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The Unapologetic Geek

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Black Heritage 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I have a dream that, when somebody disagrees with a black man, we can call him a racist and win the argument by default!"

In years passed, I've tried to keep my Black History Month criticisms politically neutral, but this year, I'm focusing on subject matter that cannot be equally divided amongst the two sides of the modern political spectrum. My readers should all know by now that I have strong conservative tendencies (though I am by no means a Republican), that I think balance is overrated, and that I am a defender of political bias as a natural part of free debate. Having said that, though, this article is not meant as an affirmation of conservative thought, but a strong refutation of race as a tool in political debate. Since one side of the political spectrum uses race this way to a much greater degree than the other, one could easily come to the conclusion that I am trying to repudiate all thought coming from that side. This is not my intent; I only wish that side could stay on message and stop trying to pit us against each other on the basis of superficial differences. Now that I've disclaimed that, let me begin.

The appeal to motive is a formal logical fallacy in which an argument is deflected by focusing on the motives of the person making it. For this year's Black History Month rant, I'd like to discuss a specific type of appeal to motive in which politicians and pundits change the subject by implying that someone is racist. This appeal to racism is so outrageously common that it is practically cliché, and yet people still use it and it is still infuriatingly effective.

For example, in the last year, the idea of voter IDs was once again debated, with Republicans demanding that mandatory IDs at the voting booth would help tackle election fraud and Democrats accusing Republicans of only floating this idea because they are racists who want to keep black people and poor people from voting. Frankly, I find only one side of this argument racist, and it's not the idea that photo IDs should be a requirement for voting. Rather, I think assuming that black people and poor people are too stupid or pathetic to bother getting a photo ID is inherently bigotted. Indeed, that would make airports and liquor stores racist for requiring photo IDs, something nobody is arguing. It doesn't help the Democrats' case when they start to say that the Republicans must be racist because election fraud is a myth, something that is not only laughably stupid but goes against what Democrats were saying back when George W. Bush won the 2000 election.

Dead people are the most likely demographic to be disenfranchised by voted ID laws

But what happened with the Tea Party movement, the movement that Democrats insist is obviously racist just because it consists of so many white people, in the last year? Well, when they temporarily put all their weight behind Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, a black man, it sent Democrats into apopleptic fits. Liberal pundits like Keith Olbermann and Janeane Garofalo were all too eager to show how Tea Party support for Cain was absolute proof that the Tea Party was racist, somehow. According to Garofalo, Cain was popular only because he "hides the racist elements of the Republican party, the conservative movement, and Tea Party movement." It wasn't just paid pundits, either; I can't even begin to list all the Facebook friends who posted similar thoughts about how Cain's brief rise made perfect sense because all conservatives are racists. Aside from how ludicrously illogical this argument is, how come it cannot be used to prove that Democrats are racist because they supported Barack Obama for president?

When President Obama was sworn in, we were told to get ready for a "post-racial America," where people would no longer use racism as a crutch in political debate. Alas, quite the contrary has happened. As the president's approval ratings have gradually fallen over the years, the outcry that his opponents are only opposing him because of his skin color has grown louder and louder. A good example of this from the last year was when Texas Congresswoman Shiela Jackson Lee very strongly implied on the floor of the House that Republicans were opposed to raising the debt ceiling just because Obama is a black man. This is a textbook appeal to motive, because it completely dismisses any argument, any critique, as being borne only from racial prejudice and not rational thought.

Never mind the possibility that many people, such as Samuel L. Jackson, only support him because he's black. Indeed, the president himself is trying to capitalize on his enormous popularity among blacks, a large segment of which no doubt feels the same as Samuel L. Jackson. President Obama has just lauched African Americans for Obama as part of his re-election bid. This is a man who claimed that his primary opponent in 2008 was cynicism itself participating in the most cynical race-baiting imaginable, desperately clutching to the one demographic he is sure to capture in this year's election. If this is what a post-racial America looks like, I wonder what makes it so much better than America pre-2009.

Louis Farrakhan
Louis Farrakhan, not exactly Martin Luther King, Jr.

On top of all this, you have the impossibly influential Louis Farrakhan, who, in the midst of a rant about how the government caused 9/11 and how "the synagogue of Satan" is trying to destroy the world, warns that it won't be long before "they're wicked enough to be plotting our brother's assassination," in reference to President Obama. Do I even need to bother bringing up the obvious hypothetical of people on the right using this kind of rhetoric? Do I even need to ask how people would react to a "Caucasian Americans for Romney" campaign or a fiery white anti-Semite decrying how those evil Jews are going to assassinate Ron Paul because he's white?

Granted, Keith Olbermann, Janeane Garofalo, Sheila Jackson Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Louis Farrakhan do not speak for the majority of Democrats out there, but they certainly reflect a common undercurrent in liberal thought. I'm not here to accuse Democrats of inherent racism--that would be staggeringly hypocritical--but rather to decry the very use of the race card. It is an enormously significant part of the problem in American racial politics. If the goal here is to eradicate racism, I think a good start would be to stop pointing paranoid fingers at your political opponents as a cheap rhetorical tool. It would be better, I think, to have political debates in good faith, to try very hard not to see things through a lens of race.

The goal shouldn't be to have a black president, but to have a president whose skin color is completely irrelevant, just as the goal in education shouldn't be devoting a single month to black history but rather integrating it into all of history. You don't hear Republican leaders stepping up to the Congressional podium and talking about the president's skin color, and you don't hear Republicans taking it as indisputable fact that black people aren't cogent enough to get their hands on photo IDs. You don't hear Republicans denouncing debt ceiling talks as racial battlegrounds, and you don't hear them wondering how the Tea Party could possibly embrace a black man. Only one side of the aisle seems obsessed with skin color, and it's not the right side.

-e. magill 2/28/2012

  • Black Heritage 2013
  • Black Heritage 2011
  • Fear and Free Expression