"There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." --Representative John Murtha (D-PA), October 15, 2008.Congressman Murtha's statement, which he uttered to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has been mentioned a lot in the media, lately. Republicans have been pointing to it as yet another indication that Obama supporters have a low opinion of the "pro-America" parts of the country (as Sarah Palin calls them). Their apparent outrage, however, carries a whiff of desperation as polls and speculative electoral maps seem to indicate that John McCain is a drowning man.
Republicans excel at faking outrage; false piety and moral hypocrisy are their stock-in-trade. They beat their breasts, and roll their eyes to the heavens, bemoaning how they have been slandered when anyone accuses them of racism, while at the same time, they do everything they can to suppress voter turnout in minority areas, impugn and alienate undocumented workers, and foment anti-Islamic sentiments. No one expects any less from them.
Going back to Murtha's comment, though, and myself being unconstrained by the decorum of electoral politics, I'll say this: Murtha was right on the money. If rural, western Pennsylvania is anything at all like rural, eastern Oregon, where I spent half of my life, racism is rampant there; a good share of the people that live there could easily be described as "rednecks;" might in fact embrace that moniker with pride.
A week ago, some acquaintances of mine, an interracial couple, recounted some of the experiences they had had on a recent trip to eastern Ohio, just across the state line from the area about which Murtha was speaking. They said that they encountered hostile stares, and under-the-breath mutterings, and that they were even followed by a truck full of local yokels. They attributed all of it to their being interracial.
When I was a freshman at Redmond High School, in Redmond, Oregon, I arrived at school one morning to a hubbub occurring on the front steps of the building. Three or four boys, wearing their ubiquitous cowboy hats and cowboy boots and their ridiculous Western style belts, were gathered around a black girl who was coming to school for the first day. There had been no black kids in school previously. These boys, these ugly cowards were jeering at this girl, calling her "nigger," pushing her, hitting her. She tried to stand up to them, saying "My name is not nigger, do you hear me?" But they were pitiless and unrelenting. To this day, thirty-years later, it is a point of deep shame to me that I walked past the whole scene without doing or saying something to defend that girl, or to offer my hand in friendship. She eventually ran home, crying, and never returned to our school. I will carry my guilt for the rest of my life.
Times may have changed in the 30 years since then, and it is unfair to paint entire regions as racist because of the actions of a few. But racism does live in all of our hearts. And no one, not one person in that crowd of people, came to the defense of that poor girl.
And, now, I suppose, I've arrived at the source of my deep-seated revulsion toward Republicans and conservatives. I despise them for the things that they reveal in me... my lack of courage at a crucial moment, my indecision and fear in the face of evil. But that's my issue.
The point I started out trying to make is this: Republicans solicit the racist vote, then use fake outrage to provide the racists with a cover, with a pretense that their views aren't really racist. The people that pretend to be offended by Congressman Murtha's statement would never have voted for a Democrat anyway, let alone a black man. So, while it gives the Republicans something to get their panties into a bunch over, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference toward the outcome of this election.
(For a deep examination of racial issues, I refer you to the blog of my friend Ridwan Laher.)
In eight days, if, as all signs seem to indicate, the Republicans go down in flames, I'll be thinking of that girl, 30 years ago, that had the misfortune of trying to attend high school in one of Sarah Palin's "pro-America" parts of the country. I can never completely atone for my sin against her, just as this country can never truly atone for the sins of institutionalized slavery, or genocide, or the other ugly manifestations of racism.
But, by God, we can elect Barack Obama.