Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rush Limbaugh Wants Black Politicians to Be Sure to Have Their Slave Passes


Rush Limbaugh earned his racist bonafides a long time ago. He is also an existentially and unrepentantly ugly person. Therefore, his suggestion that the head of the Congressional Black Caucus needs to get a slave pass in order to “get off” the Democratic plantation is not at all a surprise. Moreover, that there are millions of petit authoritarians who pray at his sick and twisted mantle of Angry White Male Conservatism, is also not a surprise. Their love is just a symptom of America’s cultural rot, and a dysfunctional political discourse, one identified decades ago by the noted political scientist and historian Richard Hofstadter.
Ultimately, in the 1920s through to the 1960s, there was Father Coughlin; the last few decades brought us Rush Limbaugh. There is really nothing new in the game in regards to ugly talk that plays to Whiteness’s greater devils, as opposed to its lesser angels.
Of course, I will never understand why any self-respecting black person (or person of color more generally) would get in bed with the racially resentful, and bigoted strain of populism, that is the Tea Party GOP. And that black Conservatives reproduce the language of white supremacy, with the idea that principled, reflective, and politically sophisticatedutility maximizing black people–who have decided that the Democratic Party is more aligned with their interests–are on a “plantation,” is one part racial Stockholm syndrome, and two parts selling out for the sake of a dollar…as well as the psychic wages of a pat or two on the metaphorical head from their overlords.
Abstractions are easy to use in a game where the scoring of cheap political points is the goal. The low brow rhetoric that passes for reasoned political discourse in the Right-wing echo chamber is masterful for its ability to provoke, use symbolically rich speech, repetition, moral clarity, as well as certitude. In all, the Eliminationists of the Right-wing are expert propagandists.
However, it is easy to invoke a thing, when one does not have to face the reality of it head on. A skilled rhetorician can paint a picture with words that move the crowd; but, their power can also be subverted when the gimmick is exposed–when the audience sees the literal thing that is being used as an allusion and metaphorical prop. The illusion is broken. The magic is gone.
Rush Limbaugh loves to talk about black people and slavery. It is a fetish of his. While we may not cure him of this obsession, nor break the Svengali-like hold that Limbaugh has on his cult members, we can examine an actual example of the “slave passes” he so casually evoked last week:
Transcription: My Boy Mack has my Permission to sleep in a house in Bedon’s Alley, hired by his Mother this ticket is good for two months from this date Sarah H. Savage Sep ber 19th, 1843
I wonder if the Right-wing populists who fawn over Rush Limbaugh would find such references so funny if they could actually see a slave pass with their own eyes, or read some of the actual handwriting that attempted to reduce grown adults into children, human property who were limited in the most basic exercise of their rights?
White populist conservatives would probably sneer and reverse this truth-seeking into some twisted claim of “white victimology,” and “angry black people,” who are “unfair” and “emotional.” In fact, there are likely many conservatives, who in another decade would fancy themselves owners of human property, kings of the plantation, where the darkies knew their place, and everything was a Neo-Confederate, Southern GOP, Tea Party wet dream.
Their love of such abuses of history aside does not mean that we ought not to confront conservatives about their fictions at every opportunity, to hold them accountable.
Please indulge me some private-public talk for a moment. My black folks, we need to do a better job of protecting our history, the narratives that are generated about it, and how our struggle is made the fodder for political games by conservatives and liberals alike. No other group’s freedom struggle and suffering (our Jewish brothers and sisters especially, are to be held up as exemplars for how to protect one’s master story) is mocked with such ease, frequency, or with so few consequences.
These slave passes are not impersonal abstractions, curiosities of history, without meaning or weight. Slave passes were the naked and obvious demonstration of power by Whites, and the ability (or so they believed) to control black people–your kin and family–as human property from the cradle to the grave:
This is a slave pass and marriage acknowledgement from A. Greer to John Neely allowing the marriage of one of his male slaves to one of Neely’s female slaves, permitting that they do not let the marriage interfere with their work.
Where is the outrage? My people, my black folks, or are you so tired, the calluses so deep, that you have forgotten how to be upset?
History stares you in the eyes: Rush Limbaugh and his brethren slap you in the face every time they channel the glorious and proud history of black and brown folks, our sheroes and heroes, for their nefarious and dishonest ends. And you do nothing.
And some wonder, why in America, conservatism and racism, are one in the same.
Editor and founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes which has been featured by the NY Times, the Utne Reader, and The Atlantic Monthly. Writing under a pseudonym, Chauncey DeVega's essays on race, popular culture, and politics have appeared in various books, as well as on such sites as the Washington Post's The Root and Popmatters.

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