Earlier this fall I posted on one part of my personality, the part that loves irony. Even when irony isn’t in my favor. Besides irony, one thing that I notice a lot of are assumptions and stereotypes. Not all assumptions and stereotypes are bad, because like the guy who started a blog in January on “White People” has noted (and who’s now published a book of his blogs), there’s an element of truth in these assumptions and stereotypes. But as the saying goes, assuming so much about so many can make an “‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.”
Such is the case with two strange stereotypes in this culture, ones in which race plays a role, but not exactly the ways in which most people echoing these stereotypes would expect. Take Sen. McCain’s call a couple of weeks ago for Sen. Obama to “repudiate” Rep. John L. Lewis’ statement drawing comparisons between the McCain campaign’s rhetoric in its stump speeches and the vile reactions of some in its crowds to the late George Wallace’s fiery, hate-filled speeches and the violent acts against Blacks that resulted. Why would McCain need Obama to repudiate Lewis’ comments? If anything, McCain should be able to repudiate them himself, right?
McCain’s call on Obama to repudiate Lewis falls easily into one of the great Derrick Bell’s “Rules of Racial Standing,” where a Black leader or, as some of us would call it, a representative Negro, is called on the carpet to rebuke another Black leader for inappropriately crying over race. To be sure, Rep. Lewis’ comparison of McCain’s campaign rhetoric to Wallace’s is a bit of a stretch. McCain’s response, though, is a strange one even when Bell’s “Rules of Racial Standing” are implied. Lewis himself backtracked on his own statement, and Obama’s campaign had already responded to Lewis before McCain’s call for repudiation. Plus, if McCain’s other statements about Lewis are to be believed, then he should’ve picked up the phone and talked with Lewis directly about his statement or repudiated it himself. It makes McCain look cowardly, actually, for calling on someone else to talk with one of his “heroes” for him.
The recent rebukes from the media neocons on the issue of race in this election cycle are another example of stereotyping. The thought among folks like Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan is that though McCain’s campaign and his surrogates have implied that Obama is a socialist, anti-American, pro-terrorist, associates only with radical leftists, and has a questionable familial and American background, that this isn’t related to race at all. Yes, it’s going a bit too far to say that McCain and Palin have been running a racist campaign or that they are solely responsible for the violent language used by some in their crowds about Obama, like a recent New York Times editorial suggested.
Yet the response of the aforementioned neocons is as stereotypical as it is strange. Their response is stereotypical because in their minds, racist language or acts can only occur if the N-word is involved or if it’s something that someone White does to some Black. For them, the distance between the implications of the McCain campaign’s language and racist language is a thick white wall of a line, not the thin line that many of us recognize it to be. It is as much a stereotype for neocons to react to any allegations of racism as if someone had an epileptic grand mal seizure in front of them as it is stereotypical from their perspective to have so-called liberal newspapers like the New York Times to raise the issue of race at inappropriate times and in inappropriate circumstances.
All miss the main point. Race and racism is far more complex and far more nuanced than any of these people are willing to admit or understand. Even many Blacks and other Americans of color don’t always see the nuance. McCain’s campaign, regardless of intent, has likely stoked more complex feelings about Obama and race in America than folks like O’Reilly, Scarborough and Buchanan have the intellectual and rhetorical capacity to analyze or vocalize.
On a less serious but still strangely stereotypical tip, one of the things me and my wife often laugh about with TV shows is how almost all shows treat the issue of race when it’s injected into a storyline. Whether it’s CBS’ Cold Case or HBO’s The Wire, one thing’s for certain. If there’s an event in which a large number of Blacks are gathered — especially if there’s any historical context to it at all — gospel music or spirituals become the background sound for the scene. It’s uncanny how often or automatic it is to see and hear with show after show after show. It would be like watching a show based in San Francisco with the only music playing on the show coming from Journey’s Greatest Hits album, or a show in Indiana that only played John Mellencamp’s music. Or a show about Latinos only playing salsa — although the George Lopez show does have some of these elements. Although these shows are attempts at showing the great diversity that is life even among African Americans, they inadvertently reinforce other stereotypes in the process. I just wish that instead of hearing a middle-aged Black woman humming a gospel song after a homicide on a show, that I heard Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel instead.