Start with the Texas study, which explored the attitudes toward race in a group of Caucasian families near Austin. The article is fascinating. Most of the parents in the study couldn't, literally could not, discuss race with their children, beyond mouthing platitudes like, "Everyone is equal." (I loved the 7 year old who eventually asked his mother, "What does 'equal' mean?") In the total absence of guidance from their parents, children concluded that: white people were nicer than black people; black people were more likely to be mean than white people; or (to generalize) "people like them" were better than "people who aren't like them." This is pure tribalism; frankly, this attitude is what drives much of the conflict in Afghanistan. In families where the parents did discuss race frankly with their children, the children concluded that skin color didn't matter much.
If you don't talk about something with your children, the conclusions they draw on the subject may not be what you expect. Note, parents, that this applies to sex, too, but that's another post.
Maureen Dowd, of course, drew the obvious conclusion that a Southerner like Rep. Wilson, when he shouted, "You lie!" at President Obama, implicitly followed it with the time-dishonored epithet, "boy!" Her column concluded (reluctantly, she says) that the screaming objections to Obama and his policies really are racial.
Of course they are. As the U.Texas study found (remember, Texans are generally considered Southerners), children form racial attitudes very very early. Children raised in the American South more than 40 years ago (including my late father, and also Joe Wilson, who is 62) were openly taught that black people are by nature inferior to white people in all ways. So if you were a small town failure with a small job, whose high point was a couple of beers with the boys on Friday night, you could still reassure yourself that you were better than "them," just because you were white.
It's very hard for Bubba to defend that position when the representative of "them" is Barack Obama.
"Fear of a Black President" begins with this comment:
Ever the statesman, and often candid to a political fault, President Jimmy Carter asserted this week that much of the animosity directed toward President Barack Obama is “based on the fact that he is a black man.”God bless Jimmy Carter, who speaks his mind. And he's perfectly right. Prof. Walton's point, which I strongly recommend you read in full, is that the real problem isn't so much that the ranters can't tolerate Obama's blackness, as that they can't tolerate any change in their personal perception of their own superiority as white men:
President Obama can’t win with these folks because they are blinded not just by his race but also by an uncritical devotion to their own. His pigmentation rather than his policies cut against the grain of what these persons wrongly consider “natural” or “American.” More specifically, his very being is a haunting rejoinder to such white Americans of what they are not—indeed what they have never been. This African American man with an Arabic name has dared to usurp all of the cultural and cognitive tropes that white supremacy has historically claimed for itself. He is calm in the face of their unrestrained emotion. The more illogical they act the more rational he comes across. And, of course, the more eloquent and erudite he presents himself, the more he provokes the Joe Wilsons of the world to mindlessly blurt out, “You lie!”I've been slapped down before for suggesting that we'll never move forward as a country until we can learn to judge and react to a person (thoughts, actions, ideas), and not a skin color - and that includes our judgements of ourselves. I still think it's true; the hysterical reaction to President Obama confirms it. What I don't know is how we get there. But I suspect racism is like alcoholism - you can't quit doing it until you admit you have a problem.