by CHARLES M. BLOW
Americans are engaged in a war over a word: racism.
Mature commentary on the subject has descended into tribal tirades, hypersensitive defenses and rapid-fire finger-pointing. The very definition of the word seems under assault, being bent and twisted back on itself and stretched and pulled beyond recognition.
Many on the left have taken an absolutist stance, that the anti-Obama sentiment reeks of racism and denial only served to confirm guilt. Many on the right feel as though they have been convicted without proof — that tossing “racism” their way is itself racist.
The “racists crying racism” meme is being pushed hard, on multiple fronts, all centered around the president.
After the N.A.A.C.P. asked the Tea Party “to condemn extremist elements” within its ranks, the right went on a witch hunt for black racists in the N.A.A.C.P. Not finding any, it created one. Andrew Breitbart presents: “The Sherrod Charade.”
Journalism is being tarred with the sins of some on JournoList, a now defunct listserv through which a handful of people wrote heretical things like the possibility of calling conservatives racist to divert attention from Obama’s connection to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.
This was hardly a vast left-wing conspiracy, but it fed the right’s defensive narrative that the word “racism” has become a weapon — not the shot of a rifle carefully aimed at a clear target, but a shotgun blast sprayed wide and loose at all things anti-Obama.
There’s also the charge that the president is protecting the New Black Panthers from voter intimidation charges. This nonstory has been knocked down more times than a blind boxer, but the right keeps pushing it.
And then there’s Glenn Beck. He’s on a crusade to convince the lemmings of Foxland that President Obama is governing under the principles of Black Liberation Theology, a “grave perversion” of Christianity in which “minorities are saved in the sense that white people constantly confess and repent of being racist and meet the economic demands of minorities via the redistribution of wealth as a consequence of, in some form or another, reparations.” What? Oh, Glenn.
I have to say, I don’t know how these Fox viewers do it. Listening to a Beck argument is like living in an M.C. Escher drawing — fantastical illusions that defy logic and strain the brain.
Blacks, stunned by this new topsy-turvy world of racial politics, continue to rally around Obama. In opinion polls, they consistently rate Obama’s performance and policies highly, I suspect as much out of solidarity as conviction.
Whether the president likes it or not, he’s the nexus of this debate. I, for one, think that he should stand up and redirect it from the negative to the noble. There will be some grumbling to be sure, but there already is.
It’s your choice, Mr. President. I say stand up — for America, for common humanity, for civil discourse. To paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”