Playing With Fire

Georgia congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, reacting to the increasingly incendiary atmosphere at McCain-Palin campaign rallies, condemned the GOP for using tactics that are creating a mood not unlike the one created by George Wallace, the former segregationist governor and presidential candidate. Lewis accused the Republicans of “sowing the seeds of hatred and division,” and warned the McCain campaign that they are “playing with fire:”

Huffington Post | Nicholas Graham | October 11, 2008

He’s right. The Huffington Post has a great collection of stories and videos on the pattern of callousness and hints of violence. I think many of us have had this question in the back of our mind since Obama launched his campaign: when will the more overt racist attacks start, and what form will they take? Now we seem to have our answer. In an early stumble, Obama seemed to see this coming, of course.

In many ways the Midwest, where I live, is ideal; no long commutes or pollution, nice people. The Midwest is also a culture of white racial enclaves, small towns and regions that have maintained monoculturalism against all odds. It can be a very harsh environment for young working class families. Many small towns have long ago emptied out, ghost towns created by corporate, large scale farming and globalization; it’s not just apple pie and ice cream, it’s crank and militias.

This seems to be the natural environment for the anger and resentment that Palin taps into at her rallies, and it’s not surprising that it has taken on this flavor of a strange xenophobic racism. The foreigner, the Arab, and the urban, sophisticated black are all wrapped up into this neat, creepy fear-mongering package. The real American terrorists, of course, were the lynch mobs that Palin toys with so dangerously.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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