To hear conservatives tell it, there's a one-sided race war going on in America, and white folks are the targets.
First, it was Glenn Beck insisting that President Obama's health care reform bill was little more than a plan for slavery reparations. Then came Rush Limbaugh, seeking to one-up even this preposterous claim (what kind of reparation would require one to get sick in order to get paid?) by arguing that the president is deliberately trying to wreck the economy so as to pay white people back for centuries of oppression. Not to be outdone, other right-wing commentators have gone so far as to suggest that the tax on the use of tanning beds, which is part of the health care bill, is a racist slap at whites, and the result of Barack Obama's deep antipathy towards those of us with insufficient melanin.
Into this breach of white hysteria have recently come two additional stories, spun for maximum effect by the right and its media mouthpieces at FOX News. To wit, the so-called scandal surrounding the Justice Department's handling of voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party, and the recent allegation that a black official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Shirley Sherrod, deliberately mistreated a white farmer who was seeking government help.
As it turns out, we now know that the uproar about Shirley Sherrod had no merit. Conservative blogger Andrew Brietbart posted incomplete video of a speech in which Sherrod appeared to admit mistreating the white farmer. But neither Brietbart nor FOX News thought it worth noting what was in the rest of the speech: namely, the part where Sherrod explained how her initial reluctance to do all she could to assist the farmer had been unfair, and how once she realized it, she went all out, and helped the white family save their property. In other words, the story was about not discriminating. But in the hands of the right, Sherrod was cast as a bitter racist out to hurt salt-of-the-Earth white farm folks, evidence be damned.
Likewise, the New Black Panther Party debacle is based more on falsehood and conservative rumor-mongering than anything substantive.
In the case in question, the so-called intimidation of white voters by black militants led to a successful civil injunction against the leader of the Philadelphia New Black Panther chapter, brought to fruition by the very same Obama Justice Department that the right claims has gone easy on the group. This, in spite of the fact that not one voter ever stepped forward to indicate they had been intimidated, or threatened, or blocked from voting. Even the Civil Rights Commission's leading conservative Republican says the right-wing feeding frenzy over the matter is unwarranted. In fact, the Commissioner, Abigail Thernstrom, claims that the plan to push the story was part of a concerted (and even openly articulated) effort by some of her own conservative colleagues on the commission to bring down both the president and his Attorney General, Eric Holder.
However, as phony as these stories are, there is actually a more important point to be made regarding racism, how we do (or don't) understand it, and how media choose to cover it as a subject.
The fact is, while media and the public get caught up in debates about supposed individual cases of "black racism," real evidence of institutional racism against people of color goes largely ignored. So, for instance, while FOX spends hour after hour discussing the phony claims of voter intimidation against whites by the New Black Panthers, virtually no one (and certainly not FOX) sees fit to mention the actual denial of the right to vote to millions of black men — one in seven nationally, and as many as one in four in several states — because they are ex-felons. Despite serving their time and paying their debt to society these people of color are disallowed their voting rights forever. Not by white thugs standing outside a polling place, but by perfectly legal actions taken by state legislatures many years ago, for blatantly racist reasons, and which the courts have said are acceptable despite their racial impact.
So too, while pundits debate whether Shirley Sherrod did or did not discriminate against a white farmer, virtually no attention is paid to the already proven discrimination by the Department of Agriculture against black farmers going back decades. And in the case of this institutionalized anti-black bias, which has been acknowledged by the USDA's own Commission on Small Farms, not one of the white employees responsible for mistreating black farmers (by providing worse loan terms or refusing assistance given readily to whites) was ever fired. This, even as Shirley Sherrod was terminated on the basis of phony evidence. While a settlement has been reached between the black farmers and the Obama Administration, Congress has held up payment, thereby continuing to injure thousands of African Americans: an injustice about which few are even aware.
So while conservatives scare white America with tales of black anger and revenge fantasies, fanning the flames of racial resentment, the reality of systemic discrimination against people of color continues unabated and worse, un-discussed in most mainstream media and political commentary. In this way, the cult of white victimhood grows, out of all proportion to the level of actual anti-white injury, while the truth of real victimization against black and brown folks remains unremarked upon. Once out of sight, real racism then remains out of mind. And the likelihood of remedying it becomes ever more remote.
And that, after all, is exactly how the right likes it.