The now famous Joe Wilson outburst of "You lie!" during President Obama's defense of his health care plan in Congress was not at all shocking to me. The tremendous backlash against Obama by White American conservatives still stunned to have a Black man in the White House - the completely uninformed buffoonery and right-wing panic that has characterized opposition to health care reform, to the economic stimulus package, and to the very existence of President Obama - has led directly to this point. Disrespect for the President during the Bush administration, and even after we uncovered all the lies and pretenses surrounding the war in Iraq, was considered unAmerican. But blatant disrespect for the office of President is perfectly acceptable when the one occupying the role is a lot less White than people would prefer.
Obama has been caricatured as Hitler and the Joker; 'birthers', in an almost textbook manifestation of how Black bodies have historically been and continue to be considered the property of a White public, have demanded evidence of his circumcised genitalia; rabid dissenters are taking guns to health care rallies; people are emailing watermelon-strewn White House lawns all up and through; the Republican death panel hide-your-grannies misinformation campaign is still going strong; and we're only now dropping jaws that a highly-paid Congressman would dare to interrupt the President's address to call him a liar? Did we really think that the racist disrespect we've seen to date was originated with and owned by disgruntled voters? And that the ones who lead them would know better?
When Sen. Saxby Chambliss called for the President to 'show some humility' regarding the health care debate, what he really meant was that the uppity Negro should know his place. When 'concerned parents' started wetting their pantaloons over the President's back-to-school address to their children, trying to drown the nation in panic that Obama would work his African voodoo on young minds and indoctrinate them with his Socialist agenda, what they were really responding to was their natural inclination against letting any Black people near their children. Surely you understand their consternation: they've toiled their entire lives to make sure their children are shielded from the Black bogeymen, and what the H - E double hockey sticks do you know...they done gone and let one walk straight into the White House with a direct line to their precious White angels.
So you'll pardon me if I didn't get all gaspy when Wilson yelled at the President of the United States that he is a liar in an open session of Congress - an utterance that was as disrespectful as it was disingenuous, since we know from the text of the Bill itself that Obama's statement regarding lack of public health care coverage for illegal immigrants was correct. And if he had added a 'boy' at the end of his outburst, I probably would have been only slightly more surprised. Because the ilk of Republicans among which Wilson counts himself does not disagree with Obama's policy, but with his Blackness, and with what they think is worse, his confidence and capability in spite of it.
And not only is Wilson's weak, mumbled 'apology' evidence of his lack of remorse, but even considering the admonition from both sides, the support he has received from like-thinking Americans who think he's just 'representing the people' suggests that there is not nearly enough outrage as we'd like to think there should be. Obama himself seemed thoroughly unfazed in the moment, as many of us who have experienced this type of racism tend to become. And the increase in donations to Wilson's Democratic opponent may be seen as a kind of quiet resistance to Wilson's brand of hate. But even as I consider my own response, as well as the President's, I wonder if 'quiet' and 'unfazed' are exactly the characteristics that feed this new, accepted racism that is being packaged as due democratic process, even while it clearly is not. The advantage of the post-racial myth is that it fools us into thinking Wilson part of an outdated minority, even as it gives birth to a revival in racism at the highest level, which - left ignored - will continue to thrive and grow right under our noses.