Today I was forwarded a message intending to smear Barack Obama.
The smear boiled down to this: Obama has relatives in Africa, and they don’t look or live like you do.
Along with the usual insinuations (Obama is a closet Muslim. Obama is ungrateful for the blessing having been raised by a white mother), it included many images that could have come from a family scrapbook – a black family scrapbook.
The person who sent it to me wanted to know what I thought.
This was my response:
What do I think?
I think this this is just the beginning of what we will see between now and November: Attempts to shock and deceive people, and to tap into racist sentiments–with or without the content being explicitly racist.
I think this message is directed at people who view white as “normal,” and black as inferior, defective, and frightening. In a word: racists. It’s an attempt to catalyze the subtle and latent racism that exists among many Americans, and bring it out in the open–or at least into the voting booth.
Simply showing actual Africans as they live and dress in Africa is enough to elicit feelings of xenophobia from some of us. That’s the reaction they are counting on. The question “How come we haven’t seen or known about some of these?” implies that they would be shocking in some way to the average person.
“Oh my god! Obama’s African grandmother is black, and lives in Africa, and really is his black African grandmother from Africa! Black. Black. Black. Africa. Africa. Africa. Vote for the white guy! Grab your gun, and hide your daughters just to be safe!”
I think it relies on the laziness and credulity of the people who receive this message; that they will not check the facts, but instead swallow it whole.
Among George W. Bush’s unsavory relatives was his [alleged] Nazi sympathizer Grandfather. Does that make Bush a Nazi? Of course not. John McCain–far from being a maverick or outsider–descends from a long line of military elite, and he married into a family of war profiteers with a huge moral blind spot. Does that mean he’s more personally invested in war than in peace? Maybe.
If we are going to judge candidates by their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and spouses, then I’ll go with Obama and his family. They look like the kind of ordinary people I knew and befriended when I lived in Africa.
It’s extremely disappointing seeing [through the forwarding history] that this awful smear has passed through the hands of people who I respect and care for.
I think I feel sick.