Joe Wilson’s Outburst, A Black Woman’s Perspective

Someone asked what black people thought of Joe Wilson‘s “you lie” outburst.  Of course, there isn’t a monolithic black answer to that question.  I am a black person but I can’t speak for black people and  I didn’t get together with other black people to form a consensus.  But I did read a blog post on this topic by a woman who calls herself “Black Woman Blogging”.  Judging from the name of her blog, I assume she is a black woman who blogs.  I contacted her and asked if I could share her views here.  She gave her permission.  So here is one black person’s view on Wilson’s behavior and, by the way, I happen to agree with her:

I have been on vacay this week, trying to dig myself and BMNB out of our garage full of twenty years’ worth of crap in time for a neighborhood garage sale. I’d been avoiding the Internet, avoiding anything related to work, and not reading the newspaper. I was doing well until I tuned in to watch President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress on health care reform. I was multi-tasking, I admit, trying to listen and load the dishwasher and sort clothes that had been in storage for five years when I heard the following in response to the President’s statement that illegal immigrants would not be covered under health care reform:

“You lie.”

WTF? I knew I didn’t hear what I thought I’d heard. Considering the audience was, or should have been, members of Congress and high-ranking officials associated with the President, who would dare to call the President of the United States a liar in the Capitol building, on the floor of the House? What idiot would dare?

That idiot would be GOP Representative Joe Wilson, courtesy of South Carolina, the same state whose governor is intent on not only flying, but flaunting, his freak flag AND staying in office.

Mind you, Black Woman Blogging is not a role model when it comes to Black businesswomandecorum. I’ve blogged about throwing shoes at President George W. Bush. But I wouldn’t have really done it. He was, after all, the President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World. And I wasn’t an elected representative held to a higher standard, nor will I ever be, given this blog.

But calling the President a liar in the nation’s Capitol? That’s going way too far. Representative Wilson wasn’t alone in his breach of decorum, however. What we out in television land couldn’t see were the members of Congress who held up signs like they were at a party convention instead of a joint session of Congress. What we did hear was the mocking laughter when the President said that some specifics of his plan remained to be ironed out. I think Representative Joe Wilson, along with some conservative members of Congress, the Tea Party people, the conservative shock jocks, and the Birthers, are, as we say, “smelling themselves.” Now that Rep. Wilson has broken the decorum ceiling and heckled the President in the House chambers, what’s next? Throwing shoes? Dare I say it — the “N-word”?

There’s a strange dynamic going on here that no one seems to want to talk about, including President Obama: Some, but not all, of the disrespect and disagreement shown him is the product of racism. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel noted that no president has ever been treated like this by Congress, ever. Hmmm . . . I wonder why? What makes this president different than all the rest that he would be treated so rudely?

Race. Let’s just tell the truth and shame the devil, or devils, as it were.

Ask yourself: Do you think President Obama would be treated as poorly as he has been by those who disagree with him if he were white? Somehow, I don’t think so. That’s not to say that some who disagree with his policies and plans aren’t rational or well-reasoned, even if they express their disagreement in a fever-pitched and shrill manner. But the rational and well-reasoned folks seem to be in the oppositional minority, and, unlike John McCain, they aren’t checking their whack job and sometimes racist compatriots. I just don’t recall the disagreement rising to such a level of disrespect under the Bush Administration — at least not on American soil — or under previous administrations, but let me know if I’m wrong. And those aspiring assassins like John Hinckley and Squeaky Fromme don’t count, since they were plain crazy.

I bet President Obama probably thinks that by drawing attention to the veiled racism in all this, he will ultimately lose the battle for the ideas and programs he believes in because the race discussion will become a distraction. I get that. What I don’t get is why the rest of us — of all races, mind you — who can and should call attention to the role of racism in the opposition politics aren’t saying more about it.

Is it fair to ask those who oppose President Obama’s policies in such strident and rude ways, “Would you have heckled President Clinton? Do you contend that Senator McCain, who was born on a U.S. military base in Panama, is not a citizen?” I think it is incumbent upon those of us who see the covert racism involved in some of the fanatical opposition to expose it for what it is. I bet that most of those who oppose health care reform on the grounds that it’s socialism can’t spell socialism or don’t know the difference between socialism, communism, and capitalism. You can usually get to the bottom of the racism at work when you ask, “What about President Obama’s policies don’t you like?” and the only response you get is something on the order of, “I just don’t like him at all.”

And I’m just waiting for a member of Congress or some other elected official to forget their mic is “hot” and say the word they’ve probably been using all along about President Obama: The N-word.

Think about it — what else could unite people who, on paper, have interests that could not be more divergent? How is it that working class and poor whites — do you see wealthy whites at the Tea Parties or among the Birthers? — would line up with big Pharma, the insurance industry (on the DL), and other corporate interests against health care reform when, given their proportion of the population, working class and poor whites have more to gain from health care reform than any other group?

In the meantime, I think it’s time for the President to stop taking strategic communications advice from Axelrod and Gibbs and start taking it from Williams and Iverson — Katt and Allen, to be precise. I think the time has come for him to stop being so magnanimous with his opponents and stop assuming that wise and reasoned discussion will prevail. It’s time for some presidential swagger as only a black man and Bill Clinton can provide. He needs to stop being so articulate and reasoned and start throwing some ‘bows like Iverson and smacking around those blue-dog Democrats, like they were, well, you know, to get the votes he needs to get the job done. He needs to go all out with the votes he has and with the votes he’s entitled to –yes, I said entitled to  — merely because he is the leader of his party. He needs to act like he won’t get a second term. Hell, he won’t even get a second half of his first term if the mid-term elections turn ugly, so he has nothing to lose by acting up.

I’d suggest he signal the beginning of this race-conscious and less magnanimous Obama adminstration with a private meeting with Representative Wilson in the Oval Office behind closed doors that begins with his head slightly cocked, his eyes slightly squinted, and the greeting, “What did you call me? I know you didn’t call me a liar . . . . “

I should disclose that the photo in this piece is a stock photo.  This is not a photo of Black Woman Blogging.  I don’t actually know what she looks like.  I just liked the photo.

Published by the LA Progressive on September 13, 2009
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About Sharon Kyle

Sharon Kyle, J.D. is the Publisher of the LA Progressive which she co-founded with her husband Dick Price. Ms. Kyle is an adjunct professor of law at Peoples College in Los Angeles. She sits on the board of the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and is on the editorial board of the BlackCommentator.com. Photo courtesy Wadeva Images. www.wadevaimages.com