Race and the paradox of America

Newt Gingrich is a "cagey propagandist" whose objective is merely "to hint and wink at falsehoods", writes Stoehr.

    In criticising Obama for turning Trayvon Martin's death into a "racial issue", Gingrich looked like he was merely spewing raw racism [AFP]
    In criticising Obama for turning Trayvon Martin's death into a "racial issue", Gingrich looked like he was merely spewing raw racism [AFP]

    New Haven, CT - Newt Gingrich's candidacy is ending with a whimper, not with a bang. It's a just fate for his kamikaze bid for the White House. Even so, his allure among the Republican elite is hardly diminished. Given his performance during the GOP debates and his remarks on the death of Trayvon Martin, Gingrich may have fashioned a new role for himself as a propagandist of white supremacy. This may sound like an outlandish thing to say, and maybe it is, but there's a reason for it.

    As you know, Martin was a Florida teen killed by a neighbourhood watch volunteer. Police did not arrest the shooter, because they misinterpreted a state law that puts the burden of proof on the victim. Called "Stand Your Ground", the law was lobbied for by American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that strives for the privatisation of public services, like prisons and schools. President Barack Obama called for an investigation and said that if he had a son, "he'd look like Trayvon".

    Gingrich's billionaire backer

    Gingrich regaled Fox News Radio with curlicues of tortured logic: "It's not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background... Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn't look like him?... It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian-American of if he'd been a Native American... When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling."

    Belief in falsehoods

    Where to begin… well, maybe the claim that Obama is turning Trayvon Martin's death into a "racial issue". It was already a "racial issue". The shooter, George Zimmerman, suspected Martin of wrongdoing, because he was a black kid buying candy in a small town in the Florida suburbs. Therefore, he was shot, because he was black. He died, like so many in American history, because he was black. As for Gingrich's question - "Is the president suggesting…" Any honest person could see Obama wasn't saying that if Martin had been white, his death would be OK. 

    Of course, Gingrich isn't an honest person. That's why he resigned in disgrace as Speaker of the House and was virtually run out of Washington. But he is a cagey propagandist whose objective is merely to hint and wink at falsehoods. These falsehoods, in turn, may affect credulous voters - and their belief in falsehoods (or anything that's not the truth) may end up being beneficial to the power elite.

    What power elite and what does that have to do with Martin's death? 

    First, let's recall the meaning of racism, historically speaking. It's the institutionalisation of white supremacy at the point of a gun. But it must also be remembered that white supremacy had practical value. As Ida B Wells famously reported, lynch mobs had a financial incentive to murder - to protect white markets from black competition. Obviously, lynch mobs are gone, but there still remains plenty of financial incentive to disempower black Americans. 

    The group that pushed hard for the "Stand Your Ground" law, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is funded by conservative billionaires and corporations, notably Charles and David Koch and Exxon Mobile. Among other things, ALEC lobbies state legislators to make laws that benefits corporations that run state prisons. The higher the rates of incarceration, the higher the potential for profit. As Paul Krugman noted: "The penal-industrial complex… has a financial stake in anything that sends more people into the courts and the prisons."

    Gingrich has been a frequent speaker at ALEC conferences. In 2010, after the mid-term elections, he said: "ALEC has done many, many things to move America toward more rational, more affordable and more effective government." Earlier this year, he co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for wider prison reform. "Reform" has been a keyword in the corporatisation of the public sphere.

    The Stream - #TrayvonMartin's death raises questions about race in the US

    Spewing raw racism

    In criticising the president for turning Trayvon Martin's death into a "racial issue", Gingrich looked like he was merely spewing raw racism, as when he said child labour laws are "truly stupid", that poor children have no values and that Obama is a "food-stamp president".

    Anything is fair game when you're running for the United States presidency. But given his relationship to ALEC, the political ideology of ALEC's benefactors and the role of white supremacy in widening the profit-margins of tax-funded prison corporations, Gingrich's remarks appear to be more sinister.

    "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon Martin," Obama said. It was a touching moment, but it could be seen as symbolising an American paradox - that the first black president in American history is powerless against a system of corporate interests, laws and social norms from destroying the life of a black American. 

    If Americans came to realise that their country works best for white property owners and not best for everyone else, they might feel inspired to work together to effect positive change for all, change that would endanger the corporate interests of the power elite. So Gingrich works his magic - bobbing and weaving, suggesting Obama would approve of a white dude getting popped every now and then. As I said, his future looks bright as the chief spokesman for white supremacy. 

    Anything to distract Americans from what really matters.

    John Stoehr is the editor of the New Haven Advocate and a lecturer at Yale.

    Follow him on Twitter: @johnastoehr

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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