Yelling Fire in a Racist Nation

racism

By Patricia Wilson-Smith

I must admit – I have largely been sitting on the sidelines since the election of Barack Obama over seven months ago.

Be it because of election fatigue, or because of being just plain stunned by the sheer enormity of the event, I haven’t lent my voice to a single policy debate, or any other issue since long before the election. With all of the house parties, phone banking and canvassing behind me, I figured it was time for me to hang up my digital bull-horn and take up another, less taxing hobby.

No hobby to speak of yet, but I have enjoyed watching the evolution of Barack Obama from little-known U.S. Senator to Leader of the Free World, though watching him become President was very different than watching him as he executes his duties in office now. During the campaign, I felt closer to the action, having served as a member of the Women for Obama National Leadership team, where I was privileged to participate in a conference call where the now President was the guest speaker, and during which he thanked us for our service. Now of course, he’s a million light years away from that conference call, and can be found at any given time bounding down the steps of Air Force One, with Michelle in lock step. He has taken his place in history, while those of us who fought so hard for his election look on in wonderment.

And look on I have. I’ve been blown away by the meteoric rise of my favorite candidate, by the sudden national fascination with Michelle Obama, and by the endless curiosity for their two young daughters, Sasha and Malia. I’ve been captivated by the overseas press, and what his election has meant to the world. I have reveled in the media coverage of hip White House events, and date nights, and laughed at the Republican attack dogs as they scramble to find a way to tarnish the image of the man or refute his policies. Up to now, it has been easy for me to just kick back and enjoy the show, content in the knowledge that in some infinitesimal way I played a part in making it all happen. Easy that is, until yesterday afternoon, when I heard something that made my blood run cold.

I was listening to the “Neal Boortz Show”. a nationally syndicated talk show hosted by a right-wing, Fair Tax proponent masquerading as an independent thinker hiding behind the Libertarian Party. He was taking calls from listeners who wanted to comment on the Holocaust Museum shooting, and the racism, antisemitism, and intolerance that the heinous act had once again brought to the forefront of our national psyche. I joined the show just as Neal was about to take his next call.

It seemed like a typical call at first, until the caller, quite obviously an African-American male, said in the most chillingly-matter-of-fact way imaginable, the following (paraphrased):

“Someone WILL assassinate Barack Obama. And when they do, it will be because of people like you [Boortz], Rush, and Sean Hannity spreading your hate speech on the airwaves everyday. It will happen, and the sad part is that it will take that tragic event for the American people to finally take steps to get you and others like you off the air for good.”

I was astonished – the caller wasn’t yelling, he wasn’t agitated. He was as calm and as cool as could be. And though his admonishment of Neal sent shivers up my spine, I don’t know which was more chilling – the man’s statement, or Boortz’s swift dismissal of it. He didn’t even acknowledge what the caller said. Not a word. All he offered was a “thank you for the call” and then he was on to the next order of show business.

I have always been a news and talk radio junkie. I’m a life-long Democrat of course, but I’ve always prided myself on my ability to listen to opposing viewpoints, sure that even though many of those who spouted what I thought of as spastic inanities were dead wrong, they at least did so with love of country and what was best for it in mind. I’ve never felt fear over what I’ve heard coming from Neal, Bill, Shawn, and their ilk over the years, not even what I’ve heard from Rush, because I’ve always understood that their views come from their unique perspectives on the world, their experiences and their personal (all be them flawed) opinions.

The problem is this – since the election of Barack Obama, the rhetoric of all these men has taken on a dark and disturbing tone. They have, along with Michael Savage and many other popular conservative talk show hosts, gone mad as a collective quite frankly, and the result is the American public being treated to a daily dose of some of the most outlandish and destructive hate-speech ever to be spewed by ones with such popularity and reach.

It was, for example, Fox News and Bill O’Reilly who over the last several years, and on at least 28 different occasions, reported on George Tiller, the abortion doctor who was recently gunned down while attending church services in Wichita, Kansas by a known anti-abortion extremist. O’Reilly was relentless in his attacks on Tiller, regularly and openly calling him “Tiller the Baby Killer”, calling for the citizens of Kansas to “stop him”, and practically characterizing him as a crazed maniac thirsty for the blood of the unborn.

And then there’s Conservative author Bernard Goldberg, whose book “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America”. featured a list of both liberal and conservative notables who in his opinion are to blame for all that is wrong in America. His book sales likely got a nice boost when James Adkisson, an unemployed Vietnam Veteran with substance abuse problems informed law enforcement in a note that it was indeed his intention to kill “every Democrat in the Senate and the House”, and “everyone in Bernard Goldberg’s book”.

And just this week, Shawn Hannity purposely mis-characterized a specific portion of President Obama’s now historic speech from Cairo to the Muslim world, as “giving voice to 9-11 deniers”. Never mind that in order to make the case, Shawn and Fox News had to cut a paragraph of his speech in half, being careful to play the half comment in a way that supported Shawn’s assertion. I saw the entire speech – President Obama was crystal clear in stating that the death of almost three-thousand Americans that day was fact, not fiction, and yet Hannity and Fox News chose to do a hatchet job on the video clip in order to mine material that could be used to get a rise out of his audience. In the face of growing support for the President’s Mideast policy, all Fox and Hannity can do is resort to out and out lies and misrepresentations. A more blatant or clearer case of calumny I’ve never known, and yet not only is this kind of thing now the norm over at Fox News, there is a constant flow of it seeping from the mouths of all of the aforementioned talk show hosts, who regrettably all still enjoy amazing popularity.

It simply cannot be denied that in the wake of a contentious primary election, during which Republican rally-goers could be heard yelling “Kill him!”, and “He’s a terrorist”, that there are those in this country who wish to do the President harm. And in the wake of the murder of Tiller, the recent shooting at the Holocaust museum of guard Stephen Johns (a black man), and the sharp increase in the number of threats against President Obama, it is clear that somewhere, somehow, the seeds of hatred and intolerance are being sown. And watered, and fertilized, and encouraged to bear fruit.

It all hearkens me back to the early days of the campaign, when so many of my black friends and family openly expressed their fears for then Senator Obama’s safety, going so far as to say that they would not vote for him for fear that he would be assassinated. I was never one to let this particular fear sway me, and I was quick to point out to them that withholding a vote for Obama on this basis was akin to wishing the Civil Rights Era had never happened if we could just get Martin Luther King Jr. back. It’s not that I didn’t share their fears, it’s just that I had a strong conviction, and a desire for the kind of change I felt President Obama would bring. And I didn’t let myself think about what the election of the first African-American to the presidency would mean to the national discourse between liberals and conservatives, because I knew that it was inevitable that conservative talk radio would bring trouble down on the head of whomever was elected to office as long as they were a Democrat.

But even I wasn’t prepared for the noise level that has ensued. Glenn Beck, who I am now ashamed to admit, was once a favorite of mine, has turned into the talk show equivalent of a paranoid wilderness dweller, hoarding freeze-dried food and broadcasting messages of doom from an old CB radio to anyone who will listen. And Michael Savage, who’s anti-everything hate-speech has become so pronounced in recent months that even the government of Great Britain has labeled him an ‘agent of extremism and intolerance’ and blacklisted him along with 22 others, banning him from entering the country. You need only watch the nightly news to get an endless barrage of misstatements, exaggerations, and yes, doomsday pronouncements of the demise of the United States at the hands of Barack Obama, that it is no wonder the Secret Service can hardly keep up with all the threats.

In this country, we have a bad habit of taking what is good and noble about us, what our founding fathers wished for us, and turning it into a scourge. We trumpet our freedoms, to worship as we please, to pursue our dreams, and to say what we feel, and yet seek to silence those who would dare say we are not a Christian nation, question the legitimacy of the birth of a great leader, and use the public airwaves to deceive and instigate acts of violence. It matters not, for instance, that the First Amendment specifically prohibits the establishment of a national religion, if you say in a public forum that we are in fact not solely a Christian nation as President Obama did in his speech in Cairo, you become fodder for right-wing nut jobs in this country who think it’s okay to kill an innocent man whose only crime was waking up one day and going into a modest job guarding a national monument, while labeling those who strap bombs to themselves and kill buses filled with school children terrorists.

Increasingly in this country, being free really means taking liberties with the ideals upon which this nation was founded. I learned years and years ago that freedom of speech has limitations – that I could no more yell fire in a crowded theater for fun than I could knowingly and purposely promote ideas that are meant to cause harm to others, or that encourage those who would do harm to act. Yet when Shawn Hannity uses his bully pullpit to flat out lie to his audience, or when Bill uses code language to encourage anti-abortionist nut cases to “stop” someone, or when Rush uses his vast influence to cultivate conservative extremism, they all in their own way, do a tragic injustice to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution they claim to love so much.

And so I’ve blown the dust off of my laptop, because it’s time to add mine to the chorus of voices that’s needed to drown out Rush’s and Bill’s and Shawn’s. It’s not enough that we know that the majority of the American people love and appreciate their new President, because these guys are working hard to provide a forum for those in this country who are either still mourning the election of a black man to the highest post in the world, or who in their zeal to ‘save America’ want to be fed a regular diet of garbage disguised as political discourse. It is not to say that Bill O’Reilly should be brought up on charges for the actions of Scott Roeder, or that even if a direct connection could be made between the trash-talk of conservative commentators and people who commit acts of cowardly violence that anyone should be legally culpable but the perpetrators themselves. Nevertheless, yelling fire in a racist nation, day after day, week after week, and year after year should and must have consequences – consequences that it is up to us, the reasonable and fair-minded in this country to dispense.

About Patricia Wilson-Smith

Patricia Wilson-Smith is a freelance writer and author of the romantic comedy "Duped By Love". She is a regular contributor to She Unlimited Magazine, and covers special events as a special on-air correspondent.
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10 Responses to Yelling Fire in a Racist Nation

  1. dancin Dave says:

    Have you heard about the Maafa 21 documentary that has just been released? It goes into great detail about the who, what and how racist attitudes are being perpetuated today and what the ultimate goal of it
    is. the shocking thing is that it has been going on for years under the guise of “helping” the black community. You can see a preview at maafa21.com

    The full length documentary was shown twice in DC at the
    Capitol Visitor Center’s new theater. The second showing included a large contingent from the Black Congressional Caucus, as well as, other offices. They were shocked by it.

    I saw it at Pastor Broden’s church last week and there were tears, and gasps. The information just gets more disturbing as it goes on like when Elaine gave her story about how she was sterlized by the
    state against her will when she was 14, or Nixon’s “black bastards” comments.

    If you are interested in more information email me and I will give you direct contact information.

  2. Nobama says:

    Seems to me you simply support Obama due to the color of his skin. Even people who voted for this guy are waking up from the dream only to discover this nightmare is reality.

    • Patricia Wilson-Smith says:

      You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried. I didn’t support Obama because of the color of his skin – I supported him because of the depth of his intellect. I was as skeptical as most back in 2007 when he first announced, and then I read “The Audacity of Hope”. I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to convince you of President Obama’s attributes – your login name says it all. But do me a favor – don’t insult MY intelligence either by assuming that me and women like me are incapable of telling the difference between a black man and a legal scholar and brilliant political mind – oh wait, President Obama is both.

  3. Lauren says:

    Thank you for writing this apt entry. Given recent clamor over health care reform, your points about the consequences of hate speech by right wing media are more important by the day.

  4. Pwright says:

    Excuse me but “kill him” and “he’s a terrorist” were NEVER SAID!!. Try doing your research. You may not wish to hear this but conservatives are the last people to judge people by the color of their skin. If you study history you will find it has always, 100% of the time, been democrats that have tried to hold blacks back. Senator Byrd ,democrat, is the first white sheet that comes to mind. Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton would be out of a job if they did not keep blacks supressed in every community that they “support”. If blacks could just dump all the reparations attitude and “whites owe me” attitude things would be so different. Just get off your duffs, off welfare handouts, and contribute to society. Teach your children about hard work to get anywhere. As a black child in 1955, I lost my father at the age of ten from cancer. I never expected anyone to give me a handout. I just expected I had to work harder because we were poor. Go figure. Can’t you see where you are shooting yourself in the foot if you do not get ahead no matter the wall in front of you? I had several walls in front of me that I had nothing to do with putting there. I was black, I was a kid, I had no father, and again, I was black. Screw being black. It has nothing to do with anything. I tossed that one away fast. Now days blacks like Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton keep proping up those walls. You will always be oppressed if you expect to be opressed. Try getting a life and ahead all by yourselves. The feeling of succeeding against all odds is incredible. Ask a black woman like me and get the truth. Pam

    • bfwo says:

      Pam,

      Your post is incredible, really truly amazing on so many levels. I hardly no where to begin.

      Let’s start with this – there is documented, video-tape proof that people at some of the McCain-Palin rally’s DID in fact call Obama a terrorist, and yelled “kill him’. This is indisputable, but if you insist on denying it, I’d be glad to provide a link to said proof. A 30 second Google search is all that’s required.

      As for the rest of your post? I’m a little confused. At what point EXACTLY in my post did I identify myself as ANY of the following: welfare recipient, Jesse Jackson supporter, reparations proponent, illiterate, or underemployed? Neither did I accuse Conservatives of judging people by the color of their skin. I absolutely love it when black Conservatives pull historical references to the old Republican party out of their butts to justify why they are Conservatives. I would respect you and your kind a WHOLE lot more if you could debate me on the issues, and not using knee-jerk propogandized nonsense that most progressives don’t even identify with. You need to do YOUR research. Barack Obama is living proof that progressives have moved beyond the “we-shall-overcome”, exploitative tactics that have kept the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in the forefront of American discourse for so long. President Obama represents a new generation of thinkers who know that as a community, blacks have to begin to move beyond such victimilistic thinking in order to continue to advance. I have no doubt that you are a black woman (since you identify yourself as such), but the tendency you display in the above post to generalize and spout conservative rhetoric is disturbing.

      Lastly, as for losing your father at the age of ten. I can do you one better. I lost my father at the age of 11 months. He was killed senselessly, leaving my mother with 9 children to raise on her own. My mother never got more than a 10th grade education, and yet she made sure that we all understoo dthe value of education, and as a result, not only do I have an advanced degree (Masters of Science, Information Technology, 4.0 GPA, thank you), several others in my family have post-graduate degrees. I have a brother who is an attorney, nieces and nephews who are business owners, a sister who is an accountant – it goes on and on. So the implication that you make above that somehow anyone who would defend President Obama must be on welfare, or doesn’t value hard work or education makes you sound shallow, and like a parrot for the far right. You respond to my post, as if it were an advertisement for expanding entitlements, yet you’ve not mentioned a single thing about the real message of the article.

      You don’t find it disturbing that Bill O’Reilly could incite someone to violence with words? You don’t feel the least bit threatened by a media organization that regularly and repeatedly distorts the facts in order to push their agenda? If you don’t then not only are you a card-carrying right-winged looney, but your also NOT a patriot, or someone who loves your country. “Try doing your research”. Try learning to think for yourself.

      With love, my sister.

      Patricia Wilson-Smith

  5. Axit says:

    Patricia,

    I think you might be misconstruing the anger coming from a large portion of the American public now. Maybe a few ignorant fools in a trailer park somewhere might be set off by the idea that the president is black, but I think you will find that the biggest thing they are angry about is that the president is red.

    Your man Obama was raised under a strict diet of Marxist indoctrination. This is coming through in many of his policy actions to date. His rhetoric often times says one thing, and actions are completely another. Not only that, he was schooled in Indonesia as a devout Islamist, which many are unsure whether he still holds the hateful rhetoric of the Koran to heart considering his 20 years of attendance in the Hate based Revolutionary Black Theology church of Rev. Wright. Anger and even Hatred isn’t always expressed as openly as many on the right may have recently expressed it in your opinion. It can be a seething rage burning beneath the surface as well. The first “community organizer” was Saul Alinsky, a noted American communist.

    The right also has many black candidates, like Herman Cain who was sidelined in Georgia by leftist Alinsky tactics during his run for a senatorial seat. Like Alan Keyes, like Allen West. And they had Condi Rice, Clarence Thomas, and others. Then there’s the writer Thomas Sowell, whom I suggest you read.

    The word “Progressive” is nothing new either, it is a term that was used by Woodrow Wilson, the president to show the first movie in the White House: “Birth of A Nation”, a KKK promotional film, the president who readily segregated and fired all the blacks in government put their by Republicans at that time. In many Communist countries the word “Progressive” has been used over and over again to denote various collectivist policies that eventually drowned those countries in government insolence and degradation and exploitation of the citizenry that I will spare you the gory details of.

    There is nothing new under the sun Patricia, the world has turned for centuries, and the patterns of history are undeniable. America is waking up to the patterns of history…

  6. raidenslair says:

    I don’t think USA is a racist nation.

  7. Meg_WGBH says:

    As Memorial Day quickly approaches, we pause to reflect on the state of our union, especially with President Obama at the helm. This week on Basic Black, we will be examining the presidency of our current commander-in-chief, especially his role in shaping the outcome of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and his role with the recent oil spill. Our panelists will explore the issues faced by men and women of color in the military. For this episode, our panel will include: Callie Crossley, host of The Callie Crossley Show on WGBH Radio, Philip Martin, Senior Investigative Reporter, 89.7,Latoyia Edwards, anchor for New England Cable News, and Lionel McPherson, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. You can watch this Thursday, May 27, at 7:30 on WGBH (Channel 2) or online at http://www.basicblack.org (where you can also tell us your thoughts on our live chat).

  8. Nothing to do with it. usually there is a connection between unemployment, growth of tax and racism. germany in 1939 was suffer from depression and crisis of economy. usa passes crisis now. when level of life getting worse people look for others to blame. it is sad, but it is natural…

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