I read this last week, but it seems to have extra resonance now because of the whole Shirley Sherrod thing: blogger Ed Kilgore writes about Fox News’s obsession with the New Black Panther story and the phenomenon of “anti-anti-racism.” Kilgore is a former policy director at the middle-of-the-road, Southern-dominated Democratic Leadership Council, and he also recently turned up on some of those emails from the now-infamous liberal mailing list “Journolist.”
Anti-anti-racism is the notion that spurious charges of racism are a bigger problem than racism, but it also embraces the idea — which you hear very often from Fox News and related outlets — that the “real racists” are so-called reverse racists. Rush Limbaugh in particular spends a lot of time on this, arguing that the Panther story is part of a pattern of “payback” by the Obama administration against white America. (If it’s not part of a pattern of payback, then it’s just one of many cases that got dropped for one reason or another.)
Connected to this is the idea that white racism is no longer a major problem, and that there are organizations with a vested interest in pretending that there is. That’s what Karl Rove’s mentor Lee Atwater was saying when he talked about the coded appeals he used to appeal to white Southerners: he was arguing that because he had switched from open racial appeals to “coded” appeals that played on white fears about where their tax dollars were going, he was really “doing away with the racial problem one way or the other.” Organizations like the NAACP, which consider such ideas (like Reagan’s famous “Welfare queens” anecdotes) to be coded racism, are portrayed in this line of thought as the real cause of racial tension in the U.S.; if they’d just stop reading racism into things, the thinking goes, everything would be fine.
Now, accusations of racism probably got thrown around indiscriminately after Obama’s election — at the very least, for those of us who remember the ’90s, there’s no real sign that Obama is hated worse than Bill Clinton was. But anti-anti-racism basically posits that people are always wrong to read racism as a motive unless someone is openly, undisguisedly racist, with no code language. Except that’s never been the way racism manifests itself; even when racism was more socially acceptable, a lot of it came from people who denied up and down that they were racist. So saying that racism can never be “read in” more or less means that racism can’t be discussed.
This all culminated in Andrew Breitbart’s release of the edited Shirley Sherrod tape: it was in response, remember, to the NAACP’s call for the Tea Party to purge itself of racist elements — a call that caused at least one Tea Party spokesperson to embarrass himself completely. By releasing the tape, Breitbart was purporting to show that the NAACP supports anti-white racism and that the real problem is with them. It backfired, for once, though I don’t expect Breitbart’s career to be derailed by it; the U.S. media seems to be as eager to pick up his items as they were Matt Drudge’s items during the Clinton years. But the issue is going to go on: it’s increasingly believed in some circles that, as Ann Coulter puts it, “we don’t have racism in America anymore,” and that racism is almost always a false charge that people fling around to shut down debate about the real stories (New Black Panthers, Sherrod’s racism, or whatever it’s going to be next week).