Stillwater News Press

Opinion

June 4, 2014

GENE LYONS: How we devalued the ‘R’ word

STILLWATER, Okla. — At the risk of angering somebody, I sometimes used to joke that I only look white. Actually, I'm Irish. Meaning basically that I wasn't raised to think the man in the big house had all the answers, nor deserved all the power he'd inherited.

It was in that spirit that I recently challenged Rep. Paul Ryan's remarks about the shiftlessness of African-Americans.

Here in America, ethnic boundaries can be as fluid as you make them. As long as you're white. My people didn't arrive in the U.S. until 20 years after the Civil War, but the only “ghetto” they were ever confined to was of their own choosing.

For blacks, it's not so easy to leave the “old country” behind. Because you're living there. For the descendants of slaves, America's where your ancestors were bought and sold like cattle: less the land of opportunity than the land of white supremacy.

Even President Obama, while careful not to say that the Trayvon Martin jury decided wrongly, emphasized that “it's important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.”

Obama was recently asked what race had to do with his poll ratings. He answered diplomatically: “There's no doubt that there's some folks who just really dislike me because they don't like the idea of a black president,” he said. “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I'm a black president.”

Needless to say, the usual suspects, as Jonathan Chait writes in an ambitious New York Magazine cover story on Obama and race, “exploded in indignation, quoting the first sentence without mentioning the second.”

That's standard Fox News-ism.

However, Chait's not your standard Salon/MSNBC-style lefty, accusing the president's GOP foes of bigotry. To the contrary, his is an ambitious, if ultimately unpersuasive attempt to define what he calls “the psychic wound that has divided red America and blue America in the Obama years.”

Democrats and Republicans, he thinks, are both “paranoid” about race. They wage an “endless war of mutual victimization” – each side persuaded of its primal innocence.

Violating professional taboos, Chait even lists liberal journalists like Salon's Joan Walsh and Slate's Timothy Noah, who have dropped evidence-free “r-bombs” on Obama's critics. Mind-readers, most of them. “MSNBC,” he writes, “has spent the entire Obama presidency engaged in a nearly nonstop ideological stop-and-frisk operation.”

“Few liberals,” Chait argues “acknowledge that the ability to label a person racist represents, in 21st-century America, real and frequently terrifying power. Conservatives feel that dread viscerally.”

Well, perhaps they should. However, I've got trouble believing that most do. Because there's really no denying that a visceral reaction to an African-American president has shocked a significant fraction of white America senseless. Much of it's what psychologists call “projection” – mistakenly attributing to Obama an angry radicalism reflective of one's own fears.

Gene Lyons is a columnist for the Arkansas Times.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando
Stocks
NDN Video
Heartwarming 'Batkid Begins' Documentary is Tear-Jerker Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up Broken Water Main Floods UCLA "Maxim" Hotness! See Jessica Alba's Sizzling Spread Two women barely avoid being hit by train Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber Reportedly Came To Blows In Ibiza Meet the Man Behind Dumb Starbucks Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad
Must Read