“Proud To Be An American!” When Ignorance ls Virtue

Robert Saleem Holbrook

A philosopher once said patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I always took that quote with a grain of salt and never gave it much thought until recent events brought the quote to the forefront of my mind. As the two ruling parties continue to contend for power within this country, the political and cultural right have adopted a battle cry of “take America back,” as if a foreigner occupies the White House. Every day we’re bombarded with shouts that a radical left-wing government has seized power and have to suffer the protests of a Tea Party movement composed of grumpy old white people pissed off that an intelligent “socialist” African American was elected president of the United States. For real radicals and revolutionaries to hear this nonsense is really insulting considering that Obama is neither radical or socialist. As a matter of fact, Obama is probably one of the most moderate presidents in U.S. history. He‘s even disillusioned much of his liberal base by maintaining many of the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Guantanamo remains open, troops remain in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated, and funding for mass imprisonment continues. In short, little has changed within the United States under Obama.

So what is it that has the extreme right in an uproar? If anything has changed within this country (or empire), it's perception. The extreme right, in particular cultural purists, perceive Obama’s election as a shift in the racial/ethnic demographics of the country. His election has challenged and extinguished many of the racial stereotypes that have dominated the political discourse of this country since the era of Jim Crow segregation. The idea that an intelligent minority has ascended to the presidency of the United States is a difficult reality for many to accept and contend with, therefore they have fallen back on the bankability of racial animosity to galvanize their base and opposition. This racial animosity explicitly equates being an “American” with being white, particularly white male, and conservative.

Perhaps nowhere is this animosity more expressed than by the so-called Barbie doll of the extreme right, Sarah Palin. Listening to this fool speak brings to mind the saying that “there is nothing more terrifying than ignorance in action.” Palin’s racial animosity towards Obama is at its most obvious when she mocks Obama as the “professor in chief” and makes derogatory references to his intelligence and elite schooling. To Palin and other conservative cultural purists, Obama represents the “uppity nigger” that has the audacity to think he’s smarter than white people. Palin’s speeches are filled with racially coded references that appeal to whites who believe they have lost control of their country. Her rants of “we’re tired of Obama telling us what to do and its time for us to take back America” appeals to a sense of white rage within rural America.

The attacks and criticism of the cultural right are surprisingly simple, almost childlike, in their expression—yet it is finds a receptive base. It is not criticism based on any rational position. However, when you’re appealing to a person’s racial animosity or hostility towards another ethnic group your position doesn’t have to be rational. It only has to be emotional. It doesn’t have to appeal to intelligence or education, it only has to touch a sense of resentment and perceived loss of entitlement. Many cultural conservatives like to say that the left views middle America as stupid and uneducated. Well here’s a confession, that is true. The fact is to cultural conservatives ignorance has become a virtue, particularly when ignorance is used to ignore or disregard a vision of the United States that does not fall within their narrow vision of the United States.

This idea of ignorance as virtue has found fertile soil on the Texas Board of Education. A recent election has placed cultural conservatives in power on the board and their first order of business was to rewrite the history of the United States by imposing a false culturally conservative version of history within the curriculum of children’s history textbooks. Absent from the curriculum is any mention of the slave trade, Abolitionist Movements, Women’s Rights, the Civil Rights Movement, and other struggles to abolish injustices inherent in the evolution of the United States. Instead students will be led to believe that the United States was born and is as pure as an untouched virgin. Of course this version fits in line with the Texas Board of Education’s stated intent to place “American Exceptionalism” at the core of the curriculum. Therefore, under this agenda, the racist ideology of Confederate president Jefferson Davis is required reading: slaves in the South were treated generously by their masters and the opposition to granting civil rights to minorities was matter of the federal government intruding upon states’ rights. Archbishop Romero, who was assassinated by right wing extremists in Central America for speaking out on behalf of the oppressed, was erased from the history curriculum while the bigoted Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have their place within the curriculum. It appears that not being content with being ignorant bigots themselves, the Texas Board of Education has decided to make ignorant an entire generation of children who will be proud to be American but possess little of substance. Then again no one should be surprised that ignorance is king in the state that produced George W. Bush.

As if not to be outdone by Texas, and to demonstrate that it was the capital of the Confederacy, the governor of Virginia has taken the absurdity of racially-based opposition to Obama a step further and raised the battle flag of the Confederacy by proclaiming April Confederate History Month, deliberately leaving the horrors of slavery out of the proclamation. Under pressure, the governor apologized and made a late reference to the wrongs of slavery. This apology is meaningless and hollow. The Confederate flag to African Americans is just as repulsive as a Nazi flag is to Jewish people. lts image is insulting. The governors’ use of this symbol of hate is a deliberate strategy by the right to regain states in the South by reviving the racially divisive southern strategy that was used by Nixon and Reagan to win the South over to the Republican Party. Obama’s victory in Virginia and North Carolina exposed cracks in the cultural conservatives' grip on the South. If Obama won the presidency on a platform of hope and diversity, the cultural conservatives will ensure that he loses it on a platform of hate and division, values that have deep roots in American politics.

Perhaps most disturbing about the Confederate History month proclamation in Virginia is many Virginians do not believe that it’s offensive to African Americans. They view the issue as one of heritage, with many having the nerve to believe that African Americans native to Virginia should acknowledge and embrace. Again, only ignorance or racism can create this type of attitude, often a combination of both. In today’s cultural and political environment it seems the louder one shouts they’re proud to be an American the more ignorant they reveal themselves to be.

The question begs: How do you deal with these people? How do you contend with deliberate ignorance? Do you ignore it? Shout it down? Debate with it? Treat it with detestable contempt? Also, how do you confront it without coming across as an apologist for Obama, which I, nor many other radicals, are? I think the only way you deal with this mentality is to confront it because at its root it is the lynch mob mentality. There is no excuse for deliberate ignorance or a feigned ignorance to justify racially based political opposition. One does not have to be pigeonholed into being labeled a liberal or defender of Obama for challenging this racist conservative opposition. It should be challenged because it is the right thing to do. Silence and indifference are the allies of the lynch mob mentality.