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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

Palin's Uncomfortable Racism

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Chuck Heath's quip that his daughter Sarah Palin skipped out on her studies after one semester at Hawaii Pacific College because she didn't feel comfortable around so many Asians was intriguing not because of its blatant racism. The intrigue was that Palin didn't deny she said it. In a backdoor way she confirmed that not only did she probably say it, but meant it. She said that she much preferred to go to school in Idaho because it "was more like Alaska." Idaho could never be mistaken as the poster state for a multicultural population mix. The state is mostly white, rural, hard-line conservative, and in some places has been a fertile nesting ground for an assorted array of kooky, far out racist, para military groups.

During the campaign, Palin took some heat for telling a meeting of Alaska's black leaders in April 2008 that she didn't have to hire any blacks. The black leaders had complained to Palin about the invisibility of blacks and minorities on her staff and in state governmental departments. Even more damning, she purportedly told the black leaders that she didn't intend to hire any. Palin's campaign manager and a staff representative hotly denied to this writer that Palin had made the comment. However, they quickly declared that Palin was absolutely color-blind in hiring and insisted that she did not push any special programs to boost minority hiring. Palin was as good as her word. There was a glaring paucity of blacks, Asians, Hispanics on her staff and relatively few in top state jobs. Also during the campaign, Palin was mute on the series of racist emails that some state employees sent out on state of Alaska accounts.

This doesn't type Palin as a racial bigot. It does type her as the latest in the long train of right-side GOP politicians who calculate that they can score big with a subtle play of the race card. During the past decade, a parade of Republican state and local officials, conservative talk show jocks and even some Republican bigwigs have made foot-in-the-mouth racist cracks. Their response when called on the carpet has always been the same. They make a duck-and-dodge denial, claim that they were misquoted or issue a weak, halfhearted apology. And each time the response from top Republicans is either silence, or, if the firestorm is great enough, to give the offender a much-delayed, mild verbal hand-slap.

Palin need not be troubled with apologies, or having to worry about reprimands from GOP leaders. They are scared stiff of her and the millions that she appeals too. This was much evident in the blatant racist signs, posters, and slogans and confederate flags and the separatist Texas lone star flags waved about at the tea party and taxpayer protest marches.

Palin gave another wink and nod to the bigots by almost single-handedly reviving the withered on the vine, unabashed, racist tinged, birther campaign. Palin accomplished that neat trick with her off the cuff quip to a conservative radio talk show host that it was "fair game" to the validity of Obama's birth certificate.

Palin again fanned the latent bigotry among her fans with her Going Rogue book tour. She flatly said that she'd avoid the big city liberal media hot-beds and tour in mostly small and mid sized towns in the Heartland states. This was a not so subtle code guarantee that her audience would be overwhelmingly white, working class, and conservative. That's exactly the audience she got. It's an audience that won't make her uncomfortable.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, "How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge" (Middle Passage Press), will be released in January 2010.