Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Racism and the news

To start, I am not pointing fingers at anybody who reads this blog to say they are or are not racists. I don't know any of you well enough to make that judgment. This is about the issue and about one recent event with another not so recent but still in the news. Both relate to racism and the media.

To begin I just want to mention my dislike of what passes for news today. It irks me every time something new comes along. We are given the stories but almost always it's up to us to sort through them for what is truth, speculation or lies. What will they say is true today and a lie tomorrow? Some of us bother to figure it out for ourselves, using hopefully our experience and commonsense. Some of us take whatever is handed us from our favorite biased site and hope for the best in terms of it being true.

Currently I am reading a mystery even though that's not normally my favorite fiction. It's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and it is a good story, holding my interest. It is also reminding me of how I feel every day when I hear something new regarding the latest news and what it means. I feel like I must, like these mysteries, sort through the known facts (when we have some), determine which apply and how; then decide what they mean. Truth isn't easy to come by and if we depend on one source, likely it's impossible.

The latest example of this is the story of the woman who worked for the Department of Agriculture. The story exploded as an example of racism in the NAACP and how dare it chasten the tea party and say it  should purge its ranks of racists.

For anybody who has been blissfully ignorant, you might want to stop reading right here. The issue is about a Breitbart video which clearly showed the woman, who worked for the Department of Agriculture, speaking about an event from 1986 where she hadn't wanted to help a white farmer's family hold onto their farm because she remembered all the awful things done to her own family with nobody helping them.

The outing of the video and her admission of racism led to her being condemned by the NAACP and fired from the Department of Agriculture under pressure from the White House.

Then comes the next shoe to drop as it turns out that video was edited to ignore the context, the whole purpose of her speech which was that she had grown through her reluctance to help these people. The farm family, who she had been speaking about, came forward to tell how she had helped them save their farm and they were still grateful. Fox ran a story on Obama railroading the woman and everybody (except maybe Sean Hannity) was mad at Breitbart for the edited video.

If there was a third shoe, it would be the interview by Hannity (gagging as I say his name again) with Andrew Breitbart who explained how he got the video and why he ran it. He had been contacted in the spring by someone claiming they had it. He said he didn't pursue it until NAACP said that the tea party needed to face the racists in their body and condemn them. Then he remembered this video and found the man who had it, didn't bother checking it for context, and ran it on his site which led to all that is above.

He also said you cannot deny that the people listening to her speak that day did not know how her story would end when they cheered her for denying all the help she could have given to the white farmers. He said he only used it to protect the tea party from those who would say those N-- signs meant something. He was then being castigated when he was totally innocent. Well he didn't say that and having heard him on Bill Maher, he wouldn't say that. Breitbart is arrogant, opinionated, and not pretending he's anybody he's not. Like it or not like it.

So here's the thing-- We were all bombarded by the video whether we listen to right or left wing media. The Obama administration lost their heads over it when they rushed to push her out. Didn't they remember the Acorn video put out by Breitbart? Couldn't anybody give it a moment for cool heads to think about this to look for the whole speech? How about checking her record?

Her story and the reaction from the white farmer's family were actually an encouragement of how far we have come from the feelings she had been describing at the beginning of her speech. If Breitbart is right about how the majority listening to her speech thought about what she first said, they got a learning moment from the rest of it. A learning moment that Breitbart tried to deny the nation. The news media could and should have done more to bring that out. They have lost their sense of journalistic responsibility.

Racism is invasive. It's sneaky. It creeps up on people, hides under other ideas, and it's definitely a political problem in this country and that means on both sides where people jump to conclusions about someone else based on skin color or cultural differences.

The nasty stereotypical video that one wing of the tea party had put out leading to their being ousted by another wing of the tea party, had yet another wing declaring that video was fine, just humor is all. The three different divisions as well as the NAACP's reaction show the problem we face with knee jerk reactions. For those who have not heard of the video, it ridiculed blacks for their ability to work hard. It was mean but worse ignorant.

Some years back we had a black family move out here (in our part of the woods, that's rare) and become our neighbors up the road. We got to know them pretty well. They were guests in our home, he actually taught us about meditation. We had their boys working on the farm. We have never had any kids work harder for us. The family were and are totally trustworthy, horse people, and the nicest neighbors which made us very sad when they moved -- especially to lose those boys for workers and having them look after our place whenever we had to be gone. Nobody ever did a more responsible job of it.

Does that mean all blacks are like that? Of course, not. Nor does it mean all whites are like me. Racism is to judge everybody by skin color first and actions second. It's the opposite of how it should be on either side.

To go along with this is another story back in the news, still hanging on after a year and a half because of one of the justice department's attorneys quitting over it stirring it all up again. Two black guys, one with a New Black Panther uniform and carrying a nightstick, stood outside a polling place and were accused of a federal crime-- voter intimidation. (Wikipedia's take on who the New Black Panthers are and this particular story)

This story might have more weight if we did not have secret ballots. It might have mattered if they had gone there under orders from their headquarters and it was happening elsewhere. It might have mattered if they had gone to a white polling place where it might be expected people wouldn't vote for a black; but excuse me-- this was a black polling place where Obama was extremely popular according to polling data.

This guy, and it was basically one of the two guys there, was a yahoo, plain and simple. Maybe he was impressed with himself, maybe thought he'd get some credit from somebody, but it's the kind of thing that local cops have usually taken care of.  Instead it became a federal case.

If they had been white, the story would not have gone past a local paper if it made it there. I do not think those, who are so upset, saw it as two black guys. They saw it as some kind of movement that threatened them and why was that? Most likely reason-- because the two were blacks and belonged (or so one might assume) to what the people upset consider a militant group. Now this 'new' group is not connected to the Black Panthers and they are actually at odds with each other. Is the new group innocent of other bad things? Maybe or maybe not. But this isn't about any of that. They didn't order the guy there and had nothing to do with his actions which is why the charges were dropped. Why they were ever pursued is another question.

Someone asked what would have happened if that had been two tea partiers? Well if they were handing out literature or warning people to vote right or else, they'd likely have gone to jail but I doubt it would have led to the right or left wing demanding that they be prosecuted in federal courts. Hey in my opinion, if our United States attorneys don't have more important things than that to go after, their numbers should be reduced to save us some money. To some right wingers what I just said means I am cahoots with Communists, want to be a Hitler supporter and am trying to destroy the country-- all over two yahoos, who happened to be black...

This is an issue of racism whether the right wing who is so offended by it admits it or not. It's the kind people deny but since these black guys weren't doing anything violent, this is about the assumption the right wing bloggers have made that the blacks going to vote were dumb enough to not know it's a secret ballot or that they would have voted for McCain/Palin except for that scary presence. It was an assumption these guys had actually been ordered there because of who the group was.

I am shaking my leftie head because it doesn't make any sense to me. It's ridiculous and doesn't even deserve media coverage, let alone the time of a federal United States attorney; but it wasn't to the rightie bloggers (or that attorney who likely was a rightie also from the sounds of it) who are still all stirred up over it because the federal government is not going to spend manpower putting what ended up being one guy on trial for voter intimidation since there was never any connection to anybody else. This is the same bunch all upset because they are going to put a dangerous terrorist on trial because they can't do it right.

If Obama has learned nothing else from the Agriculture Department employee and NAACP fiasco, I hope it's that he's wasting his time trying to placate that element of the right wing. If his latest jumping to try and prove he is not also racist, didn't convince him, he's not as bright as we have thought.

And the rest of us might be very careful what we believe from the media as it's often half the story or worse-- all wrong! Giving it some time, not automatically assuming someone is doing something based on their race or political party, can help a lot of wrong judgments. That's true of a lot of things in life.


Kay Dennison said...

Great post!!!! I guess I'm a lefty pinko you-know-what lover because we agree.

What really galls me is that neither story was properly checked out by Hannity or one of his gofers.

Anyone who ever took Journalism 101 knows that one always ALWAYS checks his/her sources. And then you check them further -- especially with a sensitive (to put it mildly) subject. It's called responsibility!

Wait a minute!!! I forgot something important!!! We're talking about Hannity and Faux News -- not journalism.

(Doing my best SNL Gilda Radner imitation): Never mind.

Greybeard said...

Who is having to talk about eating crow and re-hiring her Kay?

Rain said...

Sorry but all comments here must relate to the topic and not insult anybody who is posting. It ends conversations. For that reason I have to put on comment moderation which I didn't want to do but alas so goes life

cj said...

You're kidding me. You have to be. You see nothing wrong with what took place outside that voting place? A man with a club, slapping it against his hand, commenting on how white people were going to know what it was like to be ruled by a black man? A man calling white people crackers?

And you don't have a problem with the people in the NAACP audience laughing and cheering Sherrod's comments about denying a white person help because of that person's skin color before they knew it was a 'teachable moment'?

Oh, wait. Now I get it. Black people cannot be racist. Reverse discrimination is just fine because, after all, black people have been discriminated against in the past.

Rain, it is your faulty logic that ensures race relations will never change. They can't, not as long as one segment of the society feels it is perfectly fine for them to discriminate against another.

It's that simple.


Rain said...

Did you think my calling him a yahoo was a compliment? My point was that it was a local matter, a state matter, and did not belong as something the federal government put on its docket. One man, in a black polling place, a secret ballot inside, not much chance anybody there intended to vote for McCain Palin. What difference did you think he made?

And I am not kidding. I did not see this as worthy of the Justice Department to prosecute. No proof that he was sent there, only him and you want our tax dollars going into an expensive trial. Are you sure you are the guys worried about a deficit?

My philosophy is it's thinking like that that led to the expensive impeachment of Bill Clinton and the distraction from the issues that really mattered like paying more attention to bin Laden by both Clinton and Congress.

As a rightie, you are bound to see this as Greybeard does. That's fine. We will never see eye to eye here and either agree to disagree or get very frustrated.

My next blog is on something of this same area but a study from Michigan. You won't like that one either...

cj said...

So, we should leave voting rights issues to states?

States that, in the past, had Jim Crow laws?

States that enforced racism by keeping a segment of society from voting?

Doesn't seem like such a good idea to me.


Rain said...

If it had been a group doing it, I might say no. But one idiot. I'd say yes. States determine their own voting machines, the hours for voting, register voters. You don't think they can handle it with somebody like this guy?

Incidentally do you favor Arizona having a right to enforce the immigration laws that the federal government is not enforcing?

There is a Constitution and it limits what the states can go and then the fed goes after the states. I would not think they will go after individual police officers who might enforce the immigration law. They will sue the state and that's what they could do if they thought Pennsylvania purposely was having people there to scare away voters... only in this case, one stupid guy and in a place most intended to vote as he wanted... where is the intimidation? What impact did he have that damaged the election?

Rain said...

Making this clear in case I did not. If a state was encouraging practices that discouraged voters in selected districts from voting, then I'd say it was a federal responsibility to step in except it usually didn't.

Ohio supposedly did that in the year where Bush beat Kerry. They had less polling places than the numbers and it denied people from voting or left them with extra long lines in districts inclined to vote democrat, IF that kind of thing happens, then it should be investigated and prosecuted by either side. But it is the federal government going after the state for unfair rules. There was a question also about Florida not only the double voting but also that they had purged the voting rolls of a lot of people but selectively in those districts less likely to vote for Bush; so those entitled to vote legally found their names weren't there and could do nothing about it. I don't recall any federal investigation of that, do you?

cj said...

Do you realize the the voting districts in Florida where so many questions were raised where controlled by democrats during that election?

Kinda interesting that democrats would rig things in Bush's favor...

And I'll be interested to read what you have to say about Michigan. It's where I live and I'll be surprised if you can tell me somethng I don't know.


Rain said...

The issue in Florida was higher than the individual counties. It came from state level on purging the rolls. The question for the counties was did they get less money than required for good machines and did they send out a pre-voting pamphlet that deliberately had candidates in different places than the one they actually used to vote. If you have experience with elders who are nearly blind like my mother, you know they figure out their votes based on that sample and go in to vote where they have memorized because they need magnifying glasses to see the names and they do not like to take time. The issue was moot as nobody investigated anything that I recall but there was a lot of controversy over the lady who was responsible for those things. With a Republican president and Republican Congress, that wasn't going to happen though. And really it was what it was. I don't lose sleep over the fact that it didn't as it would have further divided our country if they had say thrown out Florida or Ohio's results. Sometimes you have to just say-- next time!

And I don't have anything to say about Michigan since I only know the state through a friend who lives there. My piece tomorrow is on a study from the university there. I did draw an application to my own experiences with blogging though.

Ingineer66 said...

What about all the military ballots that were never counted from Florida or elsewhere in that election? Nobody ever brings that up. There were thousands that didn't get voted and we know that many more people in the military voted for Bush than Gore. Under-counting the military vote is a systemic problem in this country. Of all the people that actually deserve to vote, the ones serving our country should be at the top of the list.

cj said...

So, just a follow-up question:

Do you see anything at all racist about Sherrod saying Andrew Breibart wanted to suck all black people back into slavery?


Rain said...

I don't think it was racist but an overreaction to what Breitbart did. I haven't heard her saying it either but then I was away from all news for awhile. You could find a white person saying the same thing about him given what he does. They would also be overreacting, I think. Although having heard him talking on Bill Maher's show, he can be really annoying. I think he likes being annoying and getting the publicity he gets for his viewpoints as it sells more of his 'product'. I don't personally know he's a racist by the way. Sometimes people just put out what they know the market wants. In this case, he claimed he was 'taken in' although he didn't listen to where the people at the NAACP cheered as he implied they cheered places that the actual tape didn't show. It was a very unfortunate episode.