Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The racism of Andrew Breitbart and the Tea Party

By now, Andrew Breitbart is simply a laughingstock to the majority of the progressive world.  In the real world, you shouldn't be able to deceptively edit videos of your ideological opponents in order to further your own agenda, have your lies discovered, keep doing it, and then expect to receive the respect of the nation.  But, alas, he is respected in the world of Kool-Aid-drinking Tea Partiers who pretend that the Tea Party isn't filled with racist, homophobic Christianists.  In fact, he's so angry that people dare to call out the Tea Party's racism, sexism, and homophobia, that he has dedicated much of his time to retweeting so-called Leftist tweeps who use related slurs against him, in order to prove that it's the left that's full of bigotry, and not the right.  Naturally, he doesn't hesitate to use his own slurs as well, but, contrary to his intention in retweeting the bigoted slurs of his opponents, he doesn't seem to believe that words like "sand n*gger," "fag," and "pussy" are actually indicative of any kind of prejudice.  This isn't just an Andrew Breitbart problem, of course; much of the Tea Party, as well as many, if not most, far-right individuals (including, of course, Rush Limbaugh, who Breitbart seems to think has never uttered a single racist statement in all his time on the air) seem to believe similar, ridiculous things.  They repeat, endlessly, this tired and absurd notion that not only is there a war on white men in America, the left is actually orchestrating false attacks on the right wing for being racist, sexist, and homophobic, when they just aren't.

The problem isn't necessarily that these people are upset by being called racist, sexist, and homophobic; there are very few people who would welcome such an accusation, and it's expected that most people would fight back against it.  The problem is, of course, that Breitbart, Beck, Bachmann & Co. don't actually understand racism, sexism, or homophobia.  

To most of Mainstream America, racism, sexism, and homophobia are defined by simply the overt and blatant hatred of people who are not white, are women, or are LGBT.  Since BBB&Co subscribe to said definition, they are bewildered at where the accusations come from.  After all, Palin and Bachmann are the Tea Party stars; how could the Tea Party be sexist?!  Also, many of them have black friends, or even know a gay person or two who don't mind that their Tea Partier friends don't think they should get to marry their partners!  Clearly, no bigotry exists within the Tea Party!

The problem, of course, is that racism and other forms of oppression are much more than this image of the hooded white men we grew up associating with the term "racist."  It's more than simply saying you don't like X person because of their gender, race, or sexual orientation.  Isms are rooted in stereotypes, misinformation, and ignorance-- all of which Tea Partiers like Breitbart tend to carry in abundance.

A good list of different ways in which racism manifests itself has been making the blogosphere rounds, and it applies to any and all other -isms:
  • Aware/Blatant Racism: Outright racists that, without apology or confusion, tell people of color, that because of their color, they “don’t appeal to them.”
  • Aware/Covert Racism: When racists are being racist but just not saying it. For instance, upon seeing that a potential tenant is Indian, rather than saying it directly, a landlord will pull the apartment “off the market” without providing an explanation.
  • Unaware/Unintentional Racism: “With the best of intentions, the best of educations, and the greatest generosity of heart, whites, operating on the misinformation fed to them from day one, will behave in ways that are racist, will perpetuate racism by being ‘nice’ the way we’re taught to be nice.”
  • Unaware/Self-Righteous Racism: “The ‘good white’ racist attempts to shame Blacks into being blacker, scorns Japanese-Americans who don’t speak Japanese, and knows more about the Chicano/a community than the folks who make up the community.”
  • Internalized Racism: Stereotypes and attitudes of the white hegemonic system are internalized by members of oppressed groups and peoples and taken for truth or inform the ways they think about themselves and others from similar backgrounds or cultures.
I'd like to expand on the third type of racism, the unaware/unintentional type, because, if I am being generous, it is how I would describe BBB&Co's racism.  People who are unintentionally racist and unaware of their racism are the people whose stereotypical understanding of people who are different from them informs their ideological viewpoints, their interactions with those people, and/or the things they say about those people.  Calling President Obama "articulate," for example, is one way in which many people (including Vice President Biden*) have used this type of racism.  Clearly, the intent was not to insult Barack Obama because of his race; it was to compliment him.  But when does anyone take special care to describe a white presidential candidate as "articulate"?  They don't.  Most people who said he was articulate said so because they still believe in the stereotype about black people that they are not articulate, that black people are uneducated, or, apparently, unshowered (see Biden link).  They think that, because they assume those things to be true, that "articulate" and "clean" are compliments; ones that they often wouldn't think to give to a white person.  An articulate white person surprises no one, and an inarticulate white person is not seen as representative of the entire white population.  This is not the case for people who are not white.  This really isn't disputable.

I don't personally personally believe that the majority of the Tea Party is Racist Type #1.  I agree with them, when using their own presumed definitions of racism, that they are largely not racist.  I don't think the Tea Party and conservatives hate black people.  The majority don't necessarily even hate women-- they just don't understand how mentioning a potential Supreme Court Justice's inevitable menstruation is sexist.  And as far as their alleged homophobia, well... well... okay, I really cannot be convinced that the majority of the conservatives and Tea Partiers who are the loudest and actually in power are not homophobic, because that's just, well, not true.  They definitely are.  

Not actively hating someone because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation is not enough to be free of the bigot label.

Of course, none of this matters.  "Racism = prejudice + power" is not a paradigm the right would be at all willing to entertain.  Because socialism.  Duh.

*See?!  You might say, in regards to the above-mentioned fact that Democratic Vice President Joe Biden was responsible for a pretty racist, albeit well-intentioned, statement about then-candidate Barack Obama.  Of course, it was racist.  No one said anything about white Democrats and other "leftists" being free of any racial stereotypes and racist assumptions.  But look! Breitbart obviously has a point when he retweets all of these leftists' racism!  Sure, and I get that point.  He wants to show everyone that, not only is the Tea Party and the rightwing not the bigots we paint them to be, but we're actually just as bad, if not worse!  And anyway, it's not as if Biden, or anyone else on the left for that matter, gets away with this kind of thing on the level that the right does with their own party.  Have you read any page of the progressive blogosphere?  There was that whole #MooreandMe campaign that Sady Doyle started a few months ago, in which lefties all over pushed Michael Moore for an apology over what he said about Julian Assange's alleged victims.  The point is that racism persists in American culture, and while Biden and many other progressives are just as likely as conservatives to be unintentionally racist, progressives tend to at least champion policies that will help overcome racism, sexism, and homophobia, among other institutionalized bigotry.  Conservatives are not.  Conservatives pretend that marginalized people bring it on themselves, and that if they'd just get some bootstraps or something, they'd be just fine.