Uppity Negro Should Mind His Manners

At least that’s what the wingnut coalition seems to be thinking nowadays. Wonkette catches the teabaggers in the act of overt – if unthinking – racism:

This is a few days old now, and many outlets have featured it, including Countdown and others, but it’s been hanging around in the back of my mind persistently, which doesn’t usually happen with items like this which are – at first glance, anyway – so seemingly trivial and disposable…so I decided to dig into it a little bit.

Readers of this blog know I’m occasionally one to dip into the pot of easy “gotcha” moments — because it’s just a good way to blow off some steam at the clueless. But I try to stay away from even the gotcha stories that don’t carry an underlying message. Most of the ones I highlight underscore Republican hypocrisy on various policy issues, for example, because in addition to the mostly-trivial and disposable yucks that can be had by pointing out the embarrassment-du-jour, it lets me and others remember just how disingenuous and unserious about policy so many of the Republicans at the national level are these days.

I’m bringing this one back up for a similar reason, only this time it’s not the disingenuousness of elected GOP leaders that’s set into sharp relief, it’s the motivation – one particular, oft-denied motivation – of conservative activists that glares unmistakably out from this event. That motivation? Racism. Racism? These days, the right has taken to pushing back on any and all accusations of racism by the left or in fact anyone else. Michelle Malkin has trivialized it as “cries of raaaaaacism.” And virtually all tea party-friendly outlets have worked overtime to dispute the notion that the group – or any conservative at all, frankly – is motivated even slightly in their astonishing loathing of Barack Obama by his race. As they say, however, a picture’s worth a thousand words of bullroar.

Wonkette got their hands on the above email that’s been absolutely burning up the wingnuts’ inboxes in the past few weeks. Were it not centered on the very specific subject it was, one might be tempted to dismiss it as nothing more than Miss Manners-style prudery: exhortations from chiffon-bedecked shut-ins to keep mind our manners and keep our feet off the furniture, etc.

But this email was far more than that, especially when set in context. The email goes on at great length about how “this posture is disrespectful in any culture, it is absolutely never done in any executive setting. Further, in over half of the cultures of the world, it is recognized not only as disrespectful, but as an extreme insult.”

It goes on to suggest that – based upon Obama’s willingness to put his feet on the furniture – “he thinks of himself as a king — and not as a servant of the people, humbly occupying our White House for his term in office.”

Strong words. But are they accurate? I’m no international etiquette expert, but what makes this particular charge of the wingnuts so easy to fact-check is that the Oval Office is one of the most-documented and least-changing places in our entire nation. The Oval Office’s basic configuration doesn’t change one iota…only the occupant changes. And there’s a very long, very well-recorded history of different individuals occupying that office; how they behaved, where they stood or sat, what they did.

Remember, this indignant email’s purported reasoning is that “this arrogant, immature and self-centered man has no sense of honor, or of simple decency,” and that this “is not his desk, it belongs to the American people. We allow him to use it during his term in office but we expect him to respect it and return it in the same good condition in which he found it.” It’s all about the disrespect for the office, and for the people’s furniture and national treasures, right? Sounds very…patriotic when you put it that way. Very concerned, in a Junior League sort of way.

However, without even trying, Wonkette was able to come up with this photo:

And yes, that’s George W. Bush with his feet on the Resolute desk, disrespectfully chatting with his Chief of Staff (Andy Card, left), Karen Hughes (a top domestic policy advisor) and the everpresent Karl Rove. Heck, the photographer is shooting from almost exactly the same location on the carpet as the photographer for the Obama photo.

This isn’t Calvin Coolidge in some dusty old archive photo…all of these people are still living, and their time in office (unfortunately) seems like only last week sometimes. Without doubt, all the conservatives writing and forwarding this indignant screed about Obama’s “disrespect” – and cloaking it in purported concern for decorum and national heirlooms – were alive and conscious during the Bush years. Yet, was there even a PEEP about such “disrespect” from these quarters, when this photo was shot? Don’t make me laugh.

Had Wonkette wanted to, they could easily have come up with other “incriminating” photos of “disrespectful” Presidents abusing their authority and their surroundings. Here’s Gerald Ford doing the same thing to the same desk:

And, if you really want to talk damage to furniture, what’s worse than letting your kids crawl all over and play in/on it? Here’s JFK and John-John:

I could go on, but you get the point. These wingnuts and teabaggers aren’t concerned in the slightest about the national heirlooms which every President since (in this case) Rutherford B. Hayes has utilized. Conservative activists have gotten much better about hiding their genuine reasons for certain statements, usually in direct proportion to how politically radioactive it’s gotten to admit to the real reasons. But moments like this still happen fairly regularly, and it’s important to remind ourselves of them not because they allow us a chance at a cheap moment of “gotcha,” but for the peek at the “man behind the curtain” (or perhaps in this case, I should say “under the sheet”) which they afford us.

I do not believe that every voiced opposition to Barack Obama stems from a place of racism. And of course it is legitimate to disagree with any President on matters of policy. But the blinding hatred too many teabaggers have for this particular President cannot be explained away by simple ideological differences with his supposed or stated political ideas or his administration’s actions. Gut-level opposition of this sort comes from a much deeper and darker place within the id of the people expressing it, and, with this email and sometimes in other areas, we get a glimpse at what those real sentiments are. Sad to say, in this case, those sentiments are very old, very American and very ugly: uppity nigger should NEVER have been elected, and therefore his Presidency is illegitimate (witness all the talk of impeachment, though Obama’s not come close to committing any impeachable offense), and he’d better, by damn, mind his manners until his paler betters can put things back to right.

It makes me more depressed than I thought it would to see that kind of motivation still animating significant numbers of people in 2010 – far more than any simple policy disagreement. But given the long and well-documented history of the Oval Office, there’s simply no other way to read this email accurately. The usual fig-leaves of “state’s rights” or “policy disagreements” just don’t apply. This stuff is racism, straight-up. Sick, sad…but true. So, the next time you see billboards or homemade signs at a teabagger rally such as this one:

and you wonder whether part of the sentiment could be stemming from simple racism – but the people who pay for such speech (or their defenders) tell you it’s only your imagination that you think some of the reason for such a thing might be simple racism – remember that they’re not telling you the truth. They may not even be telling themselves the truth. After all, racism’s not a very pretty thing to find in someone else, and even less pretty to discover in one’s self. But make no mistake, it’s out there, alive and well…and anyone whose dislike of Obama seems more visceral than well-reasoned is most likely motivated at least in part by these old, ugly sentiments. Don’t pay too much attention when they tell you it’s all in your head (and shame on you for using a cheap political attempt to shut down dialogue!). It’s not all in your head. Trust your first instinct; in this case, it’s likely correct.

One thought on “Uppity Negro Should Mind His Manners

  1. Wow, Lars. I’m surprised you didn’t get a zillion responses to this one. This is an important issue and not too often spoken of. I’m proud of you anyway, but this is special.

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