The "R" Word

Yesterday I heard a really interesting story on NPR that criticized former President Bush.

Now, I grew up in a land wrought with Bush-bashers. I guess that happens when you live in Massachusetts and then France, during the outbreak of the Iraq War no less! Honestly, it always made me feel uncomfortable, the name calling, the put-downs, the insulting jeers that had little to nothing to do with focusing on why his policies were bad. And I'm not saying I believe all of them were (I don't). It reminds me a heck of a lot of the Obama-haters down here in Houston, particularly the negativity on the conservative talk radio stations that I can stand for about five minutes before I have to change the station...I just can't find myself agreeing that either of them is a fully evil person who justifies such hatred. Or even that their actions are completely evil, and that I should be terrified of "what they are doing to our country."

Yesterday was honestly the first time that I can recall hearing a negative story about President Bush that I fully agreed with. Basically the story is about how when he was interviewed for his new book, the most emotional he got was when the subject turned to Kanye West calling his reaction to Hurricane Katrina racist.

I agree with the author of the article, Jay Smooth. Instead of discussing how race was an issue during Katrina, the subject was twisted into a discussion of President Bush's feelings.

Danny completely disagreed with me on this. He thinks that trying to argue why somebody is not a racist would validate their accusation in the first place. He thinks if race were an issue during Katrina, it would be that the hurricane was racist, not the President.

I do believe that race was an issue during Katrina. Had the hurricane hit a white urban center instead of a black urban center, the aftermath would have been different. And I think it's unfortunate that instead of being able to discuss these "r word" issues with a level head, people become enraged and over emotional.

Danny thinks the "r" word should either be like a swear word - something you would never, ever call anyone (like Nazi). Or it should be like any other vice: like "lust" or "selfishness." Admitting that everybody suffers from racism to some degree, and that we all have to overcome it just like we all have to overcome selfishness.

I think the main problem is that Danny and I are from the white world. Neither of us grew up with any sizeable amount of non-Caucasian community around us. So to us, the "r" word is pretty easy to discuss. When you're from a place with a one race majority, you can discuss the "r" word easily because it's not an every day issue, it's an intellectual issue.

But I think the "r" word already is like a swear word in places like Mississippi and Louisiana, where people still live with a disgusting and horrible memory of the past.

And I guess the reason I am even saying "the past" is because I've been sheltered from dealing with race issues my whole life. The truth is they are not the past. It still exists today. I just think that becoming inflamed over the "r" word just doesn't do anything productive at all. I wish that President Bush could have done differently during this interview.


  1. I'm with Danny on this one. I don't think the reaction was racist, I think it was incompetent. FEMA had everyone in the region pissed at them. I just don't think we'd had to deal with a disaster of that magnitude before.

    I agree with you that everyone is racist (and sexist) to some extent, and I think our attitudes towards racism are stupid. I saw on a forum the other day that somebody said that black people liking fried chicken was a racist stereotype. I invite them to come with me to Popeye's in Mississippi and see just how many white people besides me frequent that place. Race is a social construct, so there are social and cultural differences between races. Blacks and Hispanics and Whites aren't all the same—we all come from different cultures, and those cultures have their separate strengths, weaknesses, and misunderstandings.

    Also, I think it's in bad taste to call someone racist unless they've out-right proved that they are. And then it's just kind of redundant.

  2. I was told once by a person of another race that he hated me because I was white. His tone of voice and body language showed his sincerity. Until that point I hadn't even thought about his race and my only comment to him had been, "May I help you?" I think at that point in time he could have been classified as a racist. (Definition: somebody who hates others who are not of his or her own race.)

    However, I think many times people label others as racist because they disagree with their beliefs, policies, actions, culture, or politics and assume racism must be their motive. It is easier to blame others than to work together to understand each other or fix the problem.

    I was once called racist by someone that I cared about. It was hurtful. Even more hurtful because how could I prove my innocence to her? How could I show her my heart and that there was no hatred there? The more energy you use to deny it or argue about it does seem to validate it.

  3. @Michael - I believe anything you say about Katrina, since you and your family were so involved. If you say race really WASN'T an issue, I will take your word for it. Really, whether it was or wasn't is not what bothered me about the Presidents' reaction; it was that he was so unwilling to even talk about the racial component.

    @Salt - I think you and Danny are right about the energy you use to deny or argue about racism validating it. I'm also sure that "racism" means different things to different people.

    I forgot to mention the main reason the President's comments bugged me so much; He was asked what was the worst moment of his entire presidency was, and his response was being called racist by a random rap star. Ummmmmm okay? September 11? Iraq? Katrina? Guantanamo Bay? Dealing with the repercussions of the financial crisis? No no, it was when some guy said something insulting. And later, he apologized for it.

    To paraphrase "wait, wait, don't tell me": "If that's the worst thing that happened to him, that's like a normal person's week!"

  4. Yeah, juxtaposed to 9/11, Kanye's comment being the worst moment of his presidency seems pretty ridiculous. Also, why would you even take anything that guy said seriously? President Obama called him, "a jackass." I think that's the correct perspective on Mr. West's social commentary.


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