Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Today in crazy: In Barack Obama’s America, it’s open season on white people!
That’s the word from Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge, who are hyperventilating over the story of a black teenager in Illinois who beat up a white kid, apparently while other black teens cheered him on. “White student beaten on school bus; crowd cheers,” was the screaming headline on the Drudge Report this morning, and Limbaugh told his radio listeners: “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering.”
Of course, kids of every color have been beaten up by kids of every color from time immemorial, but in Barack Obama’s America, wingnuts are going to a) insist it’s about black racism and b) say it’s Obama’s fault. It’s despicable, but it’s becoming a daily occurrence.
The video is hard to watch, but while it’s clear the victim is white and his attacker (or attackers, it isn’t clear) are black — and should be punished — it’s also clear that kids of both races riding the bus were horrified, while kids of both races also cheered the fight on. And of course what Drudge and Limbaugh didn’t note is the racial history of Belleville, Ill., the town where the assault occurred, which according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has had “a long history of racial turmoil, with a past that includes police harassment of black motorists, cross burnings and discrimination in city hiring.” The paper also reports today that the Belleville police chief who earlier called the beating “racially motivated,” based on zero evidence, has backtracked. “After having reviewed the video, it doesn’t strike me nearly as racially motivated,” the chief now says. I still don’t see that headlined on Drudge. Not holding my breath.
It’s been one wild week for news with a racial subtext – Joe Wilson screaming at Obama; Kanye West humiliating Taylor Swift (I’m leaving Serena Williams out of it, for now). What slays me is how questions of race always wind up somehow relevant to Obama. I’m not calling anyone racist here, but I do wonder if George W. Bush would have been asked about Kanye’s outburst at the VMAs, as Obama was by reporters last night. (I agree with the president that West was a “jackass,” by the way. Beyoncé was magnificent.) It’s always disturbed me that wonderful black people so frequently have to answer for the bad behavior of other black people, whether it’s mainstream black politicians who used to be routinely forced to weigh in on the nuttiness of Louis Farrakhan; now it’s poor Obama being expected to “call out” Kanye.
But if you read the 800 letters on my “Blackening of the President” piece, you’ll mostly hear that race doesn’t play a role in Obama’s problems. What I found astonishing was the extent to which so many on the left and right seemed to agree that Obama’s troubles with white voters are entirely policy, and have nothing to do with race. From the right, his white numbers are declining sharply because he really is a socialist; from the left, it’s because he’s a crypto-Republican and betrayed us on FISA, torture and maybe now the public option. Had they clicked through to the Pew poll I linked to, my racism-denying friends on the left would have been sadly disappointed. Obama’s support has fallen much more among conservative Democrats than liberal Democrats, 12 points to 6 points. Pew didn’t break that down by race, but it’s an interesting data point.
Finally, I also said multiple times that I don’t think Obama’s drop in white approval is mainly about racism. It very likely reflects a predictable coming back down to earth for a black president who got 43 percent of the white vote. But to deny the role race is playing in stirring up the Birthers and Deathers and the Limbaugh and Glenn Beck fans is silly.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)