Chris Rock once starred in a Saturday Night Live sketch where he played a rabid black nationalist who hosted a local cable access show called "The Dark Side with Nat X." [Video] During the opening of each show, Nat X would give examples of how "The Man" was responsible for examples of "racism"—all self-evidently absurd
Thus, according to Nat X, The Man "invented the game of pool: a game in which the player uses a white ball and a stick to knock a bunch of colored balls off a table and into a bunch of holes!" and "white-out. A tricky substance that only eliminates black letters"; "makes black jellybeans the most disgusting type of candy"; and "calls all his bad children the black sheep!" [Transcript ]
But in our hyper-sensitive age, you can never parody the lengths to which some grievance-mongers will go will find racial undertones.
Thus in a recent case of phantom racism, two black officials in Dallas objected to the use of the word "black hole." During a meeting about traffic tickets, white county commissioner Kenneth Mayfield said that an office "has become a black hole" in reference to the way paperwork would often disappear. [Dallas County officials spar over 'black hole' comment , By Kevin Krause, Dallas City Hall Blog | The Dallas Morning News, Jul 07, 2008]
John Wiley Price, a black commissioner, loudly objected that it should be called a "white hole". Then a black judge named Thomas Jones demanded an apology for Mayfield's insensitivity.
An obviously flustered Mayfield tried in vain to explain that it was a "science term". Eventually other council members quelled the dispute.
But John Wiley Price later defended his indignation. He claimed the term "black hole" was part of a larger racist, linguistic conspiracy. He called "devils food cake" and "angels food cake" racist and even echoed Nat X, "If you're the 'black sheep of the family,' then you gotta be bad, you know. 'White sheep,' you're okay. You know?"
A simple look at an etymological dictionary disposes of this notion. A black hole gets its name because it sucks everything into it (hence Mayfield's analogy) including light which makes it, well, black. Astrophysicists have come up with a theoretical "white hole" that gets its hue because it spews out all the light sucked in by the black hole. As for a black sheep, most sheep farmers breed their sheep to be white because their wool can be dyed any color, so black sheep are less desirable.
Even most liberals don't take Price seriously, but they see it as an isolated case of political correctness gone awry.
But unfortunately, fictional cable access talk show hosts and low level city politicians are not the only people who find racial undertones throughout our common vernacular.
During the presidential campaign, supporters of Barack Obama have come up with just as creative cases of subtle prejudice. Even Democrats are often accused by the Obama brigades of using "codewords" when they utter frequently used idioms. A few examples: Joe Biden calling Obama "bright and clean," Andrew Cuomo saying that you "can't just shuck and jive at a press conference," and Hillary Clinton claiming that the Bush administration is running the White House "like a plantation"
Not even his supporters are immune from the onslaught. In April, Obama Delegate Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski told a group of black children—along with her own grandkids—who were in up in a tree in her front yard to "quit playing in the tree like monkeys." After the kids' parents made a stink, the Obama campaign then called her words "divisive and unacceptable," and asked her to resign. (After some negative attention, they flip-flopped.)
If this is what Democrats are subjected to, one can only imagine how even the most innocuous criticism will be called "dog whistle" racism—racism so subtle that it appears innocent to most people while pumping up the prejudiced. Upon winning the Democratic nomination, Obama said "They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"[Obama says Republicans will use race to stoke fear]
So far, Karl Rove accusing Obama of "trash talking," Pat Buchanan calling Obama "exotic," and Bill Cunningham uttering Obama's middle name have all been seen as cases of racism.
When it comes to actual criticism of Obama, even the most obviously non-racial disparagement of Obama has been seen as cloaked bigotry. Left-wing talkshow host Norman Goldman said every time Republicans call Obama a "radical" it's "really a codeword for n*****r." LA Times columnist David Shipler wrote, "'Elitist' is another word for 'arrogant,' which is another word for 'uppity,' that old calumny applied to blacks who stood up for themselves." [The resonance of racism, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2008]
John McCain has thus far avoided taking on Obama with any sort of racially tinged issues such as hate crimes, reparations, or (except very cautiously) affirmative action.
If and when they come up in the campaign or –God forbid—an Obama presidency, we can only imagine the hysterics.
Expect any attempt at a legitimate policy debate to be (ahem!) blacklisted.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.