Last week The Associated Press did a story about the disgust and dismay of black Americans confronting the birther issue. "I find it hard to summarize in mere words the amount of pain and rage this incident has caused," one man was quoted as saying at the top of the story.
The story quoted black Americans who described the whole birth certificate scenario as a manifestation of "the idea that when a black person accomplishes something there must be something wrong."
But I can't help thinking the whole thing will be good for white people in the end. It's like a national mirror in our faces. What we see is not good.
We look at those Teabaggers in the three-cornered hats craning around like they're looking for flying saucers, telling us they don't know how the president got here, and I hope most white people have the OMG! reaction.
Is that really how we look?
One of the big discoveries many of us made when Obama became the Democratic candidate was that way more white people than we ever would have guessed have been living in all-white enclave-America all this time.
White people stopped talking about race 20 years ago. Who knows why? You couldn't count on the response any more? You could screw up your job?
But when Barack Obama became the candidate, race was back on the table, and ... OMG! The stuff that came out of people's mouths! I remember thinking when it started that this might be one case where it would be better for people to go back in the closet. And just stay there.
The most salient thing was that tons of white people in this country have never been around social equals or social superiors who are of color.
Americans are weird about class. We say we don't have classes. Then we worry 24/7 about which one we're in. But all human beings have excellent GPS for rank, whether you call it class or not. We are ant-hill sensitive to who's in what position. That GPS is pretty damned accurate, and we can't turn it off.
In the 21st century American meritocracy, the Obamas are unmistakeably ruling class -- all of them, the President, the First Lady, even the kids. They walk the walk and talk the talk.
So here's what happens. The whitey-whites from Whiteland have never been around a ruling-class black family before. They can't turn away from this one, because we're a media-saturated culture, and the first family is everywhere.
So the social-class GPS comes in loud and clear: "Ruling class, higher than you." But the racist radar comes in loud and clear too: "Black."
And the two messages collide. In the racist mind, both things cannot be simultaneously true. I think the shrinks call that cognitive dissonance.
That's where all of this comes from -- the three-cornered hats, the staring around for flying saucers, birtherism and that moron Donald Trump. It's racist white people trying to solve their cognitive dissonance problem by denying the Obama family's fundamental reality.
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I guess it's not anything new. It's why racist white people won't meet black people's eyes when they pass on the street. They're trying to make them all invisible men. But it's so extremely stark when you see it on television, and they're talking about the president of the United States, asserting that the president is not the human being he seems to be, that he's some kind of Manchurian candidate fake.
That's at least three things. It's deeply disloyal to the country. It's really, really wacko. And it's monumentally stupid.
I believe in my heart of hearts -- call it an article of faith -- that most white people stare at that stuff on television and see it for what it is: all three of those things. I hate the pain that it inflicts on the hearts of African-Americans, the hearts of all Americans who see the ugliness in it. But I still say it's a cleansing pain.
It was high time we white folks got a good long look at ourselves in the mirror. It's going to be good for us in the long run.