It just doesn’t work.
Last Saturday, I boarded a metro train in Washington, DC and was instantly greeted by makeshift picket signs depicting President Obama as Hitler, a monkey, Tarzan, and an “idiot” among other titles. The trains were packed with “Tea Party Patriots” in American flag shirts who were confused about which train route would deliver them to that day’s protest against Obama’s healthcare reform. Or rather, that’s been the acceptable rhetoric for clearly racist actions and sentiments that have plagued the President and this initiative. I sat in that metro car seething with rage, as I was outnumbered by a swarm of people wielding signs that clearly had nothing to do with healthcare, but all to do with a Black president. Had I anticipated or researched the protest more thoroughly, I could’ve planned some sort of opposition, or alerted folks in support of healthcare in DC, to join me. But I didn’t.
All that to say -what’s going on in this country is not about opposition to healthcare. If it were, “Obama monkey” t-shirts (that play on age-old stereotypes of black people as apes) would not be worn by protesters. “Legitimate” complaints against healthcare reform would not be exchanged for disturbing, xenophobic remarks about our President’s American citizenship and nationality. What does that have to do with healthcare? From the beginning of his campaign, Obama made it clear that healthcare reform would be one of his leading initiatives. I find it interesting that some of the same people who voted for him knowing this fact, (and some who didn’t), now have such loaded, venomous views about him and his plans. What happened to people of all colors and classes running the streets of major cities in America when he was elected? What happened to the collective unity and ideological shifts that were constantly reported in the media? They’ve somehow been stampeded by a group of people who never supported Obama, didn’t vote for him, or did vote for him and are now using his race to discredit him. And now, discussing race becomes some dirty word that one becomes reprimanded for when mentioning.
President Obama just announced that he disagrees with President Carter’s assertion that much of the healthcare outrage against him is based on race. In an effort to “play it safe” and somehow please all sides, Obama and his White House staff have come to embrace race-neutrality. Interesting and potentially effective idea, but not when “Tea Party” Protesters are in front of the white house proclaiming that they “desire American Society as it was when the Boston Tea Party occurred.” So, essentially they’re saying they desire a society where Blacks weren’t considered human, slavery was in effect, and Native/ Indigenous people were being repeatedly massacred on their own land. Something is clearly not right here.
Race matters, and in President Obama’s attempt to ignore it, the inequalities that spawn from it are only exacerbated. A Black woman and Army Reservist, Tasha Hill, was brutally beaten on Tuesday (9/15) in Georgia by a white man outside of a Cracker Barrel Restaurant, after she notified him that he nearly knocked down her daughter. He beat her in front of her daughter and other restaurant patrons. As he beat her, he yelled “‘You’re a fucking black nigger bitch.'”
In a climate such as this, where a person (one who serves this country at that), can be brutally attacked for their very existence, I have a hard time believing that “Tea Party Patriots” with signs that show my president as a monkey and say they desire an unequal America, have legitimate arguments against healthcare. There is no race neutrality in these times. Color- blindness sounds good when people don’t want to take accountability for the systems of privilege at play in this country when related to race and class, and themselves.
So I wonder where that leads us. Do we go out and oppose these Tea Party Protesters face on, knowing that our president is not fully stepping up to the virulent racism that they are spewing? Do we continue to debate about the situation at hand, which is healthcare, and how so many people are going insured and suffering because some people equate it with communism? The answer is surely not ignoring the racialized stigmas that are preventing this initiative from moving forward.
I just know what I saw on the metro that day, and it wasn’t about healthcare.