Tuesday, August 05, 2008

If racism didn't exist, they would have to invent it.

James Taranto writes:

Back in April, we noted an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by one David K. Shipler, an expert on adjectival racism. In his view, pretty much any adjective is a few degrees of separation from a racial slur, and thus one should exercise extreme caution when modifying Barack Obama in a sentence.

Example: " 'Elitist' is another word for 'arrogant,' which is another word for 'uppity,' that old calumny applied to blacks who stood up for themselves." And:
Casting Obama as "out of touch" plays harmoniously with the traditional notion of blacks as "others" at the edge of the mainstream, separate from the whole. Despite his ability to articulate the frustration and yearning of broad segments of Americans, his "otherness" has been highlighted effectively by right-wingers who harp on his Kenyan father and spread false rumors that he's a clandestine Muslim.

Here's another example. Some people have said Obama has a "thin résumé." But "thin" is another word for "skinny," which is a slur for "black." Or so it is according to Slate's Timothy Noah, who has found invidious racism in the pages of the venerable Wall Street Journal.

This latest racial crisis began last Friday, when Journal reporter Amy Chozik published a piece titled "Too Fit to Be President?" Chozik speculated that Obama may be too far gaunt to lead a nation of lard butts. As political analyses go, it was more whimsical than weighty, which was signaled by its placement on the front page of the Weekend Journal section.

Yesterday Noah weighed in on the subject. "Any discussion of Obama's 'skinniness' and its impact on the typical American voter," he opined, "can't avoid being interpreted as a coded discussion of race." Here's his argument:

Barack Obama is the first African-American to win a major-party nomination for president of the United States. African-Americans are distinguishable from other Americans by their skin color. This physical attribute looms large in our nation's history as a source of prejudice. . . .
When white people are invited to think about Obama's physical appearance, the principal attribute they're likely to dwell on is his dark skin. Consequently, any reference to Obama's other physical attributes can't help coming off as a coy walk around the barn.
Chozik tells Noah that this is "ridiculous," to which Noah responds that she is "clueless." Proving that cluelessness comes in all colors, Noah calls his black friend "to ask whether she was offended. She was not."

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