Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jimmy Carter On Racism, Part 2: Matthews Gets It Right- Exactly

Former President James Earl Carter famously, or infamously, told NBC's Brian Williams on Tuesday

I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American....

He less famously remarked

And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

Not just in the South but around the country. If you're a politician, better not to question that part. No way does an office holder or someone seeking office single out a particular section of the country for disapprobation. While liberal/progressive voters are likely to believe racism is pervasive, conservative voters would probably sympathize with a section of the country being labeled with the "r" word (whether or not it is used). Moral equivalence is far safer, politically.

But Chris Matthews is no politician and, whatever he may be, he's not typical. So he nailed it on Wednesday evening. First citing a poll asking voters whether they believe the President was born in this country, not born in this country, or unsure, he noted

All right. It is the Daily—I‘m not sure it‘s a good poll, but it‘s a poll. A majority of them aren‘t sure or are sure he‘s not from here. In other words, a minority of Southerners, white Southerners, think he‘s from America, the president.

Next, referring to the traditional understanding of the difference between anti-black sentiment among northerners (not only Philadelphians) and that among southerners, Matthews described

Growing up, I always thought the Northern white prejudice was, We don‘t want a black person living next door. In fact, a guy who was working, friend of mine, I got to know him—was working for Barack Obama in the campaign. He said when he went around northeast Philly, the biggest fear was not that Carter would—or that Obama would be elected president, but that he was looking for a house, OK?

Finally, the MSNBC host takes a look at last November's presidential election results and reminds us of the genesis of the Southern Strategy:

But let‘s take a look at these exit polls from the last election, last November. This isn‘t 100 years ago. This isn‘t during Jim Crow. This is last November. Ten percent of white voters in Alabama said they voted for Barack Obama -- 10 percent, 1 in 10. Eleven percent of white voters in Mississippi voted for him, about 1 in 10. Louisiana, up to about 14 percent.

Now, the national percentage is about 43 percent of whites voted for Barack Obama. So there is a geographic differential. In all fairness to the region of the South—and I went to Chapel Hill, which is not exactly, well, conservative, North Carolina, University of North Carolina—the—it is generally a conservative part of the country. But it also became a conservative part of the country in terms of racial issues and all—became a Republican part of the country after Civil Rights legislation....

So the idea that Barack Obama gets 10 percent of the white vote in Alabama, 11 percent of the white vote in Mississippi, 14 Louisiana, and the rest of the country, he gets 43 percent, doesn‘t that tell you? And by the way, this birther nonsense, that he wasn‘t born here...


Matthews has a tendency to say whatever pops into his head. Sometimes, therefore, he says something outrageous or ludicrous. Still, it's all worth it, with the periodic bursts of insight most others have never thought of and, if they have, are too cautious to admit. Charging Americans with racial prejudice is serious. If the bigotry applies disproportionately to the South- and the rest of the country is lumped in- the rest the country is being smeared with an unfair and inaccurate charge.

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