To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, we acquire the qualities of the things that we do. Some of these traits and deeds matter more than others. If you were caught stealing as a child, that label may follow you for years to come. Likewise, if you were the kid who pooped in the swimming pool during a field trip in elementary school, and never left your hometown as an adult, that fecal slip could follow you years, or even decades, later.
Rick Santorum is a race baiter. He believes that black people are parasites who live off of whites. His trafficking in the dog whistles and air raid sirens of white supremacy for political gain is not something that can be easily shrugged off. These are habits which speak to Santorum's values, traits, ethics, beliefs, and personality--even if done for short term mercenary political gain. Why? to play such a game involves a choice, one that Rick Santorum ought to be held accountable for. His mouth utterances are not mistakes: they are cold calculations designed for electoral gain among a particular subset of the American voting public.
By playing in the political scatology of white racial resentment, Rick Santorum is stained and marked. This will gain him credibility in some circles; it will be a liability in others. To point, this week Rick Santorum suggested that President Obama is not a "true Christian," is Hitler, a closet Muslim, in league with Satan, and practices a "phony" brand of Christianity.
Do not be mistaken. Rick Santorum is not talking about Barack Obama. He is talking about African Americans in mass, as a means to advance a political end, by triangulating them relative to the country's first black President.
Because he is marked and stained as one who traffics in white racial resentment for electoral gain, I would also suggest that Rick Santorum is a priori assumed to have hostility and malintent towards non-whites. This is a set of values which are central, and not peripheral or coincidental, to his worldview. Racism and racial resentment are part of a bundle of attitudes and values, which in total, constitute populist conservatism at this political moment. Racism is not separate and apart from Republican politics in the Age of Obama. By implication, Santorum's racial animus becomes a standing rule to be disproved, as opposed to an allegation to be demonstrated by the totality of the evidence, and/or as a stand alone empirical claim.
Lest his defenders cry foul, Rick Santorum made that bargain when he got in bed with the devil of white racism and chose to use it for political gain. The burden is his to prove or disprove.
For example, in the days prior to suggesting that President Obama practices a fake version of Christianity, Rick Santorum gave a speech stressing the values of home-schooling. The latter is not necessarily problematic if done because our schools are failing, and parents have the skill and training to do better than overworked public school teachers. However, in the constellation of Santorum's views on American theocracy, Christian Nationalism, and race, his support for such a movement is particularly illuminating and problematic.
The home-schooling movement actually gained strength and credence as a white reaction to school integration and the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown versus Board of Education. White Southerners practiced home-schooling, and established "segregation academies," precisely because 1) they did not want their children going to school with African Americans, and 2) for them to be exposed to teachings which suggested that white supremacy was a social ill, as opposed to a social good.
In his signaling to the Culture War faithful, was Rick Santorum also reinforcing his bonafides as one who is sympathetic to white racists who support school segregation? I do not know. But, given the ugly waters in which he bathes, I would not at all be surprised if this were the case.
Days later Rick Santorum made the following claim about President Obama's Christian faith:
It's not about your jobs. It's about some phoney ideal, some phoney theology — not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology...obviously we all know in the Christian church there are a lot of different stripes of Christianity.As I have noted here, I believe that the phrase "dog whistle" politics is much overused. However, Santorum's turn of phrase is pregnant with meaning for those who study politics and language. There are two concepts central to Santorum's suggestion that Obama's religion is somehow inauthentic, and by implication anathema to "real Christianity," i.e. white Christian Nationalist Dominionism.
Language has both an implied and explicit meaning. Political speech has power as much because of what is said, as because of how it is stated. Borrowing from folks like Wittgenstein and Bourdieu, Santorum's observation about Barack Obama speaks to his white Christian Nationalist audience precisely because of how it establishes boundaries of community, inclusion, and authenticity. He does not have to explicitly label President Obama a black, traitorous, evil, Muslim impostor: Santorum's audience takes such facts as a given. Consequently, the signal only has to be sent in a subtle and implied way in order to validate what is already taken to be the truth among that speech and discursive community.
As the Culture War (redux) heats up, I am also reminded of the centrality of Christianity and its curious relationship to white supremacy in the United States. As comedian Paul Mooney has sharply observed, black folks don't have the luxury of pretending that race doesn't matter in politics. Ironically, we are both strengthened and damaged by our keen awareness of this fact.
In all, there is no space for a politically sophisticated, aware, and intelligent black voter to not ask the following questions: "how does race play into this election, is this a good white person or a bad one, will they serve my interests, or are they out to get us/me?"
To point, in the year 2012 we have a group of Republican presidential candidates who have at one point or another suggested that black people are monsters, zombies, parasites, natural janitors, addicted to food stamps, prone to laziness, and are not "real Americans." The Tea Party GOP candidates have also argued that that the Confederacy and Secessionists were on the correct side of history, and that the Civil Rights Movement was a tyrannical crime against white freedom.
In addition, some of these Republican candidates practice a religious faith which dictated that black people are natural slaves, that Birtherism is correct, and that there are people, most of them of color, who practice a fake religion. The latter is especially compelling, as this "phony" and "heretical" religion--taken in the context of all that we know about the Republican Party and its mining of white racial animus--is one more wink back at Obama's evil mentor, Emperor Palpatinesque, black nationalist, white folks hating, Reverend Jeremiah Wright:
“You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian.” He continued, “When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you’ve abandoned Christiandom and I don’t think you have a right to claim it.”As he indicated here, a Christian Faith of liberation and struggle is not "authentic." In that quote, Rick Santorum is explicitly talking about Black Liberation Theology. You see, "those people's" Christianity is flawed, fake, and inauthentic because they dare to imagine a Jesus, a "black man," who speaks back to Power. What nerve!
As has often been alluded to, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Blacks and white do not worship together. As one who is not religious, I nonetheless remain struck by how one group of folks could claim Christ, dress in their Sunday finest, burn black people alive, and then dismember their bodies for sale as souvenirs.
Moreover, one should never forget that the KKK was a Christian organization, and that white Christians thought that they were doing god's work by enslaving black people. Likewise, I remain stupified and fascinated by how black folks in the same historical moment could take Christianity and use it as a tool for their own liberation and freedom struggle.
There are some folks who navigate these waters with deft skill. He is one of the pantheon of bad, scary names, such as Alinksy, Fox, and Piven, which white Right-wing propagandists throw about to their knuckle-dragging faithful in order to scare them about the liberal-progressive bogeymen coming to kidnap their babies.
James Cone, one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology authored a great essay a few months on "the cross and the lynching tree," where he explored the binary of white supremacy and black faith within the Christian religious tradition.
As we think through Rick Santorum's racist appeals, Dr. Cone made a series of observations which are particularly rich and useful. He notes:
“Many Christians embrace the conviction that Jesus died on the cross to redeem humankind from sin,” he said. “Taking our place, they say, Jesus suffered on the cross and gave his life as a ransom for many. The cross is the great symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation.Rick Santorum does not believe that God and Christ are critics of power. No, their God is one of the powerful, the rich, the 1%, and the elites. In furthering this belief, Santorum and his ilk will only continue to bundle white racism and Christianity in an American Taliban approved script of intolerance and nativism. He is a culture warrior. Said label has always been about race, generational change, class, sexuality, gender, geography, and other markers of "authentic" American identity.
Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, the symbol of salvation has been detached from the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings, the crucified people of history. The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the cost of discipleship, it has become a form of cheap grace, an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.”
...Cone sees the cross as “a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” This idea, he points out, is absurd to the intellect, “yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk.”
The crucified Christ, for those who are crucified themselves, manifests “God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the ‘troubles of the world,’ no matter how great and painful their suffering.”
Cone elucidates this paradox, what he calls “this absurd claim of faith,” by pointing out that to cling to this absurdity was possible only when one was shorn of power, when one was unable to be proud and mighty, when one understood that he was not called by God to rule over others. “The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”
Black Americans can never be part of this story--even if they are Christians. As the anti-citizen they can never find belonging or acceptance; the only thing that Barack Obama can do to win over the Right-wing Christian faithful is to turn himself into a White person. And even then, Obama would have to be the "right" type of White man to win their approval. Barring George Schuyler's science come real, that is not going to happen anytime soon.
Rick Santorum's racist Christian Nationalist appeals have a ready made audience. This same audience is one that would have found a way to justify Jim and Jane Crow and the lynching tree as evidence of Christ's love, divine will, and providence for White people.
Ultimately, the Age of Obama is one of absurdity and surprise. Thus, do not be surprised if a Republican candidate trots out either the Curse of Ham or the blessings of Bartolome de las Casas as the election nears, for racism, plus obsolescence, breeds political insanity.