Several very important articles this morning that I recommend readers read side-by-side with each other, since each glosses the other in significant ways:
Joanna Brooks, "Andrew Sullivan Is Right and Wrong on Racism, Romney, and the Book of Mormon," at Religion Dispatches
Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Burden of a Black President," at The Atlantic
Chauncey Vega, "The Real Burdens of a Black President? Double Standards and Polite White Racism" at Alternet
Sullivan notes the glaring double standard in how the mainstream media have treated President Obama's connections to Rev. Wright, and how they're treating the historic prohibition (up to 1978) of the ordination of black men in the Mormon priesthood. And how they're permitting Mitt Romney to dodge questions about this legacy of racism within the LDS church.
Brooks grants that much that Sullivan has to say about this--including his thesis--is absolutely correct, but she points to several inaccuracies in his treatment of the history of the ban on ordaining black men and where it arose from in Mormon scripture and culture. As a Mormon who knows her culture from the inside, she attributes Romney's refusal to engage questions about the historic ban on ordination of black men to his deference to church authorities and his "identification with institutional power," which makes him unwilling to speak truth to power.
Coates compares the "great weight" Barack Obama carries as the nation's first black president to the similar great weight Joe Louis brought to his famous fight with Max Schmeling in 1936. He notes the well-nigh impossible burden placed on the shoulders of someone who must rise or fall not merely as an individual, but as a member of--a representative of, an exemplar for--an entire group of stigmatized human beings.
Vega riffs off Coates' essay to argue--painfully--that Barack Obama will lose the election to Mitt Romney, and that the ultimate arbiter in the election will not be the overt racism of some selected white Americans, but the "polite racism" of many Americans who refuse to acknowledge (or even to recognize) the racism that determines many of their political choices.
Conservatism and racism are intertwined in modern American politics. The White backlash against Obama is prefaced on a sense of group position and group entitlement. For a significant portion of the white voting public the idea of a black man as president is anathema to their understanding of authority. Many of these people, as a function of living in American society, are so sick with white racism and white privilege that they are not even aware of what motivates their anxiety towards people of color, generally, and a black president, specifically.
And I'm convinced he's correct. I take his testimony seriously. And I feel enormous shame that a significant percentage of those privileged white citizens who are "so sick with white racism and white privilege" that they are not even aware they are making political decisions on racial grounds are my fellow Catholics. Who--as I've said repeatedly, and apparently to deaf ears, on the Commonweal blog in the past day or so--imagine that they can cast their political lot with overt racists while not being in any way tainted by racism themselves.
Who imagine that in following their bishops' partisan political lead and choosing the Republican party in this election for "moral" reasons they're making a really moral choice. But whose immorality in voting for a party that has established its strong "moral" base by employing outright racism in the final decades of the 20th century and right up to the present will have serious destructive consequences for the whole planet and the entire human community if Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are elected.
Serious, immoral, destructive consequences brought to the world quite directly and deliberately by the leadership of my Roman Catholic church . . . .