Life on the Political Plantation
What a bunch of hullabaloo.
Watching the amount of cyber-whining being spilled over this by the Right, you'd think that Hillary called every Republican's mama a ho at Canaan Baptist on Monday. Think what you will about Hillary Clinton's analogy between the House of Representatives and a plantation, the hypocrisy of Republicans actually complaining about her analogy is too much to stomach. Atrios succinctly put the smack down on Republicans for it yesterday:
Regarding this Hillary flap, please just click this link and have fun.
The link, of course, was to a Google search with the phrase "democratic plantation" as the search term. And the link mined conclusive proof that Republicans are, at least on this "Hillary is Bad because she said Republicans are running a Plantation" issue, Hy-po-crites. With a Capital H.
Unfortunately, we then have the idiots in charge of the Official Democratic Party Line who take a situation that is clearly Much Ado About Nothing and make it into yet another opportunity to laugh at the cluelessness of the Democratic Party when it comes to race. Like Elaine Karmarck, who reportedly tried to defend Hillary's legitimate criticism of the Republican held-House by saying the following during a nationally televised Fox interview "doing a job.":
Plantations were terrible places where people were forced into doing certain jobs. But at least they were doing jobs.
Umm. No, hon. It was a just a *little* more complicated than that.
This idiocy merely proves to me that there is nothing at this point more horrifying and stupidity-inducing to white politicians and their supporters on both sides of the political aisle than the ongoing boogeyman of race. Its hallmarks -- including the legacy of slaves and slavery -- continue to be used willy-nilly in political rhetoric to evince the worst things possible. And then, when folks get their backs up (because raising the specter of race really does evince a reaction much like calling people's mamas hos) people trip all over themselves.
And, of course, the hullabaloo would be incomplete without the parade of "official Black spokespersons" getting up and either supporting wholeheartedly or lambasting Hillary's remarks, depending on party affiliation.
What ridiculousness. Hillary Clinton makes an insensitive, bad analogy - to wit, that currently being in the political minority in an elective body is the functional equivalent of being a slave, a lifelong condition in which getting your ass physically tore up just for living was not uncommon and in which the only guarantee of release was death - and nobody calls her out on it. Not even Black folks. But then, adding insult to injury, President Bush, his lapdog Republicans, and his Uncle Toms, squeal like a stuck pig even though Republicans have regularly made the precise analogy themselves back in the day? And apologists make matters worse by taking a politically convenient piece of rhetoric and actually trying to explain it away on "logical terms"?
Give me a break.
The more important issue for me is this: What does this type of thing say about how both sides of the political aisle view Black people, Black people's history and the genuine harms that slavery left behind? It seems, frankly, as if we remain the convenient political football. Politicians appear to have no shame talking about us, analogizing to our miserable experiences to describe their own (not even comparable) "suffering" and holding up Black folks' experience regularly to score political points (as if they actually know anything about them).
This might be fine if either side took us and our unique issues seriously in the political arena when it came to campaigns, bills presented, and votes. Takes seriously as in make them a priority for ongoing advocacy and policy, acknowledging that race is a factor that legitimately must still be taken into account in this country (instead of trying to insist that it's all about -- and only about -- class, a convenient device that allows us to continue avoiding all the Hard Stuff.)
But, it's obvious that they do not really take us seriously. Neither side.
Factor into the mix when you think about this flap what is now happening to Mayor Ray Nagin, who also made some race-based comments and analogies on Martin Luther King Day. Mayor Nagin's fired-up exhortations on Monday that N'Awlins will once again be a Chocolate City because God wants it that way, (and that, BTW, Katrina is an example of God punishing Black folks for our excesses, and things get even more surreal. Obviously folks are up in arms. It seems more over the Chocolate City comment than the "God is giving us an asswuppin" comment. Since that's the only one that, so far, he's been forced to apologize for.
It does not take much of a Google search to find *thousands* of immediately post-Katrina references talking about the displacement of New Orleans' overwhelmingly Black and poor and the danger of N'awlins becoming a white-bread Disneyland because it had apparently permanently lost the African-American majority that perversely helped to make New Orleans a crown jewel of American culture, whether we're talking about jazz music, voodoo, or even just Creole food. This was assumed to be a real problem over and over and over again. By politicians, pundits, official Bush spokespersons, and official "Black spokespersons".
Yet Mayor Nagin essentially tries to reassure people on Monday that New Orleans' racial balance will be restored despite adversity -- it will be again a "Chocolate City", mathematically speaking -- and he's called an idiot? Or crazy?
Since clearly it is not because he said something that millions of other people have said since September, 2005, it must be because he forgot the Rules, one of which is this: it is perfectly OK for non-Black people to advocate for things affecting Black people while referring to race, and even to coopt our suffering as similar to their own while they do so. However, if one of *us* does it, we are by definition "exclusionary", and "playing the race card", both code words for "hating on white folks."
It cracks me up that folks are actually saying with a straight face that Mayor Nagin - corporatist first and foremost -- was actually making non-Black people feel "not welcome". As if the overwhelming majority of folks in New Orleans right now (if one believes the photos routinely coming out of the numerous media celebrations asserting that "New Orleans is rebounding") aren't white. I guess somehow they needed a special invitation to come back? In contrast to the hundreds of thousands of Black people that are just....gone, with no way to get back?
Frankly, my only beef with Nagin on his "Chocolate City" comment is that he forgot the First Rule of Black Politics: Never ever EVER mention that you actually are thinking about Black people in any terms that might be construed as putting them "ahead", in terms of your priority, of white people. It's OK to do this if you are referring to our status as perennial victims needing government help, as it is if you are discussing our alleged collective cultural dysfunction) But otherwise? It's a political death sentence, as has been proven over and over and over again.
Who knows why Nagin said what he did? Maybe Nagin has been hanging out with his former Republican cronies too long, and he actually thought the same rules applied to him as everyone else. If that's so, he really needs to develop some political chops. (Perhaps he should spend some time with Barack Obama, the current master of the art advocating for Black folks' interests without ever actually mentioning the word "Black.")
Since we all know that the minute he does that, he's just another threat to the majority of politically active folks -- as much on the left as on the right -- who have a deep-seated psychic need to believe that's "all behind us." The same folks that can manage to claim with a straight face that a 69.5% Black city had as its "true identity" an evenly flavor-balanced Neapolitan ice cream (1/3 chocolate, 1/3 vanilla, 1/3 strawberry....although I don't know *who* they're talking about when you think about the strawberry......Cajuns, maybe?) Suggesting that New Orleans return to its former state -- in which indeed it was fairly called a Chocolate City in the same way that Washington DC was when it was serenaded by Parliament -- is probably just too.....hell, too *nationalist*.
Maybe it's that Fear of a Black Planet thing.
(BTW, given the fallout from Mayor Nagin's gaffe, I wonder what we are now supposed to call DC, also known in the Black community as Chocolate City? Fudge Ripple?)
On the other hand, Mayor Nagin's God comments worry me. It might well be that he really is cracking up from Post-Katrina Stress Disorder, as some claim and as Nagin himself joked on Monday. After all, most folks don't run around claiming to talk to dead people, Dr. King or no Dr. King. Mayor Nagin definitely didn't get that "God is punishing Black folks" thang from any rational assessment of the problems New Orleans continues to face post-Katrina, placed back into the context of 2005, a year in which Mother Earth made plain who was still boss, worldwide. If one is even going to Go There, and there is absolutely no reason to do so, the only rational conclusion one can take from last year's natural disaster juggernaut that God is getting pretty pissed off at *everybody*. Only someone as troubled as Pat Robertson would even claim that God wastes his/her time chastising individuals for their individual political failings while they are still here on earth.