Thursday, January 18, 2018
Opinion

The same old hate, this time on a bumper sticker

This is for Vanessa in South Florida.

She emailed me a few days ago after spotting a bumper sticker that read: "2012 Don't Re-Nig." "Honestly," she wrote, "I don't know how to process my outrage, so I'm handing it off to you. I know that President Obama's race has always been an issue to many people, and perhaps I live a relatively sheltered life in Democratic-leaning Broward County, but I'm still stunned by the sentiment. I'm even more stunned, naive though that may be, by the fact that some people believe it's appropriate to flaunt that sentiment — and that it's not a source of shame."

Vanessa, I'm afraid I'm not nearly as shocked as you. After all, the sentiment that bumper sticker expresses has been part of the Obama narrative since before he took office.

Some of us grapple with a sense of racial and cultural dislocation, the jolting sensation in a changing nation that the prerogatives of white people, assumptions so ingrained as to have never required the slightest thought, are now in question. They want "their" country back. As the great satirist Randy Newman sings in a new ballad:

I'm dreaming of a white president

Just like the ones we've always had

A real live white man who knows the score

How to handle money or start a war.

For others of us, it's not anything so nuanced as a sense of dislocation — just the same old hate as always.

Either way, the world has changed enough that one cannot openly express such things. So instead, it gets hidden in oblique language, false controversies and putative "jokes."

But Vanessa — when one in four Americans thinks there's some mystery over the president's birthplace, while Mitt Romney (son of a man born in Mexico) and John McCain (born in the Panama Canal Zone) face no such scrutiny; when tea partiers denounce health care reform as "reparations"; when Rep. Lynn Westmoreland calls Obama "uppity," then-Rep. Geoff Davis calls him "boy" and Rep. Joe Wilson yells out, "You lie!" during a presidential speech; when Rush Limbaugh says Obama's election means it's open season on white kids; when Obama is called a terrorist, a "food stamp president" and a "Chicago thug" — why should "Don't Re-Nig" come as a surprise? It's just the next logical step.

One cannot openly express one's hate — right up till the day one can. Though even then, one may have to delude oneself.

When he was asked about that bumper sticker, Billy Smith of Ludowici, Ga., who manufactured it with his wife, Paula, told a reporter: "We didn't mean it in a racist way." The driver of that car would likely have said the same. But they do not lie for our benefit. They lie to conscience — and to self.

So this is the paradigm of our age — self-delusion on the one hand, a guy trying to govern on the other, while hemmed in by race, defined in crude, stereotypical imagery, yet unable to fight it, talk about it or even admit he sees it for fear of compromising his effectiveness, being dismissed as, God forbid, "an angry black man."

Yet we hope our way forward anyhow.

There hangs in the White House this photo of the president bowing to allow a little black boy to touch his head. The 5-year-old, his brother and his parents were in the Oval Office with Obama and the boy had a question. "I want to know if my hair is just like yours," he said, so softly Obama had to ask him to repeat himself. He did, and Obama invited him to see for himself. The boy hesitated.

"Touch it, dude!" the president said.

The boy did. "So, what do you think?" asked Obama.

"Yes," said the boy, "it does feel the same."

That child's name is Jacob. And Vanessa, while some of us are dreaming of a white president, well … it's likely Jacob has some new dreams of his own.

© 2012 Miami Herald

Comments

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18