People are talking about McCain’s “that one” comment in the last debate. It caught my attention, too. My brain did a double take. He said what? He said WHAT?!
I did a cerebral double take earlier in the debate, too, when McCain gestured toward Obama and called him “this,” and I’m surprised that no one’s including that in their upset or outrage over “that one.”
And the counterbeat to all the people upset by McCain’s “that one” is the dismissal I’ve heard just as often: anyone who thinks McCain’s comments were racist is finding racism where there is none, ‘playing the race card’ out of desperation.
Right. I hear that and I hear the school nurse telling me I overreacted when Michael called me a nigger.
My thoughts on this remind me of Jay Smooth’s excellent video “How to Tell People They Sound Racist” … Do I believe that, in the purest place in his heart John McCain is a racist? I have no idea, but I think the answer may be yes. Do I believe that the ways McCain talks about and behaves toward Obama are racist? Absolutely. Do I think I should balance my opinion against the fact that McCain has a brown-skinned daughter? Not in the slightest. Do I think playing to the racism of certain voting blocks is an admirable or acceptable way for any president or presidential candidate to operate? No. Do I think McCain’s behavior is equal to the man selling t-shirts with Obama’s name under an image of Curious George, or the jackass right here in my own town selling “Obama is my slave” and “Who shot Obama” t-shirts? Maybe not. Does the difference between them make McCain’s words and actions less hateful? Not in even the smallest way.
Now, you can throw back at me Joe Biden’s comment about Obama being “articulate and clean.” Yes, that comment was offensive to me, too. It was offensive in the way I find it offensive when people compliment the way I speak, when people express surprise when they learn that I went to Sarah Lawrence or that I have a graduate degree.
Do I think Biden is a racist? I have no idea, though I choose to believe the answer is no. Do I think what he said was racist? Yes, absolutely. Do I hear it in the same way I hear McCain’s “that one” comment? No. (And this isn’t me being partisan. Don’t get me started on Geraldine Ferraro!) Biden genuinely seemed to think he was saying something positive, just as the “Oh, you speak so well!” people think they’re saying something positive to me. McCain’s comments aren’t coming from any kind of positive place. There’s nothing in his way of interacting with or around Obama that has any hint of ‘positive.’
(Believing you’re saying something positive doesn’t mean what you’re saying isn’t racist, of course, doesn’t mean you don’t need to look at what you just said and figure out where it came from and what’s up with your thoughts and beliefs. When people throw that “Oh, you speak so well,” at me, I usually hand it back to them, “Thanks, so do you,” and leave them to figure it out. So there might not have been malicious intent behind Biden’s “articulate and clean,” but the ugly is still there. I run into trouble with this, though, because I tend to think racist is as racist does. You know, if it walks like a racist and quacks like a racist … And by that measure, Biden’s a racist right along side McCain and Ferraro … and Bill Clinton and … oy.)
I had hoped — foolishly, naively, doggedly — that we would somehow manage to stay away from some of the uglier ways this campaign could go. How I thought that after the Paris/Britney ad, I don’t know. How I thought that in light of the persistent “He’s a Muslim!” flailing, I don’t know. How I thought that after the “too risky for America” ads, I don’t know. But as usual, here I am, surprised to be here.
One last thing that upsets me about “that one” is the whole beating-a-dead-horse of it. It’s like when I’m out on the street and someone makes reference to my body, as if I haven’t yet noticed that I’m fat and having it pointed out will make me run home in horror or shame. Please. I have mirrors, and I am sufficiently vain that I spend quite a lot of time looking in them. I know exactly what I look like. Having someone say something about me doesn’t magically make me more fat, doesn’t suddenly make everyone around me notice it. They all noticed it already. And McCain’s “that one” is like McCain shouting, “Don’t you see? He’s not like us. He’s black! Look at him. He’s black, I tell you!” Ok, he’s black. But you know what, we can all see that for ourselves. We don’t need snarky, contemptuous reminders. It’s as though McCain wonders why there’s even a need for debates. Shouldn’t he have this thing sewn up by now? Oh, wait, maybe people haven’t noticed the other guy’s a black man. So he keeps pointing it out: “this,” “that one,” “brown noise” (although there is some argument that what he really said was “ground noise”).
Could everyone just send John a note? Tell him you’ve noticed Barack’s skin color. Maybe that will help him get back to talking about his platform instead of telling us over and over something we already know. It won’t change the fact that he’s a racist, but it might change his need to show that to us again and again.