Sometimes racial denigration is easy to see -- think white police officers in the segregation era using hoses to stop peaceful protests. Other times it is more subtle -- like a few days ago on ABC's Nightline.
I don't usually watch the show, but I happened to be flipping through the channels on Tuesday, when I caught the program's predictable piece on Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Here was how correspondent David Wright (no relation to Jeremiah) concluded his piece:
DAVID WRIGHT: Many black leaders had no comment on today's developments. Obama could yet pay a price in the black community.
REVEREND AL SHARPTON: Some are going to agree. I think some are going to disagree vehemently.
DAVID WRIGHT: But the real question now is what do white voters think, especially the white voters of Indiana. They weigh in on Tuesday, and Obama's hoping there's enough time to convince them that he and his controversial pastor have gone their separate ways for good. (emphasis added)
So according to Nightline, there are questions about the painful and deep fissures the Obama-Wright issue is causing in the black community, but those aren't "real." No, "the real question is what do white voters think" -- and, according to ABC, they -- and only they --"weigh in on Tuesday" (apparently, Indiana's black population doesn't get to weigh in...did someone suspend the Voting Rights Act in Indiana?).
David Wright is white, and probably didn't even have a clue that what he said is a very clear message that he -- and the people at Nightline who edited his piece -- really don't see black people, or even the black vote, as important -- or, in their words, "real." In fact, if they go back and consider this at all, they will probably tell themselves they didn't mean it that way -- though that doesn't make it any better. Very often the true beliefs of public figures comes out in Freudian slips.
I mean, it just doesn't get any more overt than that when you think about it. Here is a show that beams out to the entire country, and one of its reporters concluded a piece by telling 37 million African Americans that the issues in their community do not matter -- an especially galling message, considering the Obama-Wright controversy is one inherently about tensions within the black community, and is also being exploited by the media and opposing campaigns through not-so-subtle racial politics. And yet, not a single media watchdog group -- progressive or otherwise -- nor anyone at ABC publicly criticized this. Most likely, no one even noticed.
Sadly, this kind of thing is the norm in American political culture -- and particularly in the 2008 presidential campaign, whether through the downplaying of the black vote's importance, or through people like Chris Matthews suggesting that black people aren't "regular people." The political Establishment likes to talk about racial equality and Santa Claus-ify Martin Luther King, but the denigration continues.
Join the book club for David Sirota's upcoming book, The Uprising, due out on 5/27.