By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, February 17, 2010; B01
Although each of the following statements about President Obama was recently denounced as racist, only one fits the definition. Can you tell which one?
A) The United States would be "ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a 'light-skinned' African American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." (Sen. Harry Reid, Democrat from Nevada, as quoted in the new book "Game Change.")
B) "I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. . . . My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up." (Ousted Democratic governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich as quoted in the February issue of Esquire magazine.)
C) "I was trying to think about who he was tonight. And it's interesting. He is post-racial, by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour." (Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball" on MSNBC, after watching the State of Union address in January.)
D) President Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country. . . . This is our country. Let's take it back." (Former U.S. representative Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), speaking at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville in February.)
According to Webster's New World Dictionary, racism asserts the superiority of one race over another and seeks to implement or sustain "any program or practice of racial discrimination or segregation based on such beliefs."
The answer, of course, is D. Everything else is just a distraction. And yet, Tancredo took almost no heat for his comments, while the others were badgered into apologizing.
Obama accepted Reid's apology, but for what? Remarking on a political reality? And what did Blagojevich apologize for? Wanting to be thought of as the gubernatorial equivalent of Bill "The First Black President" Clinton?
As for Matthews, I actually wanted to hear more about his temporary loss of memory regarding Obama's blackness, not to have a conversation about race snuffed out before it could even begin.
A distinction needs to be made between words that rub some black people the wrong way and those meant to do us harm. Criticism is now being heaped on a white singer, John Mayer, who used the N-word and made sexual references during a recent interview with Playboy magazine. Mayer performs with entertainers Jay-Z and Kanye West, among other black rappers. So he mistook himself for an honorary brother. Give him a break.
When everybody is labeled a racist, then nobody is a racist. When we habitually cry wolf, we risk not being able to recognize one when it actually shows up.
Tancredo, speaking at a convention of one of the fastest-growing political movements in the nation, said in effect that the nation's first black president could have been kept out of the White House if only "our country" had reinstituted a scheme from the Jim Crow era of racial oppression.
Literacy tests required blacks to correctly answer inane questions before they could vote, such as, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" Civics had nothing to do with it.
I have heard the tea party brand of patriotism preached before, most recently at a Ku Klux Klan rally last year in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Taking back "our country" is also the rallying cry of the Klan's "White Power" movement.
Tea party supporters have argued that any white person who criticizes Obama gets labeled a racist. Not so. There are plenty of black people who agree with the tea party's call for lower taxes and smaller government. But the vitriol, racial caricatures, threats of violence -- and now Tancredo's remarks -- suggest the movement is also undergirded by racism. Waving monkey dolls with nooses around their necks at tea party rallies, having signs with Obama's face in the sights of a sniper rifle and chanting, "Kill him," has nothing to do with reducing the size of government.
Meghan McCain, the daughter of former GOP presidential candidate John McCain, recently appeared on the television show "The View" and was asked about Tancredo's remarks.
"It's innate racism," the 26-year-old McCain said.
At least one person answered correctly.