To blame the conversation about race for racism is like blaming the speedometer on your car for the ticket that you just got. It doesn't make any sense.
I embedded an excerpt from the show below, and the video's transcript below that.
Also, something to note about CNN's general framing of these issues -- which I see elsewhere in the corporate media coverage about racism and threats of violence among tea-party gangs -- is the effort to claim that "heated rhetoric" is coming from both sides of the current political divide. As the show's host Don Lemon says at one point,
This isn't a Republican -- or is it a Republican or Democrat thing? Because language has been used on both sides to sort of stir people and to rile them up and to get them motivated. So it's not -- is it a Republican and Democrat thing?
But really, what kind of "language" are they talking about here? How much racism and threatened violence, let alone heated rhetoric, comes from what constitutes the Left, compared to how much comes from the Right? And how much more willfully does the Right look the other way when people on its side say and do such things? Both Democrats and Republicans strike me as generally corrupt, but in this respect, I see a false equivalency being made (and please, no links to old images depicting George Bush as a chimp -- that's another false equivalence).
I think one reason the corporate media distorts things this way is that they want to establish general "debates," so they can then provide us with discussions between pundits on both sides. However, as billmon points out in a very insightful piece here, this way of framing things -- "Both sides do it!" -- plays into an insidious strategy often deployed by the Right to create such "false narratives":
The specific disinformation technique in play is one I call "mirror image" (or, when I’m in a Star Trek mood, "Spock with a beard"). It consists of charging the opposing side (i.e. the enemies of the people) with doing exactly what you yourself have been accused of doing, typically with a hell of a lot more justification.
So here's the video containing excerpts from the show:
DON LEMON: "What Matters" tonight, the vigorous debate over health care reform has stirred up a lot of emotions across the country including death threats and vandalism against members of Congress. Now, earlier I spoke about the power of words with Tim Wise, he’s the author of "Colorblind," "New York Times" columnist, Ben Zimmer, and Marc Lamont Hill of Columbia University. And I started by asking if the White House had perhaps helped fuel some of the with its own terminology.
TIM WISE: Back in the summer of last year, we’re using the phraseology of a “public option.” I think they were naive in the sense that what they forget is that for the past 40 years, whenever we talk about public anything in this country -- public transportation, public housing, public schools -- an awful lot of people hear, whether it's meant or not, hear people of color as the beneficiaries.
And so, when you put that out there, a lot of the white folks, who already are being told by Limbaugh and Beck that this health care bill is just reparations for slavery, end up having that reinforced by the somewhat naive post-racial rhetoric of the administration. I think they played right into that.
LEMON: And I --
LEMON: Tim, I see Marc shaking his head, trying to get in here. Marc, why are you shaking your head?
HILL: Well, because I think there's been a very consistent strategy from the right to racialize public policies so that poor white people who are often most vulnerable or most in need of those policies will vote against it to align themselves with a certain kind of whiteness, and whiteness as property so that the poor white guy in Mississippi that needs welfare votes against welfare because he thinks he's voting against a poor black woman in Harlem.
LEMON: Right. I want to get Ben in on this. Because Ben you write about language, in the "New York Times," Sunday magazine every Sunday. Words matter, and when you look at -- you've written a little bit about it. How are you seeing the words being played out? Because they can move and motivate people.
BEN ZIMMER: They sure can, and very often there's this kind of a flashpoint and certainly the health care reform debate has been that kind of flashpoint. And with last summer from the town hall meetings and the rise of the tea party movement, we've seen an increasing polarization of the rhetoric, and that has led to some real rancor and we can see that when times are really tense like this, that words really do matter and especially when there are threats to public officials.
That means that everyone has to be cognizant of the kind of tone that they strike, and the kinds of metaphors and figures of speech that are being used may sometimes be inappropriate and sometimes can really be a cause of concern.
LEMON: I want to listen to Sarah Palin as she spoke earlier today, at the tea party rally in Searchlight, Nevada.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I talk about, “it's not a time to retreat, it's a time to reload.” When I'm talking about -- now, media, try to get this right. OK? That's not inciting violence. What that is doing is trying to inspire people to get involved in their local elections and these upcoming federal elections. It's telling people that their arms are their votes. It's not inciting violence. It's telling people, “Don't ever let anybody tell you to sit down and shut up, Americans.”
[I put the rest of the transcript in the Comments]