So last week I’m sitting at the Lowdon Track and Field Complex at Texas Christian University watching my daughter and her teammates prepare for the upcoming Texas Amateur Athletic Federation’s State Track and Field Championships. Her coach is working them hard, even in the summer heat. They’re running curves and practicing hand-offs. Another track club is there as well, and some TCU sprinters. The athletes are starting to get into a groove and coaches and parents alike are admiring the vibe and quietly jazzed by the speed and effort of the kids, whether they’re elementary, junior high, high school or college students.
Then a white, compact sedan drives by, heading north on Berry Street (where it runs parallel to the first straightaway of the track) and a young white male hangs out the passenger-door window and yells “Nigggggers!” at the top of his lungs.
At first, I’m not sure what I heard. This is, after all, the twenty-first century.
But I heard right. The plural version of the N-word, loud and proud. And I see in some of the other parents’ faces that they heard it too. It makes me angry. And then I’m just embarrassed.
You see, most of the other parents were black. I’m white. The bumpkins behind the drive-by were one of me.
In the world of serious track, white folks are the minority and we’re hard not to notice. We try to fit in, but sometimes it’s difficult—especially when Caucasoid clowns are howling racial slurs.
There was nothing to be done about it. We shook our heads and turned back to our children. The incident wasn’t anything the black parents and black kids hadn’t experienced before, so they took it in stride. But it stuck in my mind.
When those racist goons got to where they were going, did they yuk it up, proud of themselves, high-fives all around? Did they salute a Confederate flag back at their frat house or a Nazi swastika in their flat? Did they revel in “white” pride?
In the bigger picture, our new mixed president seems to have reminded a lot of white folks of their white pride. Ignorant, closet racists who might otherwise have never been heard from or ever openly emitted a racist chirp have come out of the woodwork because their bigotry is now legitimate. The Republican tea partyers sanction it under the guise of “taking their country back.” Rush Limbaugh legitimizes it practically every time he opens his mouth. And it’s no accident that right-wing operatives like Andrew Breitbart are stoking the inanity behind racial prejudice and racial paranoia when they trumpet distortions of the New Black Panther “polling place” incident and outright lies about upstanding black Americans like Shirley Sherrod.
At this historical moment, the stars are curiously aligned for racists in the same way they aligned for Joe McCarthy (a precursor to contemporary Neocons) during the Red Scare. Riding a wave of gullibility, ignorance and xenophobia, McCarthy created, fueled and legitimized a communal neurosis that passed through the American ranks of the un- and ill-informed like it was being spread by Paul Revere. But, thankfully—Fox News notwithstanding—racial paranoia will end the same way Communist paranoia did—with the folks behind it having to abandon their abuses of others, reduced simply to abusing themselves until obscurity overtakes them or small religious colleges offer them board seats or professorships.
Racists are not going to like hearing this, but their frenzy of idiocy is as understandable as it is ludicrous. The sad truth is it’s the only weapon they have against irrelevance.
Ultimately, that’s what Andrew Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh and the bumpkins who yelled a racial epithet at our track practice are: irrelevant. The country is moving on. The ulterior motives behind their campaigns against President Obama are obvious. And the racist jabs and jibes will simply comprise a long and stubborn death rattle. Their impunity is finished. Their imbecility is drawing to an end. The country isn’t going to stay white anymore than it was going to stay slaveholding, McCartheistic or homophobic.
The bozos behind the drive-by are ugly relics, living breathing reminders of a more obtuse, unjust time that too many white folks in this country still hold dear. A time when pasty-complexioned, grey-haired conservative presidents told them they were better than everyone else and their paleness would prevail.
The world is changing and white folks’ daydream of supremacy is evaporating as fast as the world’s fresh water supply. The myths that suggest one skin color, one people or one religion is better than the rest have been proven to be as illogical and unhealthy as fossil-fuel dependence. And, truth be told, the reign of the white guy has been about as good for the planet as Capitalism.
Someday we’ll realize this. But it’s probably going to take a million more slurs, a dozen more Arizonas and a few more lily-white Janet Brewers or Rush Limbaughs and perhaps another George Armstrong Custer.
Too many of us are still a little slow.