Historical Blindness – The GOP’s Attempt to Whitewash History
Yes, I went there. Yes, I said whitewash. Yes, I pointed out what we’ve all been saying over the course of the last week, month, year, years…. The GOP has a lack of historical memory as evidenced by Rand Paul and even by LL Cool J’s new song Accidental Racist. They completely and self-servingly create myths about their role in the world, in this country, but especially about race. And then, with a straight face, they look the victims of their overt racism in the face and lie. Rand Paul did that this week. He recreated the history of the GOP. He ignored the attempts to restore Jim Crow level disenfranchisement with Voter ID laws in the last two cycles. He flat out lied about his position on the Civil Rights Amendment, and the GOP role in the Civil Rights Movement. He did it the oddest of places, Howard University, the crown jewel of the Historically Black College crown. And he did it with a straight face, knowing he was going to get laughed out of the room, corrected and mocked. So what the hell was he up to – because we also know Rand Paul isn’t his Daddy, he’s not a clown, and he’s running a serious and professional political organization. So what is he doing?
He’s speaking to moderate independent white male voters. Some white women too, but mostly to white male voters. The dirty little secret of the white male independent is that they aren’t that independent. Until 2008 they had always voted republican. If you asked them what they were they said, republican. Oh, they weren’t Tea Party lunatics, or racists, they were just fiscally conservative, socially moderate/liberal people. If you’d asked them about Gay Marriage they would have said “domestic partnerships,” if you’d asked them about public education they would have said, “We need to invest more.” If you asked them about equal pay, they would have been for it.
The candidacy of Barack Obama, the lousy job of the Dick Cheney George Bush Presidency, and the plunging economy, forced those people out of the GOP. The more conservative Southern, white, reaction to Obama was hysteria and racialized speech and reaction. It made the type of Republican I describe above very uncomfortable. These people jumped party lines and voted for Obama, or stayed home. As the GOP got more racialized heading towards outright racist, these swing voters – and by swing I mean that they have now proved themselves capable of being persuaded – changed their registration and became “Independent” of both parties. These are the people most likely to say, “A Pox on both their houses.” Most likely to talk about “how much they hate politics,” and these are the people to whom Rand Paul, by going to Howard and taking a beating, was speaking.
He was playing into the reverse effect of white guilt, which is a democratic phenomenon, called white denial. The reality of slavery, Jim Crow, and continued systemic racism is so horrific that white people just deny it is happening or ever happened. They myth make and create a fairy tale where, “sure things were bad but that was 150 years ago,” as though people weren’t getting lynched in the 50s. They say, “Get over it,” in a blame the victim way that every woman in the country should recognize and reject.
Rand Paul is speaking to those people, the squirm in their seats, white guy, who just wants to not talk about race or think about his role in the oppression of people. Hell, I get it.
Listening to women talk about Kamala Harris, or Steubenville or the role of men in the education of boys about rape is uncomfortable. Listening to people in Less Developed Countries talk about the US and it’s economic/foreign policy is uncomfortable. Have you ever had a conversation with a group of people not from the US about America’s role in the world? Talk about uncomfortable. I get it. But the reality remains. The hard truths remain. Our responsibility as adults, as critical thinkers, as citizens, is to resist the whitewash, to reject the mythology of cowardice promoted by Paul and the GOP, which seeks to rewrite history to make people feel better.
The truth is that in order to heal as a nation the first thing that White Conservative America needs to do is admit what happened in the past and own it. Own that every white person in the 18th an 19th century didn’t own slaves. That some knew it was wrong. That some spoke against it, loudly. And that a huge swath of this country rejected the truth of those arguments out of greed and cowardice and fear. Admit that the Civil War was about Slavery and that the Confederate Flag isn’t “accidental racism,” but rather, outright fucking racism and intimidation – no matter what LL Cool J may say in his black republican sellout bullshit. Just admit that the problem isn’t black people in this country talking about racism and pointing out white hypocrisy, it is that white conservative’s hypocrisy and their refusal to admit the historical truth of our nation and our people. Rand Paul’s political win at Howard is based solely on the fact that he showed up and that a group of white voters are going to reward him for having the courage to show up and just make shit up. That’s why he did it. That’s the vote he’s hoping to move. I fear he is succeeding.
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J. Christian Watts
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