for example, only helped one Latino: himself.

Even within the White House, tokenism has limits. “The Bush Administration,” found a Newsday study of 2,800 political appointees, “is not nearly as diverse as it appears…Blacks held 7 percent of administration jobs under Bush, less than half of the 16 percent they held under Clinton…Women won 36 percent of Bush’s appointments, noticeably fewer than the 44 percent of Clinton’s.”

Reflexive churlishness aside, after watching my fellow citizens passively accept torture, concentration camps, domestic surveillance, government kidnappings, two useless wars and two stolen elections, Obamamania is fun. It’s refreshing to be proud of my fellow Americans. Those who vote in Democratic primaries, anyway.

So the Democratic Party isn’t racist. What remains to be seen is whether America is. Will general election voters support a thoughtful, vigorous and handsome African-American running against a rigid, aging militarist pushing the policies of the most unpopular president in history?

To prevail in November, Obama must win the votes of millions of whites who supported George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Though not necessarily racist themselves, these swing voters were certainly willing to tolerate Bush’s racism. Bush famously beat McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries by waging a whispering campaign about McCain’s “black” daughter by a prostitute (actually, she was born in Bangladesh and was adopted). He also spoke at Bob Jones University. “Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established,” BJU administrators wrote to students in 1998–a ban that remained in force when Bush went there.

McCain is the lamest GOP candidate since Bob Dole, running in the least propitious year for Republicans since 1974. If a black guy can win, this is the year.

To be sure, an Obama victory couldn’t have happened in 1964, when I was one year old, or even 1980, when I was 17. (Reagan won that year by winking at the KKK and decrying black “welfare queens.”) Obama’s inauguration would mark America’s long, but undeniable progress since LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act. A biracial president with a Muslim parent would broadcast to the world that America’s post-9/11 madness is finally winding down. But it would hardly mean that minorities, or women for that matter, had achieved equality.

Disparities in healthcare highlight some of the many inequities in an American economy suffering from staggering disparity of wealth.

Just last week a Dartmouth study showed that African-Americans with diabetes are five times more likely than whites to lose a limb to amputation. Blue Cross and Blue Shield released another survey the same day, this one showing that even African-American women who have medical insurance stand less of a chance of surviving breast cancer than whites. “The death rate for black women from breast cancer was the same up through 1981,” said Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society and a professor at Emory University. “Every year, the death rate has gotten more divergent. The difference for black women and white women in 2005 was greater than it was in 1995, and it is greater in ’95 than it was in 1985.”

Everywhere you look, it sucks to be black in America. Swimming classes cost money. African-Americans don’t make as much money as whites. So they don’t sign up their kids at the same rate as whites. It might not sound like a big deal–until you learn that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, black children between the ages of five and 14 drown at two and half times the rate of white kids.

Good for Barack Obama. But our national obsession with the triumph of the individual (while ignoring disasters suffered by millions) reminds me of the old joke about the man in the car driving past a hitchhiker at 60 mph. Their average speed is 30. But they’re each enjoying a different experience.



21 Responses to “”

  1. Angelo Says:

    second to last paragraph: did you mean “it might not seem like a big deal”?

  2. Ted Rall Says:

    Yes, I did. Thanks; it’s fixed now.

  3. Eric Xodik Says:

    …So it’s OK to be a Black politician as long as you agree 100% with Ted Rall…way to miss your DEADLINE, loser!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I never saw Reagan’s “welfare queens” argument as racist. I come from a little Appalachian mountain town. Every able bodied person I know who abuses social programs is Caucasian.

  5. Angelo Says:

    I witnessed the black-guy-can’t-get-a-cab thing a few years back. This guy was trying to flag a ride, and so were my sister and I. He was on the opposite side of the street, and cab after cab were passing him and picking up other people. It was fucking outrageous. A few tried to pick us up. We crossed the street, and joined the poor guy. Immediately, the cabs stopped passing him by, now that he had white people with him.

  6. Kevin Wohlmut Says:

    Excellent column, Ted! This technique (prevalent on the Right, but definitely not absent on the Left), where you hold up one or two lucky examples and then say “Everybody can be successful in America”,
    …[unsaid but strongly implied, “so get off your lazy whining @$$e$ and go out and make some money for the millionaires!”]
    …it’s cheezed me off for so long.

    “The plural of anecdote is… a smug feeling of self-righteousness,” as a commenter on IOZ said the other day, I believe.

    Your column also brings to mind the Chris Rock routine where, after talking for awhile about D.W.B. (Driving While Black), he asks his audience, “How many of you white folks would be willing to trade places with me?” From the recordings I hear, there’s just dead silence. “See, that’s how much it sucks to be black in this country — I’m a f*#%ing millionaire, and none of you poor crackers would trade places with me.”

  7. Thomas Daulton Says:

    In line with Angelo, I witnessed some blatant racism I won’t be forgetting soon, back a few years ago. I was working for a startup company (which ended badly, Thomas Daulton is an alias). Three of us — two white dudes, one black dude — were taking down our booth at the end of a trade show. We were each wearing identical shirts with the company logo, and carrying various computers and equipment out of the convention center and into our truck. The white security guard at the convention center let us two white guys walk out without any reaction. Three steps behind us, our black coworker walks by him, and suddenly he’s all “Where are you going with this equipment, let me see your badge, can you show me some ID to match this badge,” and so on. The two of us had to vouch for him before he’d let the black guy out of the building carrying a computer.

    Imagine the economic cost and inconvenience cost, plane flights missed etc., if this guard was stopping every white guy in a suit, carrying a laptop, from leaving the convention — and you get some idea why black people always lag behind, economically.

  8. Kevin Says:

    I have a slightly different take on it. To my mind, one of the greatest benefits of an Obama presidency will be to cause the racial-dialogue industry to finally shut the hell up for a while and let us refocus on the real problem – class. All during the Clinton years I was always driven into a frothing rage whenever some pundit or official talked about how we needed to have a national dialogue on race. No one ever explained exactly what that meant, or what the benefit was supposed to be. Eventually I realized that even THEY didn’t know what they meant, and the whole racial-dialogue thing was just like the nutrition science and healthy-eating thing: it was an industry that started with inventing a fake problem and then perpetuated itself by establishing a priesthood of pundits who could provide the answers. WE don’t need a dialogue, THEY do, because they get paid for talking. I only get paid for working. What I need is more money and a damn day off once in a while.

    People have such high expectations of Obama, it’s pathetic. What kind of fool really thinks that electing a black president will solve whatever race problem we have? When all this is over, Obama leaves office and all the problems we have now are still there (because they have zero to do with racial politics), then all these rah-rah types will have an excellent opportunity to examine their own bullshit. Then maybe we’ll get an electorate that stops believing in Messiahs and starts believing in problem-solving.

    Speaking of the racist cabdriver thing…my understanding is that most cabbies in NYC are foreigners anyway, right? You’re being chauffered around by a guy who just got here from a country where they still burn people alive, and you’re mad at him because he doesn’t pick up a black guy?

  9. Anonymous Says:

    xodick, it’s ok to be anybody or anything as long as you agree with Ted. Silly boy.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with most of the article except for 2 points:

    1) Electing Obama is not a signal that the “madness of post 9/11”
    will end. I am afraid it will intensify and Obama will be the
    best mask for it or its ardent supporter to prove his “loyality”.
    2) Different races has different immunities to or susceptiblities
    for some diseases. So, using medical statistics could be misleading as a measure for the health care received by each race.

  11. Angelo Says:

    you’re mad at him because he doesn’t pick up a black guy?


  12. Anonymous Says:

    To Angelo,

    Yes, it is extremely unfair and is not right but please give the cab drivers in NYC a break.
    If someone wants a ride to the heart or of Harlem or south Bronx especially at night, what
    will you do??!!
    Life is not fair.

  13. Angelo Says:

    I never saw Reagan’s “welfare queens” argument as racist. I come from a little Appalachian mountain town. Every able bodied person I know who abuses social programs is Caucasian.

    Around the time he was forced to deny the endorsement of the KKK, channeling the “welfare queens” mythology was part of his overall strategy to win the south by signaling to racists every chance he got.

    Reagan’s racist Southern Strategy went a lot further than his repeating of the welfare queen story.

    1) “states’ rights” speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights workers had been slain.

    2) stating that the Voting Rights Act was “humiliating to the South.”

    3) There was also that time Reagan intervened on the side of Bob Jones University’s ban on interracial dating

    4) Reagan fired three members of the Civil Rights Commission, and was over ruled by the courts.

    5) opposed Martin Luther King Holiday

    6) Subsidizing the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.

    7) Defended Jesse Helms’ attacks on MLK.

    8) Drastic cuts to important social programs that provided needed assistance to minorities

    Repugs look to Reagan as their one shining example of a good president, but the fact remains that we have been staggering and bleeding ever since he stabbed this country in the back. When the US dies, Reagan’s presidency will be seen as a huge reason why…And don’t tell me he “won he cold war” because Brezhnev ended it in the early 70s when he endorsed the non-alignment movement!

    Ronald Reagan was a bitch.

  14. Angelo Says:

    If someone wants a ride to the heart or of Harlem or south Bronx especially at night, what
    will you do??!!

    relax, anonymouse.
    When I lived in Harlem, I would routinely walk all throughout it and Washington Heights at 3 and 4am. NO FUCKING PROBLEM. I worked at the first Starbucks in Harlem on 125th street. People came in and stole merchandise a few times, but I never feared for my life. I even tried to hook up with this chick in the projects once but I got lost Robert Moses’ nightmarish architecture, and I had no cell. She moved on :/

    …still, Harlem is Harmless.

    ; ) kthxbai

  15. you suck lately Says:

    Wait a minute, you just got through telling me I’m a sexist if I voted for Obama. Does this mean Hillary voters were racist?

  16. Anonymous Says:

    No…”you suck”. Hillary, voters were not racist. They were American. You on the other hand are probably a sexist, and a racist.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Model minority! That will be the new racism.

    Blacks of this country would benefit better from an understanding white president than a black one. But it will be great pride.

    It reminds me of those editorials on LA Times, Chicago Tribune after Jack Johnson’s win over James Jeffries. Those lines won’t be reprinted, but would go on minds of many people. You have not achieved anything to be so proud of, which will be mostly a bitter fact. Blacks came across a long way in 100 years. But still it is a long way to go.

    I hope, Obama being a brother can influence people out of many of their ruining habits.

  18. cooler than you Says:

    Hey, I have also lived in shitty neighborhoods and macked on ghetto chicks. Do I get cred points too?

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Totally out of subject.

    Those who back stabbed Hillary are all suffering…. Iowans, Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Tim Russert, and now John Kerry is facing a primary…

    God is still out there, folks 🙂

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Why all this hatin’ on Obama?

    Hillary Clinton and John McCain may be the two worst choices for President who ever lived. McCain is a Bush proxy and Clinton is at least a sympathizer. Bill Clinton’s ability to charge groups who want to influence his wife $250,000 per pep talk is basically a channel for legal bribery.

    Given the choice of those two, I’d prefer that we chose a phone book at random, open it up, pick a name at random, and then make that person president.

    Fortunately, the alternative isn’t that bleak. Obama actually does have a pretty good CV. He’s qualified to be president. Obama’s not perfect, but politics is the art of the possible.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    Reagan supporters all talk a big game but they never actually defend him when confronted with the truth.
    The mythology is so brittle, that it shatters under the softest light.

    What kind of masochist would attempt to prop up such a load of shit.

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