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Feb 16, 2010

In a special comment, Keith Olbermann Appeals to Tea Partiers to Admit Racism

"As he encouraged Tea Party members to be honest about feeling racism against Obama, he characterized racism as a normal human instinct, but for some reason singled out white men as all feeling some level of racism: "And I think, having now been one for 51 years, I am permitted to say I believe prejudice and discrimination still sit defeated, dormant, or virulent somewhere in the soul of each white man in this country.""


Full text of his comment...

OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, as promised, a "Special Comment" on this Presidents Day celebrating George Washington and the Founding Fathers he represents, and Abraham Lincoln and the emancipation he represents. And I think, having now been one for 51 years, I am permitted to say I believe prejudice and discrimination still sit defeated, dormant, or virulent somewhere in the soul of each white man in this country. Sixty-three years after Jack E. Robinson and 56 after Brown V. Board of Education and 46 after the Civil Rights Act and a year and a half after the presidential election, this is not a popular thing to say. This is also not a thing that should be true, even as a vestige of our sad past on this topic. But it is. Discrimination is still all around us, in so many ways, openly redirected towards immigrants who are doing nothing more than following the path that brought my recent ancestors here and probably yours, too, or focused on gays predicated on a mumbo jumbo of biblical misinterpretations, or leaching out still against black people in things like the Tea Party movement. I think the progress we have made in the last 60 years in this country has been measurable and good, but I think discrimination has been tamed perhaps, not eradicated. For our society still emphasizes our differences as much as our similarities. We may be 63 years from Jack E. Robinson, but we’re not yet 63 days from a man going on national radio and telling us the President of the United States was elected only because of the color of his skin.

Discrimination, I’ve always thought, is a perversion of one of the most necessary instincts of survival. As a child, put your hand on a red hot stove, and you’ll quickly learn to discriminate against red hot stoves. But at that age, you’re also told you need to beware of, say, black people, and you will forever have to spend your life having to fight against wiring created in your brain for no reason other than to reflect someone else’s prejudice.

And it need not be even that related to trauma. The other night in the hospital, my father was telling me about seeing Satchel Paige pitch. At Yankees Stadium, this was. The time was about 1941, and the team was the New York Black Yankees. And my father shook his head in amazement as he told me this. "It never occurred to me," he said, "it never occurred to anybody I knew that he couldn’t play for the other Yankees," my dad said. "We just assumed he didn’t want to, that none of them wanted to."

These thoughts still linger in our lives, still actively passed to some of us by people who are not like my father, who never question their own upbringing or parents or school or world. That older, brutal, prejudiced with impunity world which reappears somewhere every day like Brigadoon. Sometimes with virulence, as in Don Imus’s infamous remarks; sometimes with utter arrogant tone deafness, as in John Mayer’s Playboy interview; sometimes with a kind of poorly informed benign phrase like Harry Reid’s comment about dialect; sometimes with the lunkheadedness of surprise that nobody is screaming, "M*F*er, I want more iced tea," at a Harlem restaurant. (SHOWS PHOTOGRAPHS OF DON IMUS, JOHN MAYER, HARRY REID AND BILL O’REILLY AS HE SPEAKS OF EACH) But it’s still there.

I’m not black, so I can’t say for sure, but my guess is the reverse feeling still exists, too, and the same doubt and nagging distrust, only with the arrow pointing the opposite way. And I guess it’s still there, too, among Hispanics and Asians and every other self-identifying group because this country, since the Civil War, has not only become ever increasingly great, not merely for dismantling the formalized racism of our first 200 years on this continent, but because we have been dismantling a million years of not fully trusting the guys in the next cave because they are somehow different. This all still lingers about us, all of us, whether we see it or not. And since it’s no longer fashionable – indeed, no longer acceptable – it oozes out around the edges, and usually those who speak it don’t even realize that, as good as their intention might be, as improved as their attitudes might be from where they used to be or where their parents or grandparents used to be, or where America used to be, IT'S STILL RACISM. Thus it has become fashionable, sometimes psychologically necessary, that when some of us express it, we have to put it in CODE or dress it up or provide a rationalization to ourselves for it.

That this has nothing to do with race or prejudice, the man’s a socialist and he’s bent on destroying the country, and he was only elected by people who can’t speak English, or was it, he was only elected by guilty whites? The rationalizations of the racists are too many and too contradictory for the rest of us to keep them straight.

The whole of the anger at government movement is predicated on this. Times are tough, the future is confusing, the threat from those who would dismantle our way of life is real, as if we weren’t to some extent doing it for them now. And the President’s black. BUT YOU CAN'T COME OUT AND SAY THAT'S WHY YOU'RE SCARED. Say that, and in all but the lifeless fringes of our society, you are an outcast. And so, this is where the euphemisms come in. But TAXES HAVEN'T GONE UP, THE BUDGET DEFICIT IS FROM THE LAST ADMINISTRATION'S ADVENTUROUS WAR, GRANDMA IS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE DEATH-PANELED BY YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY, AND A SOCIALIST PRESIDENT WOULD BE THE ONE WHO TRIED TO BUY AS MANY VOTERS AS POSSIBLE WITH STUPID TAX CUTS.

But facts don’t matter when you’re looking for an excuse to say you hate this President – (STARTS WHISPERING) but not because he’s black. (STOPS WHISPERING) Anything you can say out loud without your family and friends bursting into laughter at you, you’ll do.

And this is where those Tea Parties come in.

I’m now taking a lot of heat for emphasizing a particular phrase which originated at a rally a year ago this month, originated with a Tea Partier. And I know phrases like "Tea Klux Klan" are incendiary, and I know I use them in part because I am angry that at so late a date, we still have to back that racial uneasiness which has to envelop us all. And I know if I could only listen to Lincoln on this of all days about the better angels of our nature, I’d know that what we’re seeing at the Tea Parties is, at its base, people who are afraid – TERRIBLY, PAINFULLY, CRIPPLINGLY, BLINDINGLY AFRAID.

But let me ask all of you who attend these things: HOW MANY BLACK FACES DO YOU SEE AT THESE EVENTS? HOW MANY HISPANICS, ASIANS, GAYS? WHERE ARE THESE PEOPLE? Surely, there must be blacks who think they’re being bled by taxation. Surely there must be Hispanics who think the government should have let the auto industry fail. Surely there must be people of all colors and creeds who believe in cultural literacy tests and speaking English. Where are they? Where are they?

Do you suppose they agree with you that they’ve just chosen to attend their own separate meetings, that they’re not at your Tea Party because they have a Tea Party of their own to go to? Are you thinking like my father did about Satchel Paige and the Black Yankees that they want this? My father had an excuse for that: He was 12 years old; it was 1941. Are you of the Tea Party 12 years old? For you, is it 1941?

You’re scared and you’re in a world that has changed in a million ways, and the most obvious one of them is something unforeseeable not a decade ago – a black President. And yet, you are also in an world, inherited, installed by generations that knew only FEAR and BRUTALITY and PREJUDICEand DIFFERENCE and SUSPICION. The generations have gone, but the suspicion lingers on.

Not all of our heritage is honorable. Not all the decisions of the Founding Fathers were noble. Not very many of the Founding Fathers were evolved enough to believe that black people were actually people. The Founding Fathers thought they were and fought hard to make sure they would always remain slaves.

Fear is a terrible thing – so is prejudice, so is racism. And progress towards the removal of any evil produces an inevitable backlash. The Civil War was not followed by desegregation, but by Jim Crow and the Klan. The Civil Rights legislation of the 60s was not followed by peace, but by George Wallace and anti-busing overt racism. Why should the election of a black President be without a backlash?

But recognize what this backlash is and maybe you can free yourself of this movement built of inherited fears and of echoes of 1963 or 1873. Look at who is leading you and why. And look past the blustery self-justifications and see the fear – this unspoken, inchoate, unnecessary fear of those who are different.

If you believe there is merit to your political argument, fine. But ask yourself, when you next go to a Tea Party rally, or watch one on television or listen to a politician or a commentator praise these things or merely treat them as if it was just a coincidence that THEY ARE VIRTUALLY SEGREGATED. Ask yourself: Where are the black faces? Who am I marching with? What are we afraid of? And if it really is only a President’s policy and not his skin, ask yourself one final question: Why are you surrounded by the largest crowd you will ever again see in your life that consists of nothing but people who look exactly like you?

Good night and good luck.

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Posted: Feb 16, 2010 11:43am


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Marion Y.
, 3, 3 children
California City, CA, USA
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