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The White Right TAPP Dances Black Truths Out of American History

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The right's strength is its ability to immerse itself in tribal warmth of sexist, racist, homophobic waters, while simply sprinkling the rest of us with their refreshing mists. And they are refreshing. Admit it. Who hasn't been pricked by the odd racist thought -- when you glimpse the black face behind the wheel of the car that cuts you off, or your male ego takes a hit from a woman. 'Nigger.' 'Bitch.' They explode like little bombs. Like splinters from the stairwell banister, their sting is sudden, unexpected, and a bit disconcerting.

And then you go on your way. You shake it off, forget it happened. The right's gift is their ability to reference the embers of all those little bombs, all the perceived slights, the learned and latent bigotry absorbed during our American upbringings. They reference them and, like tiny bellows, reignite the embers to a subtle glow. Just enough to remind us of the root cause of the epithets we mutter in our heads. Just enough to remind you that "they" deserved, if only for reminding you that such ugliness lived inside.

That's how they seduce the beloved "moderate" voter, convince him or her to pay no heed to that declaration in favor of "Confederate History Month," or those racist newsletters published under their names. A trip to a black school, a photo-op with some black faces while listening with bwana-like condescension to their plight is enough to convince the soccer mom to ignore the fact that you never condemned your supporters' bleating insistence that the first black President has no right to hold the office, or that you belong to a church that has yet to repudiate the belief that blacks are cursed by God. Once the embers of contempt are smoldering, it takes very little to convince the majority. The smell of offal isn't so strong when you wear the taint yourself.

With new tactics, the battleground has shifted. Paul Krugman wrote:

"Today, however, the big threat to our discourse is right-wing political correctness, which -- unlike the liberal version -- has lots of power and money behind it. And the goal is very much the kind of thing Orwell tried to convey with his notion of Newspeak: to make it impossible to talk, and possibly even think, about ideas that challenge the established order.

Thus, even talking about 'the wealthy' brings angry denunciations; we're supposed to call them 'job creators'. Even talking about inequality is 'class warfare'.

And then there's the teaching of history. Eric Rauchway has a great post about attacks on the history curriculum, in which even talking about 'immigration and ethnicity' or 'environmental history' becomes part of a left-wing conspiracy. As he says, he'll name his new course 'US History: The Awesomeness of Awesome Americans.' That, after all, seems to be the only safe kind of thing to say."

Follow the Eric Rauchway link and you'll notice the attempts to institutionalize what I call "The American Past Perfect," or ."the TAPP dance" The TAPP dance is the white right's attempt to absolve itself (and the America it claims as its alone) of all sins. The TAPP dance insists that America's literal and figurative white heart is inherently pure, incapable of committing mistakes, sins, or evils, and if it did, well, they should not be mentioned, for to do so is to deny the American Past Perfect, which is un-American, and concomitantly and perhaps more importantly, un-white.

You've heard the paeans to America's halcyon days of the prosperous 50s and early 60s. This was also the era of unquestioned white, male privilege, before the Civil Rights and Women's Right Movements. The privilege part is conflated with that era's prosperity while conveniently ignoring the economic realities:

  • Back then, over 20% of the nation's workers were unionized (versus today's 11%)
  • Back then, the top marginal tax rate was 91% (versus today's 35%)
  • Back then, capital gains were taxed at 25% (versus today's 15%).
  • Back then, dividends were taxed at near 90% (versus today's 15%)

If we can just return to those days of blessed exclusion, the right suggests, we can again realize the American Dream of prosperity for all. In fact, a more equitable tax system enabled robust public investment while a strong labor pool protected workers' rights -- all things against which the right fights vociferously.

Today, history is the battleground. How do you convince a populace that up is down, that history isn't what it is? As conservatives insist that history curricula TAPP dance, black history and therefore black culture, disappear. Slavery was a mere historical "oops" moment, a slip of the historical tongue, nothing to get het up about. American apartheid through the latter-part of the 20th century? Oh, pooh! Instead, let history texts celebrate the majority for gallantly granting blacks our constitutionally guaranteed rights and praise them for gallantly acknowledging us our status as humans.

If they succeed, we will watch the history that built our culture, as wrapped up in pain as in joy... we'll watch it disappear. If we endured nothing of note, then the results of our endurance are not noteworthy. Our culture can, therefore, comfortably be omitted. Note Mitt Romney's discomfort on being consistently reminded of black America's past (and white America's shame) on our present.

We are an historical people. Our cultural being is shot through with American history. It's been clear for a while that the right's contempt for us has a lot to do with the lie we put to their white, Christian self-image and "American Exceptionals," pure of heart and intent. Our skin and our history prove that Americans are as capable of sub-animal viciousness as any other people on earth. Maybe they can't erase our skin, but they're working hard on erasing the history of which it so unforgivably reminds them.

This is a strange form of cultural ethnic cleansing -- one made more onerous by black America's passivity in preserving and passing on our own culture. The majority is slowly seduced by a whitewashed version of our past, and we, with no codified, independent means of passing it to future generations, follow along. We, too, will eventually believe the lie. We, too, will believe that the past had little effect on us and is unworthy of investigation. We, too, will believe that the horrors from which we often culled greatness were of little note. We'll believe that the greatness can also be ignored.

Who would have thought that there was another way back to the "Invisible Man."