Exclusive: The End of the Game of Guilt
October 8, 2009
Congressman Joe Wilson’s “You Lie!” charge against President Barack Obama has elicited a curious response from various figures – that Wilson’s action both comes from and evidences racism. Perhaps New York Times’ Maureen Dowd made the most provocative allegation while former President Jimmy Carter couldn’t resist the opportunity to top it off with his own contention that racism underlies many whites’ criticism of President Barack Obama. This is not to ignore similar utterances from such less relevant voices as Janeane Garofalo that restate the racist charge with no support other than an attitude of arrogant certainty. These very accusations cover a much deeper struggle within this country that needs exposure and clarity if, in fact, America is to truly move into the “post racial” era Obama promised.
First, not even Dowd’s brilliant style with melodious sentence structure, clever analogy, and witty digs could cover what was an obvious exercise in projection. Her proposition was that she “heard” Wilson speak: “You lie, boy.” And indeed, as a master of psychological terms, she must be aware that the “material” for her experience certainly comes from her own mind, as messy as it may be.
Her argument started with ad hominem attacks on Wilson for being a “backbencher,” as if it is Wilson’s assumed envy (as opposed to Dowd’s own envy made apparent each week in her work) that motivated Wilson to lose etiquette. Her assembled facts are that Wilson belonged to a “Confederate” organization, supported the Confederate flag and denounced a black woman’s claim to being the daughter to Strom Thurmond. From this, she conjures up the notion that Wilson must have felt he was “being lectured and even rebuked by” Obama. The suggestion is that Wilson was filled with envy and unable to restrain his racist rage. This argument could not survive a high school debating class but rules at the Times.
And, tellingly, after much press over her piece, Dowd, herself, was (unlike Wilson) unable to apologize and admit her flagrant abuse. Instead, she followed it up with a later piece in which she ran to black father figure Congressman James Clyburn to give credibility to the same weak charges she had made originally. Perhaps, in Dowd’s mind, if a black claims the same racism, it makes it even truer and elevates Dowd to the empathetic and morally superior white doing God’s work. Dowd, well practiced in using psychological concepts as weapons, would do well to look in the mirror.
That Dowd intentionally ignored all of the facts about Wilson’s assertion that Obama clearly and repeatedly lied highlights the equal absurdity of Carter’s claim. Carter states that animosity to Obama exists because he is black and that many whites believe that blacks “are not qualified to lead this great country.” Carter, himself, says that this position is based on his own experience. Carter, subsequently, attempted to clarify what he had said but did not accurately restate what he did, in fact, say.
Projection is in high gear with these two and the first sensible response should be to inquire as to how these statements reveal more about their source than their targets. Carter, thought by many an anti-Semite, is likely familiar with his own race based judgments. Dowd’s mind, judging from her “oeuvre,” is far more complex but nonetheless a victim of liberal impulses and their related easy appeal to victim hood. So much of what lies beneath the charge of racism is the accuser’s own tendency to judge based on race, transferred to others in order to perceive “victims.” In fact, to see racism everywhere requires the “racist” like mind. Further, Dowd proceeds directly to victim hood to finish off her otherwise ludicrous argument; casting Obama as a victim of attempts to paint the black president as “Other,” the focus of Dowd-declared paranoids, and those simply unable to accept the grand “ascension” of a black man.
But Dowd and Carter are merely symptoms of a much larger issue: How does America learn to process the failure of its first black president? (click here for more). Wilson’s comments, just as those of the town hall participants and the 9/12 marchers, were inspired by what they perceive as Obama’s multitude of failures. The dissent that has become loud concerns the policies and actions of Obama and his variously complicit Congress and others. As with Occam’s razor, there is no need for appeal to an underlying motivation such as racism when the intentions could not be made clearer.
Disappointment with Obama’s policies and actions is rising at a remarkable pace. Promises of a “post racial” and “bipartisan” world have dissolved, and representations that he would be the most transparent and accountable president proved completely false. And to those who do not like his policies, feelings of betrayal abound as he puzzlingly spends the nation into what appears as almost deliberate economic suicide. All of this certainly does result in anger, even rage. Yet assigning that rage to racism or envy of a risen black is mere disguise and distraction and attempts to deflect responsibility away from Obama, himself.
The heart of the problem begins with what Shelby Steele has called “white guilt” in his book by the same title. This is the behavior (not the emotion) whites adopt to cure their sense of losing the moral high ground for the nation’s racial history. The depth of Steele’s brilliant elucidations can not be adequately explored here but the essence is that blacks have been able to extract power from whites based on how they present that racial past. In short, blacks stigmatize whites with being “racist" and whites act in order to shed themselves of that stigma. As Steele further describes in An Unbound Man, there are two general approaches to this stigmatizing dance. “Bargainers” essentially agree to not flaunt the racial past while “challengers” shove that racial past in the faces of whites.
What keeps this game going is the notion that whites need to do something to regain their moral position. Unfortunately, guilt is a tactic in a game that has no end. The entire process contains no rules or guidelines for exit- there is no ultimate victory, defeat, or tie. There are no pre-established criteria for deciding when racial history is no longer a cause for stigma. The game continues indefinitely as the players essentially become addicted to it. Yet, until this game ends, we can truly never reach a “post racial” world nor free ourselves of the abusive consequences we are witnessing here.
Much of what Dowd, Carter, Garofalo, and many others are doing is clinging to familiar behavior in order to ensure that the game of white guilt continues. Like children unable to accept commands to prepare for bed, they desperately run to all that has proven effective in the past. And the indignant accusation of racism is, perhaps, the essence of white guilt.
The critical factor of the racist charge is that it begs the target to prove a negative – that he is not a racist; a virtually impossible task. As long as the racist stigma can be made to seem reasonable, it will stick and force the white guilt behavior. To make the stigma stick, however, the meaning of “racism” has had to change over the past decades to keep up with social evolution. And it is this interchange of meanings that has stirred up an almost impenetrable cloud of smoke.
“Racism” certainly used to apply primarily to discriminatory actions depriving certain people of benefits based on the fact that they were a member of a particular race. Hence, most of the issues used to concern “rights” such as to vote, to share facilities, be afforded opportunities and so forth. And “racism,” in turn, concerned actions (some discriminatory and others violent), presumed accompanied with hatred and similar thoughts and emotions. Discrimination and related ugly violence had been a staple of America for centuries and, thus, this meaning could easily stigmatize. Yet, since the ‘60s, such discrimination has been virtually eliminated under the law. That does not mean that discrimination doesn’t occur any more than that theft and burglary statutes have prevented the taking of property. Nonetheless, the legal aspect has been addressed rendering discrimination difficult to use to stigmatize.
As racist actions became more and more infrequent, a somewhat different use of “racism” began to occupy center stage; one that solely concerns thoughts and internal judgments of another based on race. This is some of what Dowd and Carter are referencing in statements that blacks resemble certain animals or are incapable of leadership and so forth. The stigmatizing charge began to reference internal attitudes, emotions, and other judgments.
Over time, however, this charge has also started to weaken. New generations have been raised under very different principles with respect to race than their ancestors. Society has evolved, in many areas into multicultural directions, and attitudes have led and followed. Many have become aware that judgments are taking place within every mind every minute; and many are based on far more ludicrous, insensitive, and seemingly unjust criteria than race. And, those like Carter and Dowd who see racism everywhere are perhaps more guilty of this charge than their objects themselves.
In this sense, perhaps we are all racists; it is pure whimsy to expect that people will not notice and judge skin color or other racial attributes. It can be argued that racists are solely those with incorrect or irrational judgments of others based on race but that opens a never ending can of worms which, in turn, keeps the game of guilt alive. No matter how refined, this is a charge against thoughts disconnected from behavior and, thus, difficult to prove.
While many efforts have been made to keep the charge of this type of racism alive, it is becoming more difficult to sustain the notion that whites continue to be uniquely infected with racial judgments above and beyond other types of judgments. Racially based judgments have been discussed publicly for years, making most extremely sensitive to their own attitudes and potentially politically incorrect (if not ethically repulsive) words. Sensitivity awareness in a multitude of forms has assisted many in minimizing the severity of such judgments, and much of our increasingly multicultural nation has made expression of any such judgments out of place. Most have accepted that while race, like any number of attributes, might remain to some degree active within ones thoughts, there is little need to act based on those judgments themselves.
Furthermore, if hateful thinking is the key to racism, the past decades have revealed ever increasing displays of black hatred for whites. In many areas, (such as the hip-hop world, comedy, prisons, colleges to name a few) pride is taken in black expression of hatred toward and irrational judgments of whites. Obama’s own preacher, Rev. Wright, spewed Black Liberation Theology each week which could not survive a charge of pure racism if whites and blacks were switched. While whites often disfavor and self-police hateful expression based on race (such as that by comedian Michael Richards) the rise in black expression has, to some degree, offset the ability of this type of stigmatizing. In short, as black hatred for whites has been expressed throughout much of society, whites have been less willing to accept the critical white guilt premise – that they uniquely have lost the moral high ground.
Because these “racism” concepts have been losing their applicability, the game of white guilt has been less able to sustain itself. Most of what can be done about discrimination has been put in place. There is little more than simple evolution through generations that can further change the fact of every mind’s endless capacity of judgments and most have learned to separate their own private judgments from mature interpersonal behavior. Further, most consider their private world of thought off limits. Newsweek magazine recently described how young children begin to make distinctions based upon race or skin color. Whites can no longer be deemed guilty simply of judgments. And, despite Dowd and Carter, much of the reasonable commentary on Wilson’s behavior has dismissed racism as a contributing factor.
As these two concepts of racism lose effectiveness as stigmatizing agents, a third one has begun to rear its head; one that has been buried deep within the game all along. This is the notion that racism explains any inequality in wealth and property that exists between the races. That is, as long as blacks do not have at least equal wealth, racism must be at work. In essence, this is the notion that blacks are entitled to reparations for slavery and subsequent unequal opportunities and that until full reparations (whatever that amounts to) are paid, racism continues. Racism, essentially, is the existence of a wealth inequality by virtue of having been its cause.
This latter concept underlies much of the thinking surrounding many of Obama’s associates including Van Jones, Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, etc. It underlies the famous Joe the Plumber redistribution of wealth comment as well as the thinking of Obama mentors Saul Alinsky and Frank Marshall Davis. It sits within the DNA of ACORN and SEIU and throughout much of Obama’s voting base. Yet, because it butts heads with other essential capitalistic and American premises, it has been disguised and wheeled out slowly. And, as it becomes apparent to many Americans, it causes them to so quickly conclude Obama is not only inappropriate for this country but is a failure who must be confronted and stopped quickly before he can do irreversible damage.
Thus, reparations/wealth redistribution is the emerging meaning of “racism.” Yet this meaning reveals itself more as an extreme economic desire of the accuser rather than a fault of the accused and thus difficult to use credibly. When the meaning is more closely related to a remedy rather than the offense, it begins to lose substance. And, while the other stigmas required restrictions on actions and thoughts, this meaning essentially constitutes a taking from whites. Given that many trillions of dollars have been spent over decades on Great Society and similar programs targeted largely to remedy past discrimination, whites, in large part, are significantly less inclined to accept this stigma. Such a severe demand of whites, therefore, is likely to face a final wall; one which will insist that the entire game of guilt be terminated.
Yet, how do we end this game of white guilt (the game where blacks extract power based on the charge of racism) when the charge is no longer effective? And how do we end the game which, itself, provides no guidance for termination?
The way to end it is to merely stop playing; refuse to charge others of racism and refuse to accept the charge. Like any addiction, each craving to play the game must be met with firm discipline. Yet, the game has become so addictive for so many that this is not so simple. Many, such as the shakedown duo Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, have built careers on being challengers. Many liberal whites, including Dowd herself, have based their entire identities on the notion that they are somehow better, wiser, and morally elevated precisely because they have mastered the game. And many blacks, raised on the idols of bargainers and challengers, have a difficult time finding role models to guide them in how to avoid playing the game. The game has been so deeply infused in our culture for decades that it is difficult to imagine its absence. These are truly difficult cultural concerns and can only be addressed with full consciousness and deliberate effort. While much of the country is beginning to realize it wants to shed the game, how to do so remains a mystery.
Not knowing exactly how to proceed without the game shows up in our difficulty in dealing with failures of our first black president. (Leaving aside the debate as to whether or not Obama has been a success or failure, many have already concluded he severely endangers the nation and it is their voice that gives rise to the concern). America has learned to not only accept but to take pride in the successes of blacks, particularly in fields such as sports and entertainment. Yet, America has yet to figure out, within the white guilt game, how to deal with the failure of exalted blacks. OJ Simpson was a hero to both whites and blacks as a player and broadcaster. Yet in his demise, the nation struggled largely along racial lines to find a way to accept the fall. Similarly, and in no way always, many black politicians are arguably treated differently in fall from whites; one can question the treatment of Charlie Rangel, William Jefferson, and Marion Barry on this basis (although other factors clearly complicate these cases). More relevant is the refusal of what used to be called the mainstream media to legitimately engage in a thorough due diligence of Barack Obama’s past. Needless to say, any white politician under identical circumstances would face a different treatment.
The nation felt it had achieved a level of greatness with the election of Obama. It is difficult for even Obama’s strongest critics not to take pride in such event. Yet, is the nation prepared to accept full responsibility for what it has done? Digging further, what would an Obama failure truly mean? Does it mean that many were wrong to choose him, fools to believe in this hypnotic idol? Does it mean that racial stereotypes, such as that alleged by Carter, are true? Does it mean all the hopes for a new world, a post racial world, were delusions? Does it mean we haven’t given him enough of a chance? How long is enough? The cognitive dissonance for many who invested so much in Obama makes it difficult to accept the possibility of error.
But more significantly, what does a nation without the game of white guilt look like? Being post racial is really to make the choice NOT to infuse racial explanations where they do not belong, NOT to engage in white guilt, NOT to challenge on the basis of race as Dowd and Carter did, and NOT to hallucinate old racist stereotypes from the past as Garofalo is compelled to do. Choosing not to stoke the flame will ultimately end the fire. The paradox we confront is that while white guilt is the fuel for a game programmed never to end, true resolution can not appear until the game is ended. Accordingly, white guilt continues to protect Obama. Those who dare to question him are buried in a cloud of accusations rather than adequately answered.
Thus, Dowd, Carter, and many others should be seen in light of this difficulty to know where we are headed and what a truly post racial world look like. It is, perhaps, too threatening to too many at this point to give up the game. Rather, some feel compelled to tighten their grip on the game they know so well; like children begging for one more inning when their bedtime has arrived.
Significantly, as the charge of racism itself becomes more and more difficult to make stick requiring the more extreme meanings of “racism,” two possibilities arise: the game could either tend to die out or the extremes could push evolution into somewhat of a civil war. After all, some of Obama’s mentors such as Alinsky sought precisely to provoke a battle between the “Haves” and the Have-Nots.”
Obama makes himself out to be in favor of a truly post racial world. Yet Obama’s actions indicate he thrives on utilizing the game of white guilt. His immediate instinct in response to the Professor “Skip” Gates affair was to charge Officer James Crowley with racial profiling before he knew any of the facts. Obama is fully steeped in the game. And, Obama, if anyone, proved to be the racist (per the second meaning above) as he judged Crowley on the basis of his being a white cop. Unfortunately, counter to his claim for a post racial world, if he secures and consolidates his power, he may, in fact, be best able to keep the game of guilt alive long enough to give credibility to the call for reparations.
Perhaps, some of what is stirring resistance to Obama includes the perception (faint as it may be to some) that he is, in fact, pushing for that third concept of “racism” – wealth redistribution and reparations based on race. Maybe, if Dowd’s vast psychological lexicon were more deftly deployed, she would inquire whether that goal (rather than Obama’s skin color) is some of what threatens much of the growing anti-Obama population. Clearly, Obama’s spending activities were much of what the marchers and town hallers openly cited and much of what Wilson disapproved. Instead, racism became the charge used by Dowd and others precisely to disguise the reality of what truly occurred.
Until we develop an easier ability to navigate through the failures of our black leaders, we will keep the game of white guilt alive. And, as long as we keep the game fueled, it will push for more dangerous and extreme meanings of “racism” to stay alive. If, however, we as a nation can both discover a way to deal with Obama’s failure just as if he were any man, and agree to simply refuse to play the game of guilt, then we can begin to learn how to successfully live in a post racial world. Until then, Hall of Fame players such as Dowd and Carter are all talk, and misguided to boot.
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