Opinion: Racist Taunts at Obama Should Worry Us All
The political culture in Arizona, my home state, is often coarse, racialized and divisive. President Barack Obama’s visit there Tuesday gave the world another opportunity to see it. At times it seems as though the most bigoted individuals in America’s 48th state save their most raucous and prejudiced behavior for the 44th president.
The Arizona Republic reported that hundreds of dissenters chose to model their insulting and extremist behavior before some of Phoenix’s youngest residents. Assembled outside Desert Vista High School, they mocked Obama’s race, singing “Bye Bye Black Sheep” in spirited synchronization. One “patriot” went so far as to deprecate our commander in chief by pronouncing him “47 percent Negro,” while another, Deanne Bartram, held a sign that read, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”
As brazen as those in the Desert Vista crowd were, they are merely the most belligerent and public face of a legion of racist anti-Obama persons. These more discreet individuals are smart enough to cloak their racialized opposition in obstructionist maneuvering and public policy that does more damage to the lives of people of color than prejudiced banter. Still, the Desert Vista protest should give everyone pause and put us on high alert. The racist rhetoric heard there reflects inner beliefs and fears that have tremendous potential to do great harm.
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Editor’s note: Matthew C. Whitaker is an ASU Foundation Professor of History and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University. He is the author of the forthcoming “Peace Be Still: Modern Black America From World War II to Barack Obama.” He can be followed on Twitter at @Dr_Whitaker.