Susan Rice, the Racism Charge, and Black Conservatism
The Race Card: Free Ride For Life
We’re having that discussion about race again. UN Ambassador Susan Rice has been floated as Hillary Clinton’s replacement at State, and that has set loose the furies. In September, Rice had done a bit of floating of her own, passing on the Obama Administration’s face-palm ridiculous Video Rationale.
When your most recent notable public action is to serve as passive conductor for an Administration lie, it’s actually good that you bleed some for it. Even Democratic voters ought to be able to grasp this. By 2005 or so, any half-intelligent Republican voter could fight rightly and passionately against the Iraq WMD “Bush lied” accusation, yet hold in mind the knowledge that, the weapons not being found in acceptable type or number, it was right that the Bush Administration bleed some over it.
No such measured consideration from the chorus of hens at the Congressional Black Caucus, which responded with the racism charge. The CBC’s incoming Chair, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), offered that “It is a shame that anytime something goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities.”
The GOP and conservative response has become just as familiar as the racism charge itself. The general counter-charge is to ignore the charge, brushing past it and getting back to the matter itself. Sen John McCain (R-AZ) offered, “Susan Rice should have known better, and if she didn’t know better she isn’t qualified.”
If the racism charge, itself, is ever acknowledged by the GOP, which is rare, it is brushed aside as a cynical ploy. John McCain does not merely not consider himself a racist. He further does not believe anyone else could be so blinkered as to believe him a racist. What else could this be but a cynical ploy?
Black conservatives are in a position to speak to both dancers. The thing to be told to white conservatives is that the racism charge is absolutely not cynical. Yes, John McCain, Rep. Fudge and her associates really do believe you – even you! the reasonable one! – harbor racism in your soul. It’s not just a political device. Be as “soft on immigration” as you’d like. Gestures toward racial harmony, or more simply, actions made in agreement with CBC policy, will be seen as mere compensation for the racism within; a valiant, but doomed struggle. Actions which inconvenience CBC policy, accordingly, only reveal that racism.
It would be nice if black conservatives were in a position to tell black people generally that white conservatives aren’t racist. We can’t. We can’t enter into the hearts and minds of white Republicans. Black liberals merely claim that we are naive, that their perception of whites is better. And certainly, black liberal ability to detect racism is so fine-tuned we really ought to arrange a trip to Switzerland for Fudge so we can turn her powers loose on the God Particle.
Have you not read your Faulkner? Your Morrison? We’re looking at trauma that has afflicted an entire people, and nothing less than trauma. It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with.
Faced with pressure in the form of accusations against a Susan Rice, the trauma flares forward as a skein of blood over the eyes. Whatever Susan Rice did and did not do is simply not visible, just as it is not visible that black unemployment rose and black wealth diminished during the first Obama Administration. Only the scene matters: white people attacking black person. Part of the nature of trauma is a confusion of personal identity borders, such that I am doing well if Susan Rice is doing well, or if Barack Obama is doing well; likewise, I am not free because my ancestors were slaves.
Further, the entire argument that constitutes conservatism is not visible. From the perspective of one who accuses John McCain of racism, it isn’t that conservatism is wrong so much as that there is no such thing as conservatism to begin with. It’s all a trick to keep whitey in power, rather than the racially-indifferent means by which whitey came to have power. Nothing is racially indifferent, least of all the tools that built the master’s house.
This attitude, in turn, means that great numbers of black Americans have turned away from the unchanging prerequisites of power, prosperity, and liberty. These are viewed as goods held by the white man, the acquisition of which for black people is a matter of forcing him to open the spigot. Whatever compass by which Rice might have measured herself a good, or bad, UN Administrator, deserving of promotion, is simply erased. There is no compass. Her promotion is entirely captive to whether white racism wins or loses – today. Tomorrow, the same contest will rear its head somewhere else.
Black conservatives can’t promise that goodness and innocence lay at the bottom of white conservative hearts. Our best bet is to insist that there is a compass. Our work is to insist that the master’s tools will build our house, too – and that in fact there are no other tools. Do this, and we will crack open a tiny space, not for the claim that white conservatives aren’t racist, but for the more powerful claim: that it doesn’t matter if they are.