by: Be Scofield on January 24th, 2012 | 9 Comments »
Tim Wise has done it again. As America’s leading anti-racist educator and writer he’s identified the next greatest threat to racial justice. It’s a new group of people, that according to Wise, enable a similar world-view as that of the legendary racist and Nazi David Duke. He believes they are “are empowering the reactionary, white supremacist, Social Darwinists of this culture.” For even the most timid members of this group - the ones who utter a few words of support – Wise offers no sympathy. Who, according to Wise, would fit into this group?
You mean the most prominent black intellectual in the country? That Cornel West? Yep. The one who Wise has shared the stage with in the past? Yep.
He must have said something pretty terrible to deserve placement in such a category from Mr. Wise. Right?
Cover your ears.
West, despite disagreeing with 85% of Ron Paul’s policies had this to say about him to a national audience, “I love his non-conformity, I love the degree to which the truths that he tells not only cut against the grain but constitute a threat to the interests of the powers that be…I do like his critique of American Empire.” He said this during a segment of the radio show “Smiley and West” that he co-hosts with Tavis Smiley. The segment focused entirely on Paul and they gave a Ron Paul supporter several minutes to make his case on air. West also briefly praised Paul on the Bill Maher show.
That’s all it takes to get into Wise’s “out group?” Yep.
In Wises’ latest article, which is largely an excellent critique of the disturbing and racist views of Ron Paul he states, “That any liberal, progressive or leftist could waste so much as a kind word about someone as this is mind-boggling.” For Wise, stating even a few words of support “give[s] credence to a candidate [and] directly empower[s] that candidate’s worldview and others who hold fast to it.” As I point out below Wise gives Glenn Greenwald a harsh scolding for merely suggesting that Paul is raising important issues in the political debates. In other words, anyone who praises a few policies of Paul is supporting the worldview of David Duke. Wise asks, why not just support Duke instead? Since West falls into this category he is ensnared in Wise’s attack along with many other people of color.
In referring to Paul’s policies Wise asks “How do you think that sounds to black people?” He asks, “How does it sound to them?” Apparently Wise didn’t do very much research on the question that he raised. Not surprisingly the monolithic “them” that he crafts for the purposes of his essay doesn’t actually exist.
In his essay “Blacks for Obama? Don’t Assume that Anymore,” Brandon Harris who is “a young African American who once canvassed for Obama” describes why he supports Ron Paul, albeit uncomfortably. He “abhor’s Ron Paul’s stances on a woman’s right to choose, welfare, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, the Department of Education, the Civil Rights Act and food stamps (after all I’m on food stamps…)” Furthermore, he sees “Paul as a tangled mess of contradictions” whose “ideas feed the most fervent ends of the political spectrum, both left and right.” However, he continues, “Yet on he defining civil-rights issue of our time, one that decimates families of all colors every day but has wreaked a special kind of havoc on the black community, Paul is the only nationally recognized politician who has come out with a moral case for ending the war on drugs, who has publicly derided it as racist and un-American…Paul is the only Republican candidate who has not indulged in theologically or racially incendiary rhetoric when talking about American Foreign Policy and the domestic welfare state during the current and last election cycles. For this advocacy on the part of our and other nation’s most powerless citizens, Ron Paul deserves respect, admiration, and, if you’re conscientious enough to respect the moral imperatives at play in these issues, your vote.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor of the Atlantic had this to say, “I obviously like a lot of what Ron Paul says on the drug war, on wars period, on national security policy. But I can’t really support a president who is dangerously ignorant of the basic facts of American history…” Coates, an African-American is uttering a few kind words about Paul despite not supporting him.
The black writer Les Payne wrote an article titled “Ron Paul’s Moment of Racial Clarity” in which he praises his him for him calling out the racism in the judicial system.
Here is a video which highlights several African Americans demonstrating their support for Paul.
I disagree with much of what is said in these videos, especially the parts that try to minimize Ron Paul’s racism. However, I’m not going to condemn them as enabling “white supremacy” as Tim Wise has. They’d obviously be victim to Wise’s sweeping criticisms. I’m also not going to ignore them when trying to understand how African Americans interpret Paul as Wise seemingly does.
There are obviously a variety of opinions out there. Some black people wholeheartedly support Ron Paul, others praise a few of his policies and others simply appreciate a contrasting voice in the national spotlight. Many black people of course decry Paul as a racist and would never vote for him for many reasons. All this just proves that you can’t ask about black people “How does it sound to them?”
I could go on and on with examples of people from different races, classes and genders who have praised some of Paul’s policies. Besides, millions of Americans talk about Paul everyday. Many of them offer similar praise for some of his policies. Additionally, newscasters, journalists, political pundits and commentators speak about Paul all the time, often sharing what they agree with and what they don’t. He’s a prominent political candidate who’s on TV just about everyday. It’s inevitable that some of his policies will be praised by people of color. Not every person who does this should be placed into Wise’s “you are guilty of enabling social Darwinism and white supremacy” category.
Wise stated on twitter that people who point to black support for Paul are like white people who say they have a black friend to deflect against charges of racism. However, I mention African-American support for Paul not because I support him or because I’m defending his racism. I’m challenging Wise’s monolithic reduction of black people into a certain political persuasion. History reveals a complex relationship between conservatives like Ron Paul and people of color. Wise seems to suggest that people of color will, in a uniform fashion, decry any conservative candidate that holds racist views or supports a worldview that Wise views as racist. However, from Booker T. Washington to Alan Keyes, Clarence Thomas and Allen West there have always been prominent black conservatives. Besides, the first Black Power conference in the U.S. was organized by Nathan Wright who was a Republican and ardent supporter of Nixon and Reagan. In fact Nixon even got behind the Black Power slogan in 1968 describing it as the pro-business, pro-capitalist movement that it largely was. There is simply no room for these complex historical examples in Wise’s “you’re either with me or against me” worldview.
The Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald raises another crucial point. Wise attacked him in his article for having written an article that claimed Paul was raising important questions in the political arena. Despite clearly stating that he did not support Paul he received a heavy scolding from Wise. He stated that Greenwald is a “fool of such Herculean proportions as to suggest that Salon might wish to considering administering some kind of political-movement-related-cognitive skills test for its columnists, and the setting of a minimum cutoff score, below which you would, for this one stroke of asininity alone, most assuredly fall.” In a follow up post Greenwald captures the heart of the problem with Wise’s article.
Those who were operating from such privilege would not seek to prioritize issues of war and civil liberties; that’s because it isn’t white progressives and their families who are directly harmed by these heinous policies. The opposite is true: it’s very easy, very tempting, for those driven by this type of “privilege” – for non-Muslims in particular- to decide that these issues are not urgent, that Endless War and civil liberties abuses by a President should not be disqualifying or can be tolerated, precisely because these non-Muslim progressive accusers are not acutely affected by them. The kind of “privilege” these accusers raise would cause one to de-prioritize and accept civil liberties abuses, drone slaughter, indefinite detention and the like (i.e, do what they themselves do), not demand that significant attention be paid to them when assessing political choices.
As I noted the other day, it isn’t white males being indefinitely detained, rendered, and having their houses and cars exploded with drones…In order to get the full depth of the oppression and injustice of these ongoing War on Terror policies, one has to do things like listen to this amazing – and tragically rare – interview conducted by Chris Hayes this weekend with Boumediene, as the former GITMO detainee explained in Arabic how his life was devastated by indefinite detention. It’s easy to convince yourself that these abuses are not an urgent priority if, like those above-linked accusers, your non-Muslim privilege (to use their accusatory terminology) enables you to be shielded from their harms.
Obama can drastically expand the drone war (7 attacks from 2004-2007 and 118 in 2010) which is murdering people of color – many of them innocent men, women, children and babies – across the Middle East and still be a viable and legitimate candidate in Wise’s view. Why? How does he think Obama’s policies sound to “them?” In the very least shouldn’t those people most affected by these policies be allowed to support and praise the candidate whom they feel would best help stop their people from being killed? Shouldn’t they be able to do this without being condemned and attacked by some white guy? Shouldn’t African Americans have the agency to speak for themselves without being reduced into inaccurate and stereotypical categories? Shouldn’t we all be able to think critically about these issues without being guilty by association as Wise is charging?
In conclusion I want to say that I appreciate Tim Wise’s passionate writing style as I understand the depth and seriousness of the issues he writes about. Critiquing Paul’s racism is very much welcomed from my perspective. However, I find his article particularly reactionary and simplistic. Millions of people are ensnared in his wide sweeping and harsh condemnation including the very people whom he is supposedly trying to defend. This is unfair to them as Ron Paul is obviously a complex figure who is understood from many different perspectives and on many different levels. Ultimately, if we consistently applied Wise’s analysis then we’d have to admit that most all candidates will support things that are heinous. We’d all be guilty by association. We need to move beyond this dualistic type of thinking into more inclusive and realistic forms of analysis. We’d be far better off without Wise’s incriminatory “gotcha” tactics.
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Be Scofield is founder of www.godblessthewholeworld.org and Dr. King scholar. He writes for Tikkun Magazine and Alternet.org and is an anti-racist educator. Be is studying to be an interfaith minister at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, where he recently taught a graduate course called “Dr. King and Empire: How MLK Jr. Resisted War, Capitalism and Christian Fundamentalism.”