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The Color Line


The East Coast papers had the same photo on Saturday’s front page: a picture of Jesse Jackson looking over, smiling even at President George Bush, who had just given a provocative speech to the Urban League. The photo’s not as good — or as subtly snide — as the famous NYTimes cover shot of Bill Clinton riding in a golf cart with Vernon Jordan up on Martha’s Vineyard — but it’s close. The old, the new, in black and white.

Bush didn’t provide the League, with any answers to his fundamental question: are the Democrats taking you for granted? But he’s laid down a challenge to the Democratic Party, one it better answer and soon.
For too long, this country – and Democrats sinners here, too – have been able to assume skin color and class are the same. That does a disservice to poor whites because, thank you Lee Atwater, it fuels racial resentments in ways that aren’t fully appreciated by upper class whites. And, of course, it does an injustice to middle and upper-middle class black folks – the very people to whom Bush is talking. Conditioned to look at skin color, it’s hard to break the habit and the “top ten” percent are more than weary of the assumptions that they’re poor and deprived, ignorant and ghetto-bound.
Democrats better answer Bush’s question because it’s going to be one of the more pressing issues of the next few years. Our national hot button is no longer the uncontrollable rage of the black man; Richard Wright’s Black Boy comes to mind. No, panic now sets in at the sight of a group of Arabs on an airplane.
The “Women’s Wall Street Journal” — I guess that’s for women too fearful to read the “boy’s” WSJ — published what will one day be seen as perhaps the seminal word on the U.S.’s growing insanity about terrorism. This piece of race-baiting hysteria (in the 19th Century sense – being a disease afflicting, nervous upper class women with delicate sensibilities) showed just how paranoid this country become. Immigration officers have taken it upon themselves to bar foreign journalists (some former and long-time residents, others married to Americans), artists, and writers. The are more sevee limits on the number of students from overseas, truckers are being trained to look out for suspicious activity and, instead settle on looking for turbans, assuming that headgear of the Sikh in America is the same as the ayatollas in Iran and Iraq. It’s no wonder our dimmer citizens sit, in terror on airplanes, while Arabs converse in languages other than English, make eye contact, and move about the plane as if – the horror – they were legally in the country with the proper permits and permissions. These nut cases — any one who cites Ann Coulter is a nut case — are trying to use age-old habit – skin color – to denote affiliation. Think I’m crazy? Substitute “negro” for “Arab” in this fear-mongering nonsense and you have the work of a 20th century segregationist talking about the threats posed by black folks walking and living freely in the white world. That piece would never be printed today, now would it?
The Bush Administration has no answers – no way to assuage the fears it has stirred up over the past three years. Having a fearful nation that believes itself to be at war is in their best political interest right now; it divides people almost as clearly as they were once separated (and to some extent still are) on race. But the Democrats haven’t come up with anything better, more inclusive, less reactionary; something that ties the nation’s new and growing immigrant population to its new fears about outsiders. That’s one reason fears have grown, multiplied, and, it seems, taken root. There’s been to response, no shoring up of the old values.
The Democrat get a chance to respond to Bush tomorrow when Barack Obama, wrapping up his lucky cakewalk of a Senate race, speaks in Boston. Let’s hope he’s got some answers. As an immigrant and an African-American he can, more than almost anyone else in the party, respond to the Bush Administration, loudly and clearly. Let’s hope he does.
Original links to the WomensWallStreetJournal and Time’s piece on the turban-hunters courtesy of the boys at Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 6:32 AM | Permalink

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