Go tell that to the Indians

I was planning on letting this sudden outbreak of national health care madness pass by without commenting, but now I have given in to the temptation to say something. I want to highlight a point that might be obvious to most people, but it wasn’t obvious to me for a while and I don’t hear it discussed very often and I think it explains a lot of the current political environment. My first of three sources for this point is pretty unusual. It’s from the following digression on health care in the middle of an awesome 8000-word essay on last week’s awesome episode of HBO’s True Blood:

I just spent the last 36 hours watching people driven mad, murderously mad, by their own racist, crazy stuff, whipped into a frenzy by powers that don’t care about them, and know they’re past caring if they even understand what’s behind the fear. Health care is the new gay marriage. In some ways it’s stupider — mostly it’s less stupid, because nothing is stupider than fighting about gay marriage — but all of it acts on nothing approaching facts or common sense. The birthers, the deathers, they scream the most appalling imaginary things, and none of them can tell you why they’re so angry: just that something precious is being taken away from them. And something is. I’m not denying that. Something precious is being taken away from these people, whether or not I agree with it. And that’s sad; it makes me sad to think of what that must be like. It’s super fucked up, but mostly it’s scary and sad.

People who don’t share my worldview will probably read this passage as condescending or pretentious, but I think it’s pretty apt. The incredible passion of the angry white old people protesting health reform is undeniable, and yet the absolute lunacy of their arguments boggles my mind. Seriously: death panels, eugenics, and Stephen Hawking? But I think the Democratic talking point about “astroturfing” isn’t really fair either. Obviously the demographics at town hall meetings this month aren’t representative of the population as a whole, but the protesters who show up seem really legitimately upset, if for ludicrous reasons.

So the point that he makes, which I think needs to be more broadly mentioned and understood, is that the protests actually do have a cause. It’s not what the Republicans are saying, that these people’s crazy arguments are correct, but it’s also not what the Democrats are saying, that these people are just crazy.  It’s more like what the Daily Show is saying, that this is actually a racial issue. Not on its face, of course, but there is a reason the old scared white protesters are always saying they “want their country back”, and I do agree that it’s both scary and sad.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The best explanation of what is meant by this being a racial issue comes from Ta-Nehisi Coates, my favorite source for comment on any issue that requires a nuanced and compassionate perspective on humans. Read over the last three paragraphs of this post in particular, and I think the madness will make a lot more sense.

One thing to keep in mind is that race, and racism, have rarely ever acted alone. One of the best points that Phillip Dray makes in his classic history of lynching is that epidemics of lynching often coincided, not just with an expansion of black rights, but with increased labor mobility among white women. So fear of white women, and their independence, as well as fear of sexual competition, all worked in concert. It wasn’t simply “I hate niggers”–it never is. It was “I don’t much like black people, and prices are going up, and I have to let my wife work, so I can survive, and I’m scared she won’t stay with me if she’s not dependent on me and I’d die if she left me for a black guy.” Or some such.

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