Tannin’, Tommin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas*

Or something.

Much has been made of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s unbelievably (racist, insensitive) stupid comment about Mr. My Next President being tanned.  Berlusconi says his critics are humorless, can’t believe folks didn’t get it: “Are there really people who don’t understand it was a cute thing to say?”

Cute.  Cute.  To make a joke about Obama’s color.  Cute.

But Berlusconi doesn’t surprise me nearly as much as he seems to surprise other people.  The man has proven over and over again just how much of a jackass he is.  Why are people surprised that he would say something racist?

No, I have saved my surprise for Ralph Nader.

Obama’s choice is whether to be Uncle Sam or Uncle Tom.  Uncle Tom.  Like Berlusconi, Nader saw nothing wrong with his comment, saw no problem with using one of the most offensive and insulting terms in our culture to refer to the black man who had just been elected to the highest office in the land.  Ralph Nader.

At one point, he restates his charge to Obama: “He can become a great president, or he can become a toady to the corporate powers …”  Now, I would still find reason to be upset about this, it’s true.  In response to this comment, I’d want to have a discussion about Nader’s claim that Obama has always been in the pocket of big corporations.  That’s a conversation that would be based on Obama’s actions, a conversation that would have nothing to do with race.  But the moment Nader throws in that “Tom,” the conversation becomes something different.

Only, Nader chooses not to see that.  I won’t say that he can’t see it.  Ralph Nader is a savvy, educated man.  He knew exactly what he was saying.  His choice of words enabled him to make a ‘cute’ comment of his own: the clever play of Uncle Sam/Uncle Tom.  Cute.  His unwillingness to revise his comment, to apologize for it stems in my mind from a belief that he is somehow ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ racism, that he can say things that he would damn others for saying because we all know where he stands, we all know he’s not a racist.  Hmm …  I seem to remember a comment I made a month ago about ‘racist is as racist does’ …  If you’re not a racist, you don’t use the term Uncle Tom to refer to a black person … I would hope that you don’t have the thought, but you sure as hell don’t say it out loud.

And so little attention is being given to this.  Yes, there is the melodramatic pause reaction of the Fox reporter in the vid, but I mean real attention.  There hasn’t been much focus on this comment.  One of the panelists after the Nader interview says, “That was the end of his career, right there.”  Yeah, I don’t so much think so.  Back in the summer, he said in another interview that Obama was trying to ‘talk white’ and that got even less play than this.

If Rush Limbaugh or Pat Buchanan or any other conservative newsmaker/pundit/blowhard had said either of these things, it would be all over the airwaves, they’d be pilloried.  But Nader can speak with impunity because he’s a lefty?


* My apologies to Maya Angelou

4 thoughts on “Tannin’, Tommin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas*

  1. Hold the phone. Ralph Nader said what?!

    You’re right that this got no attention, nor did his comment about Obama talking white. If I had known that, I would not have considered him as a possible choice for me to vote for.

    Have just found your blog and liked it. You have been added to my Reader.


  2. I found my way here via the Just Posts and I really like and admire what you are saying and how beautifully structured your writing is.
    I hope that is the end of Ralph Nader.
    I read not long ago an article that said there were three types of discrimination: overt, pretending there were no differences, and adjusting for and celebrating differences.
    Nader may have been trying for #2 — that ‘Uncle Tom’ can now be put on a level with Quisling, etc. as a generic term. If so, either he’s an idiot or he wants publicity at any cost.
    I think a lot of people, here in Canada as well as in the USA, are celebrating. But I thought long and hard before I said so, publicly, to try and figure out if saying so could be offensive.

    I had a friend in highschool whose ancestors had arrived in Canada via the underground railway. She was close to Obama’s colouring. We were on the basketball team together and at one of the first practices in the fall she was sitting between me and a third friend who, like me, had spent the summer as a lifeguard outside. Carol had had an office summer job. She looked at the three sets of legs, started to laugh and pointed out that our legs were darker in colour than hers. Funny and true. I treasure having had the luck to have her for a friend. And that’s what I think of as level 3.


  3. Good Old Ralph is hiding behind intellectualism and antiquated definitions- you can tell he wanted to school the reporter on what “Uncle Tom” really means, because obviously today’s understanding is irrelevant. He’s above racism, see? *eye roll*

    I sincerely hope that was the end of his career, but I doubt it. But it does seem his popularity is dying and no one pays attention to him anymore. I’m surprised Fox News even interviewed him. Oh yeah, he was on the ballot, that’s why. Completely forgettable. That’s Ralph in a nutshell. The “Uncle Tom” comment is the most memorable thing he’s done as a candidate and it’s precisely why he never made it past 5% of the popular vote to be entitled to federal campaign funds.


  4. Here from Just Posts.

    I strongly feel that Obama was elected despite a tremendous amount of racism because a lot of people who don’t want him at dinner are happy to have him save their economy.


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