Saturday, October 18, 2008

"We're voting for the nigger"

I've been meaning to put something up about this since reading posts at Eschaton and TPM discussing pieces in The Times that I hadn't read, but that a friend described later in very different terms. He described them knowing I'd have the same reaction he'd had, which was laughter.

The articles describe the problems faced by campaign workers dealing with voter racism, and the tactics they've used with whites uncomfortable with Obama but who are still on the fence.
“One thing you have to remember is that Obama, he’s half white and he was raised by his white mother. So his views are more white than black really.” Ms. Mendive looked tentative. “Well, that’s true.”
I told J the turning point would be when we saw self-described racists who were going to vote the democratic ticket. I think I said, "Racists for Obama", and I described one of the most moving scenes in Harlan County USA, when a white miner at a meeting turns to a black miner and asks him if his boys are in. The man says yes. I told J that was coming. He said, "I hope so."
Now it's here.
So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the nigger!"
Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the nigger."
And white liberals don't get the fucking point.
[Atrios' post is titled, "Racism". The body of the post:"This election over yet?", linking the below]
Try to read an article about Obama's efforts to win Indiana, and you get subjected to this:
For others, like David Ward, who runs an antique shop with his wife in New Albany, the issue is race. Ward, a registered Democrat, said he will vote for McCain "mainly because he's not black."
Blam!! Out of nowhere, it's like a sock to the stomach.
American liberals want to feel good about humanity in order to feel good about themselves. They're bothered when their optimism is questioned, embarrassed by others' faults but oblivious to their own. If you think you're not a sexist, ask the women in your life, and ask them for an honest answer. If you say you're color-blind, ask the blacks you want to call your friends. American liberals like to call themselves internationalists, but you won't find internationalists like them in any other country. Fitting my usual argument it's safe to say that only people with a direct and acknowledged experience of racism, repeatedly over time, an empirical awareness of facts and events and not only an understanding of concepts and ideas, will recognize the importance of the second exchange above, as only they will see the humor.

At the Iowa caucuses in 1988, a farmer interviewed on NPR said he wouldn't want his daughter bringing Jesse Jackson home, but that he'd vote for him for president. It's called progress.

Something from last month on the same subject; and both connect to the previous post -including the added link at the bottom- and to the questions now swirling around Milan Kundera.

Fintan O'Toole:
For the uncomfortable truth about literature is that morally virtuous people are less likely than morally slippery people to be great writers. Having a clear set of values and sticking to it through trials and tribulations makes for a splendid human being, but seldom for a splendid novel.
No. The ability to face the complexities of the world begins with the acceptance of the possibility of failure. The way to understanding the frailties of others begins with an ability to recognize your own. Most people who consider themselves virtuous haven't been tested, or they're less virtuous than they imagine.

Two comments -mine- posted elsewhere:
Crooked Timber: "The Moral Sense Test." [comment deleted]
My problem with the test began with the descriptions, which were insulting. “Extremely morally good” or “extremely morally bad” is the language of children, and the middle term “neither good nor bad” is evasive of moral responsibility. 

Balkinization: Moral "calculus"
My father used to refer to "the revolutionary chained to the wall in the Czar's dungeon who's worried that he's getting more than his fair share of sun." 
The relevant question is whether your status in some way functions to support the injustice towards others. Given a choice between a water fountain designated for whites or blacks I would make the choice that reflected my solidarity with the excluded. But on the other hand if I was thirsty and the only water fountain around was designated whites only, I'd still take a drink. Politics is a social activity. 
Of secondary interest is the question of whether the fact of injustice in the world makes it obligatory that you become a saint. But in that case one would assume a vow of poverty would follow, making questions about 100,000 dollars this way or that irrelevant. 
Central to all the above is the question of narcissism. Politics is a social activity and a means to an end. The mannered poetics of the moral actor as moral ideal is asocial, even anti-social, and narcissistic.

Identifying with a logical calculus is identifying with a machine. A cultural trope specific to our age, and more determined by it than by reason.
The origin of the story of the revolutionary in the dungeon is here

We only know the ideal through the illusion of its presence.
Politics is a social activity and a means to an end. The mannered poetics of the moral actor as moral ideal, outside of fiction, is asocial or even anti-social. It smells of narcissism.

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