Barack Obama, Racism and The Internet: An Annotated Gallery

racism-anywayRacism is hot. The media smells the blood in the water and is (finally) making some good cases about how anti-Obama sentiment is tied to racism. Some, not so good. Maureen Dowd pretty much called everyone opposed to Obama a racist. But race is a very small factor in what’s going on.

Let’s imagine that Hillary Clinton’s tactics (some of which were racist) had worked better and she was today President. Would the climate be different? Not much. Spend enough time on right-wing websites and living in a right wing population and it soon becomes clear that hate for Obama is directly tied to hate for Pelosi and hate for Reid and is all part of a larger game. And while there are elements of racism, sexism and homophobia that currently drive the right, they are just the tools currently available with which to “win.” Yes, it is all now a game, not so different from the NFL. And in this game the left faces an impossible task because the field (i.e., media landscape) favors the three-word, low-syllable-count language of reactionaries.

And that’s what the right is; “conservative” is just a nice word for “reactionary.” Being reactionary makes “No” an easy response with no lag time to consider or weigh anything. Health-care reform? No. Environmentalism? No. Economic reform? No. This is one of the reasons that some liberals who are willing to acknowledge that racism plays a role in the anti-Obama sentiment are uncomfortable jumping on the “they’re just racists” bandwagon because a one-word reason is too much like the nuance-less tone of the right. It is. Dismissing anti-Obama sentiment as simply “racist” is lazy and demonstrates an unwillingness to even try to understand the very diversity of the right.

Its discomfort with Obama’s race is real; but it is tied to its fear of condoms in the classroom, a perceived de-emphasizing of Christianity and the loss of decent blue collar jobs. (In fact, if Obama were stringently pro-life, many of these so-called “racists” would immediately embrace him and defend him despite almost any fault.)

These fears are not independent of one another, so an accusation against any single one fear does not make any sense to any of the hard-line right. They simply cannot see themselves as racists because they act on a conglomerated fear that has no single identifying trait of any one fear. Just look at the lack of focus in terms of how anti-Obama sentiment manifests itself: The Devil, Hitler, Stalin, The Joker, Darth Vader, etc. It uses anything-anything-that our society finds unquestionably evil, and then imprints it on him.

And to think most of the right is fundamentally any more racist than a lot of people on the left who voted for Obama is to ignore the unique depth of American racism. And numbers. Recent Gallup Poll data actually show that Obama’s job approval ratings went up with those who self-identify as either conservative or Republican. But make no mistake. Racism in America is alive and well.

One focus of the anti-Obama racism commentaries are the racists running the show, such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Or are they? It’s far more likely that they are opportunists who would just as easily embrace an all black audience if it were large enough to make them money and devoted enough to be unquestioningly loyal.

glenn-beck-as-jokerAn attempt to understand and explain Glenn Beck in particular is a dead end. To explain his actions would mean he has a motive. He does not. Beck’s not a racist. He’s an anarchist. He’s that boyfriend you had and hated because he exists only to criticize and play devil’s advocate. The image of Obama as the Joker from The Dark Knight has been taken up as a badge of the Beckian right’s battle against what it perceives as seeping socialism. But the irony is that nobody could be more like that Joker character than Beck himself. In the film, the Joker says, “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just… do things.” And of him, Alfred says, “Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Now, is there anyone on the national platform that that describes more than Glenn Beck, a man who bills himself as a comedian?

It’s amusing (not really) that many in the media, now latching on to “racism” as the cause for our absolute failure to have any kind of what might pass for civil discourse even in the Middle Ages, still see fit to ignore the only constant in all of our increasingly polarized political environment: them. In August, Talking Points Memo printed a leaked email that pretty much sums up the problem: “CNBC approached Tea Party activists, looking for angry protest events that would make good television, according to a leaked email from a Tea Party discussion group. And one Tea Bagger responded by flagging an upcoming event that, he said, ‘should be a riot … literally.'” The story got little mainstream media attention, to the surprise of nobody.

Now, many want to silence what they see as racist. But, as Charles Davis, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, writes of another option: “As a near-absolutist First Amendment advocate, my prescription for hate speech is always more speech: Give the bigot a microphone as big as the hatred, I say, and watch as the marketplace of ideas works its magic.” Basically, the old teenager-caught-smoking school of learning: Give everyone so much of something bad that it sickens them.

With that in mind, and also in keeping with the idea that propaganda has power and to ignore it is to do so at your own peril, what follows is a little gallery show (with grades!) of some of the “best of the best” racist Obama stuff floating around sites ranging from the mainstream and actively political to the downright, well, racist. Some images that follow are, of course, not safe for work.