by Jay Johansen | Mar 23, 2012
My daughter is in college. A few days ago in her sociology class the professor was talking about "roles". This is a standard sociology topic: We all have many roles in life. One person can, at the same time, be a son, a husband, a citizen, an employee, a friend, an enemy, etc.
To illustrate, the professor mentioned Barack Obama, and asked the class what the first role was that came to mind when they thought of him. My daughter replied "president". As she told the story to me, my first thought was "president", second was "socialist", and then I laughed to myself as the next thought that popped into my head was "Kenyan native".
Then the professor said, "Black, right?" And almost all the students in the class said "yes" or nodded or otherwise indicated agreement. My daughter was amazed that her liberal professor and a clear majority of the mostly-liberal students in his class apparently believed that the single most important thing about Mr Obama was his skin color, and not his job or his policies.
And it got me to thinking. Since Mr Obama became president, it seems like whenever someone criticizes his policies, his defenders cry "racism!" As a conservative, I've interpreted this as political posturing: They can't rebut conservatives' criticisms of Obama's policies, so instead they attack the messenger with silly personal attacks.
But now I'm starting to think: Maybe the liberals who cry racism aren't posturing. They really believe this.
As a conservative, when I think about another human being, I think about his character, his job, his accomplishments. If you asked me to list attributes of a particular person, I suppose I might mention his race at some point, but it would be way down the list.
But to a liberal, the first and most important thing about any person is his race. It is the single, most defining characteristic of a person, more important than his job, his politics, his religion, anything. And they just naturally assume that this is how everyone else thinks, too.
So a conservative looks at Mr Obama and thinks, "This man is an extreme liberal, I believe liberalism to be bad for the country, therefore I oppose Mr Obama." But the liberal hears the criticism and thinks, "This person hates Obama, Obama is black, therefore this person must hate black people. He's a racist."
When the conservative protests that his opposition has noting to do with race and points out that he never mentioned race, to the liberal this is an obvious subterfuge. The defining thing about Mr Obama is that he is black. If you dislike Obama, it must be because he is black. What else could it possibly be?
© 2012 by Jay Johansen