USA | Jonathan Chait har skrivit en av de mer intressanta artiklarna om rasismen i USA under Barack Obamas tid som president.
Demokraterna (läs: liberalerna) håller på att vinna kriget om synen på hur man får debattera minoritetsfrågor i USA. Men man har kanske inte gjort det med metoder som är speciellt liberala.
Det har, inte minst i media och bland politiska motståndare, blivit accepterat att utmåla republikanernas konservatism som en form av dold rasism.
I bästa fall har man ”bara” anklagat dem för att deras ideologi gör dem blinda för att deras politik drabbar minoriteter i högre grad än vita.
Vad som komplicerar frågan är att liberalerna har en poäng i sin kritik av republikanerna.
Men enligt Chait har samhällsdebatten i allt större utsträckning accepterat att man tillmäter republikaner rasistiska motiv även när det talas om helt andra saker än just rasism.
Chait skriver i New York:
If you set out to write a classic history of the Obama era, once you had described the historically significant fact of Obama’s election, race would almost disappear from the narrative. […] The policy landscape of the Obama era looks more like it did during the Progressive Era and the New Deal, when Americans fought bitterly over regulation and the scope of government. The racial-policy agenda of the Obama administration has been nearly nonexistent.
But if you instead set out to write a social history of the Obama years, one that captured the day-to-day experience of political life, you would find that race has saturated everything as perhaps never before. Hardly a day goes by without a volley and counter-volley of accusations of racial insensitivity and racial hypersensitivity. And even when the red and blue tribes are not waging their endless war of mutual victimization, the subject of race courses through everything else: debt, health care, unemployment.
Racial conservatism and conservatism used to be similar things; now they are the same thing. This is also true with racial liberalism and liberalism. The mental chasm lying between red and blue America is, at bottom, an irreconcilable difference over the definition of racial justice. You can find this dispute erupting everywhere. A recent poll found a nearly 40-point partisan gap on the question of whether 12 Years a Slave deserved Best Picture.
In 1981, Lee Atwater, a South Carolina native working for the Reagan administration, gave an interview to Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University. In it, Atwater described the process by which the conservative message evolved from explicitly racist appeals to implicitly racialized appeals to white economic self-interest:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a by-product of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites … ‘We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘nigger, nigger.’”
Atwater went on to run George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988, where he flamboyantly vowed to make Willie Horton, a murderer furloughed by Dukakis who subsequently raped a woman, “his running mate.”
Yet here is the point where, for all its breadth and analytic power, the liberal racial analysis collapses onto itself. It may be true that, at the level of electoral campaign messaging, conservatism and white racial resentment are functionally identical. It would follow that any conservative argument is an appeal to white racism. That is, indeed, the all-but-explicit conclusion of the ubiquitous Atwater Rosetta-stone confession: Republican politics is fundamentally racist, and even its use of the most abstract economic appeal is a sinister, coded missive.
Impressive though the historical, sociological, and psychological evidence undergirding this analysis may be, it also happens to be completely insane. Whatever Lee Atwater said, or meant to say, advocating tax cuts is not in any meaningful sense racist.
One of the greatest triumphs of liberal politics over the past 50 years has been to completely stigmatize open racial discrimination in public life […] This achievement has run headlong into an increasing liberal tendency to define conservatism as a form of covert racial discrimination. If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.
The racial debate of the Obama years emits some of the poisonous waft of the debates over communism during the McCarthy years. It defies rational resolution in part because it is about secret motives and concealed evil.
Few liberals acknowledge that the ability to label a person racist represents, in 21st-century America, real and frequently terrifying power. Conservatives feel that dread viscerally. Though the liberal analytic method begins with a sound grasp of the broad connection between conservatism and white racial resentment, it almost always devolves into an open-ended license to target opponents on the basis of their ideological profile. The power is rife with abuse.
It’s unlikely that Obama is deliberately plotting to associate his opponents with white supremacy in a kind of reverse-Atwater maneuver. But Obama almost surely believes his race helped trigger the maniacal ferocity of his opponents. (If not, he would be one of the few Obama voters who don’t.) And it’s not hard to imagine that Obama’s constant, public frustration with the irrationality pervading the Republican Party subconsciously expresses his suspicions.
Obama is attempting to navigate the fraught, everywhere-and-yet-nowhere racial obsession that surrounds him. It’s a weird moment, but also a temporary one. […] In the long run, generational changes grind inexorably away. The rising cohort of Americans holds far more liberal views than their parents and grandparents on race, and everything else (though of course what you think about “race” and what you think about “everything else” are now interchangeable). We are living through the angry pangs of a new nation not yet fully born.
Tidskriftsomslag: New York, 7-20 april 2014.