Friday, 30 September 2011

Melissa Harris-Perry Thinks I'm A Racist (Continued)

In my previous post on this topic, I explained that a Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry had penned a column for the Nation magazine called "Black President, Double Standards: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama" in which she claimed that white progressives who had given Clinton a pass on his centrist tendencies were unwilling to extend the same courtesy to Obama due to racism.

I found this pretty preposterous, and pointed out many variables other than race that could account for Obama's dwindling support (Obama has continued our endless, mindless "war on terror" on two fronts and expanded our military commitments to include the NATO action in Libya as well, Obama has failed on most of his major campaign promises to progressives including closing GITMO and the CIA's black sites, Clinton ran as a moderate while Obama ran as a liberal, &c. &c.).

Gene Lyons, an old hand when it comes to anything Clinton, also expressed his outrage over Dr. Harris-Perry's column in a column for Salon of his own called "Obama's bridge too far," subtitled "When the president gets tough, the tough start whining." This, in turn, triggered a response from This Week in Blackness blogger Elon James White. White is pretty upset with Lyons' treatment of the topic, especially the more obnoxious and brassy parts of Lyons' column. What did Lyons write that ticked White off? Lyons:

This just in: Not all the fools are Republicans. Recently, one Melissa Harris-Perry, a Tulane professor who moonlights on MSNBC political talk shows, wrote an article for the Nation titled "Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama."
See, nobody ever criticized Bill Clinton, another centrist Democrat who faced a hostile Republican congress...Because President Obama isblack, under the stern gaze of professor Harris-Perry, nothing else about him matters. Not killing Osama bin Laden, not 9 percent unemployment, only blackness.

Thus far, I have no problem with what Lyons wrote. It was a foolish column by Harris-Perry, making a foolish argument, and she does let literally everything Obama has done wrong slide in her column, focusing only on those isolated coincidences that would support her thesis and paint Obama supporters who now have cold feet as false-consciousness-stricken ivory tower racists. Just as Lyons says, she dismisses every failing of the Obama presidency and thus, unsurprisingly, jumps to some ugly conclusions.

I would argue that if Harris-Perry (or White) were really shocked by this reaction, it was disingenuous shock at best and blatant manipulation at worst. You don't paint the entirety of your political allies with the broad, foul brush of racism without pissing some people off.

Lyons, unfortunately, is perhaps too seasoned a hand, and spent a little too long in Camp Clinton, where the politics of personal destruction cut both ways and scorched earth is an acceptable reprisal against enemies without and within. He goes way, way too far as his column continues:

Furthermore, unless you're black, you can't possibly understand. Yada, yada, yada. This unfortunate obsession increasingly resembles a photo negative of KKK racial thought. It's useful for intimidating tenure committees staffed by Ph.D.s trained to find racist symbols in the passing clouds. Otherwise, Harris-Perry's becoming a left-wing Michele Bachmann, an attractive woman seeking fame and fortune by saying silly things on cable TV.

Who now, Gene. Careful there. In both his "black...yada, yada, yada," his "KKK" analogy, and his useless, meaningless shot at "those ivory tower elites," Lyon has basically written himself off as anything other than a blowhard at this point, and one whose columns, I might add, have enough of the unfortunate and familiar ring of the Dixiecrat/Blue Dog tradition in the American South that Lyons should watch what he's saying. His aside about Bachmann just makes him look like even more of a good old boy.

So White has a point; unfortunately, once given that point to make in a rational fashion, White goes completely off the deep end bagging on Lyons and winds up pissing off and alienating the same people that he was...what, trying to convince that they are racists in the first place, that Harris-Perry is right? Here's White:

When it comes to race, America has the mental maturity of a 7-year-old that, on occasion, will plug its ears with its fingers and sing "La, la, la." Being American and Negro I understand this. I don’t really have any choice but to understand it. I can’t decide that racial matters or discussions are silly because I’m actually affected. I can’t speak of it philosophically and talk racial theory because for me its NOT theory. I’m Black. This is real. End of story.

Americans stick their fingers in their ears and shout "La, la, la" instead of listening to our conversation about race! Therefore, I ... SHALL STICK MY FINGERS  IN MY EARS AND SHOUT "LA, LA, LA" BECAUSE I'M BLACK, DAMMIT! I'm sorry, Mr. White. Not the end of the story.

You could make the argument that race has nothing to do with White liberals' issues with Obama and I wouldn’t have an issue with that. But to dismiss one of the great Black public intellectuals of our time because it made you feel uncomfortable is completely ridiculous.

This is a fair argument, and one that I can get behind. Lyons didn't do much in the way of supporting his point, which is a shame, because his experience working on the Clinton White House for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (if I remember correctly) probably left him with some valuable insights regarding Clinton, race, and national politics that would be germane to Dr. Harris-Perry's thesis.

Unfortunately, it seems that White couldn't contain himself either:

I’d like to point out that I know Dr. Harris-Perry. She’s been a supporter of my work and even appeared on my show. I also have worked with Salon, where Gene Lyons wrote this trash and they’ve allowed me a platform for This Week in Blackness. Fact is, my working relationship with Salon probably influenced this article. Because of it I deleted all of the instances of "Muthafuckas" in this piece out of professional courtesy. Referring to a place you contribute on occasion as "These Muthafuckas here ..." is probably a good way not to contribute there anymore.
But seriously. These Muthafuckas here need to stop it.

You know what? I'd like to point out that I know Gene Lyons. I took his class on the literature and writing of George Orwell while at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, and I thought the course was brilliant. My friends and I thought that Lyons was a bit of a storyteller (not every damned thing Orwell did relates or related to the Clintons, Gene!) but also tremendously interested in encouraging independent thought and engagement with the course material. Even the best intentions can lead a good white liberal astray, Mr. White, and calling your opponents names, whether that name is "racist" or "motherfucker," doesn't help anyone.

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