The Colors of Bigotry

Boy oh boy—we’ve barely gotten beyond the 2006 midterms, and the 2008 mud is already flying.


Last month, Fox News reported, with a straight face, a charge that had been floating around the right-wing internet the previous few days: Barack Obama is really a Muslim, and possibly a Muslim with terrorist sympathies! He was educated in a fundamentalist Muslim school when he lived in Indonesia!


Never mind that it was Obama himself who wrote in his first book about his attendance at that particular school for two years while he was a young child living in Indonesia, his stepfather’s place of birth. Never mind that anyone visiting the school—as real reporters working for CNN subsequently did—found it to be a perfectly ordinary, secular public school, attended by children from a wide variety of religious backgrounds. Never mind that Obama has been a member of a United Church of Christ congregation in Chicago since 1988—clearly, that was just part of his sly dis-information campaign! Remember—he’s black, and his name sounds foreign! What more evidence do you need?


Of course, it isn’t only Muslims, African-Americans, gay citizens and assorted others whose less-than-wildly-popular views are met with innuendo, conspiracy theories and blatent bigotry. As many readers of this column know, I write a twice-monthly column for the Indianapolis Star, and evidently I’m not the most popular girl on the block. (Okay, so I haven’t been a girl since the early Ice Age—cut me some slack here, I’m making a point.) The other day, the Star forwarded (as is their practice) a letter addressed to me care of the paper. The letter read, in its entirety, as follows:


You’re not half as bright as you assume. Why don’t you go back to the land of your ancestors and live with the progeny?


Lest my lack of “brightness” cause me to miss the point, the writer closed with a Star of David. Marginally preferable to “shut up you dirty Jew”—but only marginally.


The bigotry, of course, is unfortunate. But it’s the refusal to engage the argument at hand that is most dangerous.


Is Obama wrong about health care, the war in Iraq, his description of the political process—anything concrete? If so, why? What did I say in my column that my correspondent disagreed with? What was the reason for that disagreement? Did I get a fact wrong? If so, which one—and where’s the evidence that it was wrong? Should gay people be prevented from marrying, and gaining access to the 1008+ benefits available to married citizens? Why? If gay unions pose a threat to heterosexual marriages, what is the nature of that threat?

Name-calling as “public discussion” doesn’t illuminate anything. It doesn’t allow us to hammer out our differences. It just makes people angry, and deepens American divisions.


When I come across one of these examples, I can’t help remembering an old routine of the Smothers Brothers (a comedy duo that was famous way before most of you reading this were born). One of the brothers (Tommy) would make an outrageous remark (the moon is made of green cheese, or something comparable), and the other brother (Dick) would patiently and reasonably explain why that was semi-insane. Tommy—clearly recognizing the force of Dick’s argument, and having nothing rational with which to counter it—would just get red-faced and sputter his trademark rejoinder, “Mom always liked you best!” A non-sequiter, but hey—it was all he had.


As for consistency with the American values these folks claim to be defending—can you picture James Madison or Benjamin Franklin responding to an argument with the equivalent of “Well, your mother wears combat boots!”


Me either.