About 35 seconds into this clip, Bill O'Reilly -- Fox News' racisme provocateur -- tells a black man, Marc Lamont Hill -- who happens to be a Columbia University professor -- that he "looks like a cocaine dealer." They're discussing President Obama's decision to send troops to the Mexico-U.S. border. (Watch also for Dr. Hill's comeback.)
Bill O’Reilly: “Let's say you’re a cocaine dealer -- and you kind of look like one a little bit.”
Marc Lamont Hill: “As do you . . . you know, you actually look like a cocaine user.”
This example of ignorant white aggression reminds me of another, bitterly iconic scenario, Professor Cornel West's struggle to catch a taxi (as described in his book Race Matters):
I dropped my wife off for an appointment on 60th Street between Lexington and Park Avenues. I left my car -- a rather elegant one -- and stood on the corner of 60th Street and Park Avenue to catch a taxi. I felt quite relaxed since I had an hour until my next engagement. At 5:00 P.M. I had to meet a photographer who would take the picture for the cover of this book on the roof of an apartment building in Harlem on 115th Street and 1st Avenue. I waited and waited and waited. After the ninth taxi refused me, my blood began to boil. The tenth taxi refused me and stopped for a kind, well-dressed smiling female citizen of European descent. As she stepped into the cab, she said, "This is really ridiculous, is it not?"
Ugly racial memories of the past flashed through my mind. Years ago, while driving from New York to teach at Williams College, I was stopped on fake charges of trafficking cocaine. When I told the police officer I was a professor of religion, he replied "Yeh, and I'm the Flying Nun. Let's go, nigger!" I was stopped three times in my first ten days in Princeton for driving too slowly on a residential street with a speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour. (And my son, Clifton, already has similar memories at the tender age of fifteen.) Needless to say, these memories are dwarfed by those like Rodney King's beating or the abuse of black targets of the FBI's COINTEL-PRO efforts in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet the memories cut like a merciless knife at my soul as I waited on that godforsaken corner.
Since the day West is describing here is the day that he was photographed for the cover of his book, you can see what he was wearing -- a formal, thoroughly professional looking suit, complete with tie, and vest. I can't tell if Marc Lamont Hill was also wearing a vest, but the rest of the "professional" uniform is there. And yet, looking as educated, professional, well-heeled, well-monied and so on often doesn't matter, does it? For Bill O'Reilly, as for many white people, the image of a drug dealer as a black man persists in the "darker" recesses of our minds.
So that's a fairly obvious common white tendency exemplified by that clip, and I hope that electronic cards and letters of complaint are pouring into Fox Studios as I write this post.* However, another, less obvious white tendency (less obvious to white people like me, that is) also seems to emerge here. As Zuky notes,
Bill O’Loofah started worrying that this sharp dude (Marc Lamont Hill) might be on the verge of taking him down intellectually, so he threw in some gratuitous gut-rot racism as a degrading distraction. White folks do this all the time.
Yes, gratuitous derailing gut-rot racism. It works every time. Or, almost every time.
And half the time, or more, we don't even know we're doing it.
* You can complain by writing to askfox AT fox DOT com