"He's a very bright man. But think about his life. And think about what he was exposed to and what he saw in America. He's only relating what his experience in life was ...
"His intent isn't to destroy. It's to create dependency because it worked so well for him. I don't say that critically. Look at people for what they are. Don't assume ulterior motives. I don't think he doesn't love our country. I think he does.
"As an African American male, coming through the progress of everything he experienced, he got tremendous benefit through a lot of these programs. So he believes in them. I just don't believe they work overall and in the long run they don't help our country.
But he doesn't know that because his life experience is something different. So it's very important not to get mad at the man. And I understand, his philosophy -- there's nothing wrong with his philosophy other than it's goofy and wrong [laughter] -- but that doesn't make him a bad person."I was taught by my parents and god parents that as a black man in America I had to do at least ten times as good as a white person to get half as far. In the post-Civil Rights era I am at times tempted to drop that down to a ratio of five to one. But after seeing what the election of the first Black President has unleashed on the part of many white folks of a certain age, I am tempted to let the rule stay in effect.
Why? Because in all, the Age of Obama is an enema that has freed the most ugly types of Whiteness to act without shame or censure.
There are two concepts that students of race and politics find particularly useful as they work through how race and power intersect in American life. The more recent of the two is Joe Feagin's "white racial frame." This is really a foundational concept for understanding the many ways that whiteness is legitimated, and in turn quite literally frames how White America understands social reality and the very idea of what "normal" is.
The second concept is symbolic racism. Because racism has evolved over time from the classic slavery, hood and sheets type known as dominative racism, to the more contemporary "colorblind" variety, the language and theory has had to shift as well. These types of White racism often overlap, and one does not necessarily preclude the other. I would suggest that as we unpack the hostility of the White Right and the Tea Party GOP to President Obama, symbolic racism, and its auxiliary white racial resentment, remain the most revealing and useful frameworks for making sense of the foolishness we are witnessing.
Tom Coburn's recent comments about President Obama are an object lesson in the concept.
Symbolic racism is based upon the idea that the citizenship of blacks folks is always in question, our hard work suspect, and that we do not embody the intangibles of "Americanness." Moreover, Blacks defy the expectations of the Protestant Work Ethic, are morally suspect, complain too much about racism, and have received "special" benefits that have been denied to white people. This explains why the rhetoric of "take our America back" works so well for Right-wing populist thugs. Black Americans are the very definition of the anti-citizen and are imagined as both perpetually and existentially outside of the American mainstream.
The Tom Coburns of the world (along with the less polite Buchanans, Limbaughs, Becks, and Coulters) cannot conceptualize black genius. They cannot even accept the idea of the black middle class or that there are black and brown folks whose achievements are superior to those of the great mass of white mediocrities in this country.
Black success exists outside of their cognitive map. Beyond ideology (although Conservatism in noteworthy for its dependence on racial resentment and animus), many whites cannot even imagine the idea of a President who happens to be black. It is inconceivable. Thus, the attacks on Obama are about more than policy. They are assaults on his very personhood, attacks which are legitimated by the white racial frame.
That is the ultimate myopia of white privilege and Whiteness. The former tells white folks that they are always the best and are de facto qualified for any task or responsibility; the latter protects them from having to confront that the reality is otherwise.
Symbolic racism and Whiteness also team up to create a blind spot that is utterly devoid of introspection or critical interrogation. Does Tom Coburn know that more whites are on welfare and food stamps than any other group? What of the culture of poverty among whites in places such as rural red state America and Appalachia? Does he consider federal policies that both sustain and created the white middle class a type of entitlement? What of tax right-offs, farm subsidies, and the military industrial complex? Are those creating a class of white "dependent" Americans?
In the white racial frame black folks are always thugs, incompetents, welfare queens, and degenerate failures until we prove to the satisfaction of white folks that we are not. I know that President Obama is a forgiving and (to my eyes) naive soul on the ways of White folks. But, I do hope that Obama is finally learning about the limitations of Whiteness and how they color the vitriol and opposition he has faced every day of his presidency by Conservatives and the New Right.
Or as a "bound man," is Obama also blinded by Whiteness's glare? I do hope not.