This post has been edited from its original version.
Republican 527s are running racist ads in Michigan, with the intent of exploiting racial anxiety to the benefit of John McCain.
One links Senator Barack Obama to the former mayor of Detroit, Kwame M. Kilpatrick, an African-American whose political career unraveled in scandal. The other features Mr. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A Wright Jr., also black, and his now infamous sermon marked by the words “God damn America.”
Maybe they just want to make sure to turn out the black vote.
Obama's links to Kilpatrick are practically nonexistent, and one group intends to run ads associating Obama with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Why? They belong to the same ethnic group, which is kind of like associating John McCain with KKK murderer Edgar Ray Killen because they're both white and originally from northern Europe.
Brent Staples had an underappreciated Op-Ed for The New York Times recently where he dispassionately laid out the racial undertones of the McCain campaign's recent ads and the language used by congressional Republicans to describe Obama. Words like "uppity" have a very specific and violent history that despite the weak denials of some Southern Republican lawmakers, are terribly obvious to those of us who happen to be African American.
The theory behind lingering racism in America is not that white people are evil. It's that after four hundred years of treating black people like animals, and another hundred of violence, discrimination and second-class citizenship, the social mechanisms used to rationalize racial hatred still remain, even if they are eroding. This isn't conscious; it's simply the legacy of America's ugly racial history. If racism were conscious, if we had to think about racism to engage in racial prejudice, it simply wouldn't be very powerful. And it's not as though it only affects white people; I can recall being in classes in high school and being scolded by black teachers who told us that if we were white, we would know how to behave, even though kids of all backgrounds like to chat and pass notes when class is boring. One of the terrible truths about racism is that even its targets are capable of internalizing the lies at its core.
But the conscious manipulation of such things is inexcusable. And the efforts of Republicans to exploit the worst of American history to meet their political goals will continue to discredit their party in the eyes of most black folks. I would be surprised if many, many white people didn't feel the same way.