Return of Anti-anti-racism

In trepidation over the sheer nastiness (and emptiness) of the Derrick Bell “scandal” that Andrew Breitbart’s indeological heirs were so exercised about this last week, Kevin Drum reminds us of how prevalent this sort of thing was in the not-too-distant past:

July and August of 2010 were a festival of xenophobia and racial rage from the news organs of the right. Among the topics that generated wall-to-wall coverage on a serial basis that summer were (1) the New Black Panthers, (2) Arizona’s new immigration law, (3) the “anchor baby” controversy, (4) the “Ground Zero” mosque, (5) the Shirley Sherrod affair, (6) a new upwelling of birther conspiracy theories, (7) Glenn Beck’s obsession with Barack Obama’s supposed sympathy with “liberation theology,” and (8) Dinesh D’Souza’s contention — eagerly echoed by Newt Gingrich — that Barack Obama can only be understood as an angry, Kenyan, anti-colonialist. Plus I’m probably forgetting a few.

Kevin is concerned that since 2010 was an election year and 2012 is an election year, we’re going to see a reprise of what he calls the “summer of hate.”

What strikes me about the Bell “scandal,” however, is how relatively little it seems to have to do with Barack Obama. The “story” has very quickly moved on from Obama’s anodyne introduction of Bell at a 1991 Harvard protest, to Bell’s supposed “racialism,” and to the “racialism” supposedly suffusing academia and for that matter, educational affirmative action in general (perhaps in anticipation of a new Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions). Sarah Palin’s bizarre suggestion that affirmative action is the same as apartheid is a remarkably common view.

But it almost seems like what our wingnut friends most want is to poke the stick at racial issues so that can scream about the horrible indiginity of being accused of racism, as though they are seeking insulation against future charges of race-baiting. My concern is that’s a sign something a lot worse than video of Barack Obama with Derrick Bell could be on the way. You can go back and forth as to whether this or that element of the contemporary Right is guilty of racism (you cannot, after all, look into everyone’s heart). But there is no question that anti-anti-racism is at epidemic levels, as we are seeing right now.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.