Because There Are No Racists...

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From Iowa congressman Steve King:


When you look at this administration, I'm offended by Eric Holder and the President also, their posture. It looks like Eric Holder said that white people in America are cowards when it comes to race. And I don't know what the basis of that is but I'm not a coward when it comes to that and I'm happy to talk about these things and I think we should. But the President has demonstrated that he has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race - on the side that favors the black person.

As Media Matters notes, Eric Holder said no such thing:

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.

Now you don't have to agree with that statement--but on the basic facts, King is simply wrong. More to the point, the charge that SoandSo is "favoring blacks" is not some new evolved tactic. The "favoring black people" charge is as native to the practiced racist, as the "world domination" charge is to the practicing anti-Semite.

We talked about this just last week. Lincoln is urging Tecumseh Sherman to put recruit blacks as soldiers. Sherman's response isn't to counter the argument but, like most racists, to change the subject to black favoritism:

I like niggers well enough as niggers, but when fools and idiots try and make niggers better than ourselves, I have an opinion.

The most important part of that quote isn't the use of nigger, it's the shifting of the argument. It's not about blacks as soldiers, it's about trying to "make niggers better than ourselves."

Dig "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, Senator from South Carolina, justifying stripping the votes from blacks through terrorism: 

He said that the Republican party gave the negroes the ballot in order to protect themselves against the indignities and wrongs that were attempted to be heaped upon them by the enactment of the black code. I say it was because the Republicans of that day, led by Thad Stevens, wanted to put white necks under black heels and to get revenge.

Tillman goes on to say that giving blacks political power means "gratifying [the black man's] lust on our wives and daughters." This is over the 14th amendment. And so it continues to today, until you have Glenn Beck asserting that health care reform is "reparations," and Rush Limbaugh claiming that "In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering."

The charge by white public figures that certain politicians favor blacks, and thus disfavors whites is not merely "racial resentment" it isn't just "racial discomfort," it is an old and racist appeal aimed squarely at a particular citizen, nursing the most ancient of American resentments.

One final note, I've seen a lot of Tea Party folks taking exception to the charge that they are in anyway motivated by racism. Fair enough. I would humbly suggest that when you embrace political leaders who claim that the president "favors the black person," or when your keynote speaker claims that "literacy tests" would have prevented an Obama election, you should not be surprised that your membership comes to the mall toting signs that claim Obama is supporting "White slavery."
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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