Shocking: Tea Partiers Mostly Rich, White, Christian Guys
There's a New Gang in Town: The Tea Party
Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on this Presidents' Day celebrating George Washington, and the Founding Fathers he represents and Abraham Lincoln, and the Emancipation he represents.
And I think, having now been one for 51 years, I am permitted to say I believe prejudice and discrimination still sit, defeated, dormant, or virulent, somewhere in the soul of each white man in this country.
Sixty three years after Jackie Robinson and 56 after Brown vs. Board of Education and 46 after the Civil Rights Act and a year-and-a-half after the presidential election this is not a popular thing to say.
This is also not a thing that should be true even as a vestige of our sad past. But it is. Discrimination is still all around us in so many ways, openly re-directed towards immigrants who are doing nothing more than following the path that brought my recent ancestors here and probably yours, too or focused on gays predicated on a mumbo-jumbo of biblical misinterpretations or leeching out still against black people in things like the Tea Party movement.
I think the progress we have made in the last 60 years in this country has been measurable and good. But I think discrimination has been tamed, not eradicated. For, our society still emphasIzes our differences as much as our similarities.
We may be 63 years from Jackie Robinson but we are not yet 63 days from a man going on national radio and telling us the president of the United States was elected only because of the color of his skin.
Discrimination, I've always thought, is a perversion of one of the most necessary instincts of survival. As a child, put your hand on a red hot stove and you'll quickly learn to discriminate against red hot stoves. But if at that age you are also told you need to beware of black people and you will spend your life having to fight against wiring created in your brain for no reason than to reflect someone else's prejudice. And it need not even be that related to trauma. The other night in the hospital my father was telling me about seeing Satchel Paige pitch.
At Yankee Stadium this was. The time was about 1941 and the team was the New York Black Yankees. And my father shook his head in amazement. "It never occurred to me, it never occurred to anybody I knew, that he couldn't play for the other Yankees," he said. "We just assumed he didn't want to. That none of them wanted to."
These thoughts still linger in our lives, still actively passed to some of us by people who are not like my father, who never questioned their own upbringing or parents or school or world. That older, brutal, prejudiced-with-impugnity world which reappears every day like Brigadoon with virulence as in Don Imus's infamous remarks; sometimes with the utter arrogant tone-deafness of John Mayer's Playboy interview; sometimes with a kind of poorly informed benign phrase like Harry Reid's comment about "dialect;" sometimes with the lunkheadedness of surprise that nobody is screaming "Emm-effer, I want more iced tea" at a Harlem restaurant.
But it's still there. I'm not black, so I can't say for sure, but my guess is the reverse feeling still exists, too — the same doubt and nagging distrust, only with the arrow pointing the opposite way.
And I guess it's still there too among Hispanics and Asians and every other self-identifying group, because this country, since the Civil War, has not only become ever-increasingly great not merely for dismantling the formalized racism of our first 200 years on this continent, but because we have been dismantling a million years of not fully trusting the guys in the next cave because they are, somehow, different.
This all still lingers about us, all of us, whether we see it or not. And since it's no longer fashionable or acceptable, it oozes out around the edges and usually those who speak it don't even realize that as good as their intent might be, as improved as their attitudes might be from where they used to be, or where their parents used to be, or where America used to be — it's still racism.
Thus it has become fashionable —sometimes psychologically necessary — that when some of us express it we have to put it in code, or dress it up, or provide a rationalization to ourselves for it that this has nothing to do with race or prejudice, the man's a Socialist and he's bent on destroying the country and he was only elected by people who can't speak English.
Or was it: he was only elected by guilty whites. The rationalizations of the racists are too many and too contradictory for the rest of us to keep them straight. Read more
In a special comment, Keith Olbermann explores the relationship between fear and racism and encourages Americans who are distressed about the nation's future to avoid political groups that appeal to their less noble inclinations.
Feb 17: Richard Mack, a Tea Party supporter, discusses whether the Republican Party establishment and the new movement can collaborate.
Feb 17: Politics Fix: A Hardball panel debates whether President Barack Obama can save the Senate for the Democrats.