Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Racism, Commies, and the Moonwalk

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

French TV's been full of nostalgic documentaries celebrating the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's trip to the moon. It was hailed not only as a superpower's scientific advance, but a human achievement belonging to us all, a first step towards a glorious future in which we would all hold hands and sing Kumbaya while circling the campfire on our jetpacks.

All things considered, we didn't get very far. There's no man on Mars. No real space program. And as for our crappy life here on earth, every day brings a new flashback to the messy irrational hatreds of the Cold War era.

Like in segregated cities in the 50's, sixty black and Latino kids were booted from Philadelphia's The Valley Swim Club in late June even though their day camp had paid more than $1900 to join the "open membership" pool. The reason? "[C]oncern that a lot of kids would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club."

Some kids reported that the pool attendants had been rather less euphemistic saying "they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately." At least one white parent loudly freaked, "Uh, what are all these black kids doing here? ... I'm scared they might do something to my child."

The Young Republican conference in July was an equally retro celebration of misogyny and racism. The group chose self-described "true conservative" Audra Shay as Chairman, over Rachel "must be a dyke" Hoff who was slammed as much for wearing pants as for supporting civil unions.

The skirt-clad winner Shay was elected despite, or because of, blatantly racist Facebook comments, LOL'ing in response to the statement we "need to take this country back from all of these mad coons" and responding to an effigy of Sarah Palin with "What no 'Obama in a noose? ... I am wondering if the guys with the Palin noose would care if we had a bunch of homosexuals in a noose."

One sign of progress, though, is that fifty years after we put a man on the moon, there are now enough Republicans of color in power to add their own garbage to America's racist cesspool. One of the biggest supporters of the violently bigoted Audra Shay was apparently Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, an Asian American periodically touted as the Republican answer to Obama.

Michael Steele, the African American head of the GOP, was on hand to tell the Young Republicans crowd he planned to attract more people of color to the party by offering up fried chicken and potato salad. Not support for small businesses in poor minority neighborhoods, or efforts to repeal drug laws responsible for dumping young black men in jail. Fried chicken and potato salad.

Republican attacks on justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor were almost as sophisticated, largely boiling down to "temperament" and "personality," code for "I don't trust you because you're a woman, a spic, a woman, a spic."

Democrats aren't immune from idiocy. In New York, State Senator Ruben Diaz, usually celebrated for his outrageous homophobia, brought his own racism to the table when he sneered at state Republicans as los republicanos blanquitos, "little Republican whitey's" in a Spanish-language interview.

Meanwhile, in Akron, Ohio, a group of black teenagers celebrated Independence Day by attacking a white family after a fireworks show yelling: "This is our world!" and "This is a black world!" The uninsured construction worker father ended up in critical care for five days, stacks of hospital bills, and questions about buying a gun.

Which would be easy enough in Missouri where a car-dealer is giving away free AK47's with his trucks. In an interview with an astounded journalist from the BBC, he explained that pretty much all Americans like guns, except for Commies, of course. When asked just what semiautomatic weapons were good for, he said you could have a lot of fun shooting stuff up, but that AK47's were especially useful in case of "home defense".

They could have used a few last week in Cambridge where a white neighbor called the police because a black man was struggling with the front door of a house in an apparent break-in attempt. Eventually, the nefarious black man, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested for getting pissed off that the cops came and questioned his right to enter his own home.

Instead of complaining, calling the policeman a racist for only doing his job, and irresponsibly provoking the situation by asking for his badge number, I suppose the distinguished professor Gates should have saved the cops the trouble and shot himself for intruding on the peace of mind of his lily-white neighbors.

That's post-race America in a nutshell. Forty years after the moonwalk, skin's still a disease too many of us are mad with.

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