Matt had a series of posts a few weeks back about racism and the tea parties. I thought about commenting but, frankly, I wasn't sure what to say. I couldn't tell whether the signs were indicative of the movement, or indicative of a few oddballs. I think it says something that people feel comfortable toting that sort of message to a rally. But my instincts led me to allow for a "charitable interpretation," as one commenter put it last week.
All of that said, I think Matt was on to something.
One common refrain of black Southeners from Robert Smalls to Booker T. Washington to Martin Luther King is the notion that white Supremacy has actually corrupted the white South, that while it is a blight on the physical conditions of blacks, it is a greater blight on the spiritual, moral, and mental conditions of whites.
I never understood how that could be true until relatively recently. But when you think about the embrace of white supremacy by political leaders, you understand that it was not simply an embrace of evil and bigotry, but an embrace of superstition, ghost stories and, ultimately, utter ignorance. At times this has been literally true. There's a short portion in Capitol Men that discusses a late 19th century effort by the federal government to upgrade public schools in the South. For fear that black schools might benefit, South Carolina declines all federal help thus fucking over its white children in the name of white supremacy.
Racism, like all bigotry is, at its root, lazy thinking. Thus the demagouge who employs racism is engaged in a kind of mental corruption, aimed not at the victims of racism, but its alleged benefactors. Thus when George Wallace asserts the following...
In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.
...he is, for sure, defaming black people. But he's also engaging his followers in a seductive flight of delusional stupidity. The "segregation" part of that quote isn't the worst part. It's the white nationalist hoodoo, the unreflective vanity of "greatest people that have ever trod this earth" that's the killer.