It’s racism and homophobia, neck and neck, down to the wire. Can they hang on?
By Mark Morford / SF Gate Columnist / October 29, 2008
Let’s not get carried away.
Let’s not go so far as to suggest we’re about to enter into some sort of fluffy utopian tofu puppy happyland where nipples fly free and consciousness expands and the fetid rivers of racism and homophobia that course through the American heartland like acidic sewage somehow magically vanish, somehow become dramatically curtailed, should the twin forces of progress known as President Obama and a vanquished California Proposition 8 somehow come to pass.
Let’s not be naive. Just because it looks like the Western world is about to get its first black intellectual president, just because the nation’s most influential and populous state could very possibly decide, finally and forevermore, that two adults of the same gender can get married without the cruel hammer of religious ignorance crashing down upon their heads, well, this can’t possibly be a sign that racism and homophobia, two of our three most revered national pastimes (don’t forget the sexism!) are going away anytime soon.
Unless it can. Unless some of our darkest cultural demons could finally be up for a major exorcism. Could it be true? Could this vote, at the very least, be one hell of a giant step forward in the fight against two toxic beliefs that have poisoned the American mindset for ages? Let me suggest: You’re damn right it could.
Maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you need a sign, some sort of indicator of what’s truly at stake, something that proves we are at a turning point not merely of tax brackets and energy strategy and foreign policy, but of the very tone and flavor of who we are and what we value as a nation. Yes? Easy enough.
Here it is: Just listen to the screaming.
Can you hear it? It is the Grand Rule of Bigotry, same as it ever was: Prejudice and fanaticism tend to yell loudest and cling on the hardest when they are most threatened, when they know their worldview is slated for imminent demolition.
Just look. As I write these very words, big-money ultraconservatives are joining churches and temples and sad, sad priests nationwide in extolling their fearful throngs to send huge portions of their life savings straight to the gaggle of pro-Prop. 8 extortionists, in an attempt to ban gay marriage and crush what essentially amounts to a type of love they cannot, will not understand.
And because they cannot understand it, they fear it. And because they fear it, they do as paranoid, fear-based religions have done since the dawn of a man-made God: They try to kill it.
The screaming is downright deafening. Right now, the Prop. 8 fight is second only to the presidential race in sheer dollars raised. The good news is, the homophobes are being outspent by the non-terrified by about four to one, with major corporations like Apple and Google coming out very publicly against it. The bad news is, the religious right is panicking, rallying, pulling out all the stops to get Prop. 8 passed, no matter what.
But here’s the tragic part: They don’t really know why they’re panicking. They don’t really know what the threat is, exactly. Except for the loss of their own power. And control. And cultural relevance. Besides that, I mean.
But they do know one thing: If California goes all-in for marriage equality, it’s a slippery slope indeed until other states eventually follow suit, and before you know it the entire country will have to let love in and recognize scary gay people as valid Americans — you know, just like we did not so long ago for those awful black people.
Ah yes, the racism. Not so easily parsed, and not so easily answered by a simple legislative proposition, given how much more deeply it infects, how much more nefariously it’s woven into the very fabric of the nation.
Right now, even more than the homophobes, the racists are out in force. Nauseating indeed have been some of the e-mails readers have passed on to me in the past year or so, often the result of someone forwarding one of my pro-Obama columns to a conservative friend or relative they once deemed capable of ideological flexibility — or, at the very least, respectful disagreement — only to receive back a note crammed like a shrapnel bomb with the very kind of venomous language you want to believe doesn’t exist anywhere except maybe our most hateful rural backwaters.
It’s a repulsive portrait of Obama indeed. References to Nazis, radical socialism, Muslim terrorists, a new black uprising, interracial marriage, gangsta rap, and of course lots and lots of the N-word, all wrapped in layers of hate and ignorance so rancid it’s like some sort of xenophobic fantasia where Rush Limbaugh interbreeds with Michael Savage in Ann Coulter’s personal vat of battery acid and pain.
But these are not merely the usual hot little spews of hate from the expected places, like the rural Midwest and the South and dumb-as-dirt skinheads from Tennessee. The race baiting has gone upmarket. From Sarah Palin’s carefully worded Caribou Barbie flirtations with white small-town America, to the attempts to link Obama directly to black ’60s militants and domestic terrorism (and don’t forget those “radical” black churches), if you have any doubt whatsoever that McCain’s Rove-trained team of jackals isn’t trying every trick in the how-to-bait-a-racist handbook, you haven’t been paying much attention.
So then, I am not here to suggest the impossible. I am not declaring that President Obama and a DOA Prop. 8 will somehow instantly put a cap on the fire hoses of discrimination and intolerance that regularly spit their bile across the land. This is not really the point.
The point is, once again, all about energy. About tonal shift. A deeply intelligent black American president changes the racism game forever, at a very deep level indeed. And a resounding defeat of intolerance in California sends perhaps the most powerful message yet to the conservative screamers across the land.
The message is this: You do not have to change your beliefs. You do not have to budge an inch on your views. You are still free to hate black people, still free to fear gay people (or demean women) all you like. It’s simply that we as an Obama-led, gender-inclusive nation no longer have any real use for your brand of poison. We are done with you.
And if that’s not a magnificent jolt of progress, I don’t know what is.