Olbermann: Beware fear’s racist temptation

Monday night, Keith Olbermann fired off a bit of a warning to Tea Partiers in his Special Comment. Definitely something to think about.

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OLBERMANN:  Finally, tonight, as promised, a Special Comments on this Presidents‘ Day, celebrating George Washington and the founding fathers he represents, and Abraham Lincoln and the emancipation he represents. 

Tax Day Protester - Santa Ana, CA

And I think having now been one for 51 years, I am permitted to say I believe prejudice and discrimination still sit defeated, dormant, or virulent, somewhere in the soul of each white man in this country.  Sixty three years after Jackie Robinson and 56 years after Brown v. Board of Education, and 46 after the Civil Rights Act, and a year and a half after the presidential election, this is not a popular thing to say. 

This is also not a thing that should be true, even as a vestige of our sad past on this topic.  But it is.  Discrimination is still all around us in so many ways, openly redirected towards immigrants who are doing nothing more than following the path that brought my recent ancestors here and probably yours too. 

Or focused on gays, predicated on a mumbo jumbo of Biblical misinterpretations. 

Or leaching out still against black people in things like the Tea Party movement.  I think the progress we have made in the last 60 years in this country has been measurable and good, but I think discrimination has been tamed, perhaps, not eradicated. 

For our society still emphasizes our differences as much as our similarities.  We may be 63 years from Jackie Robinson, but we are not 63 days from man going on national radio and telling us the president of the United States was elected only because of the color of his skin. 

Discrimination, I have always thought, is a perversion of one of the most necessary instincts of survival.  As a child, put your hand on a red-hot stove and you‘ll quickly learn to discriminate against red-hot stoves.  But at that age, if you‘re also told you need to beware of, say, black people, you will spend your life having to fight against wiring created in your brain for no reason other than to reflect someone else‘s prejudice. 

And it need not even be that related to trauma. 

The other night in the hospital, my father was talking about seeing Sachel Page pitch.  At Yankee Stadium this was.  The time was about 1941, and the team was the New York Black Yankees, and my father shook his head in amazement as he told met his.  “It never occurred to me,” he said—“it never occurred to anybody I know that he couldn‘t play for the other Yankees,” my dad said.  We just assumed he didn‘t want to, that none of them wanted to. 

These thoughts still linger in our lives, still actively passed to some of us by people who are not like my father, who never questioned their own upbringing or parents or school or world.  That older, brutal prejudice with impunity world, which reappears somewhere every day, like Brigadoon—sometimes with virulence, like in Don Imus‘ infamous remarks, sometimes with utter, arrogant tone deafness, as in John Mayer‘s “Playboy” interview, sometimes with a kind of poorly informed benign phrase, like Harry Reid‘s comment about dialect, sometimes with the one-headedness of surprise that no one is screaming, “MF-er, I want more iced tea at a Harlem restaurant.” 

But it‘s still there.  I‘m not black, so I can‘t say for sure, but my guess is the reverse feeling still exists too.  The same doubt and nagging distrust, only with the arrow pointing the opposite way.  And I guess it‘s still there too among Hispanics and Asians and every other self-identifying group, because this country since the Civil War has not only become ever increasingly great, not merely for dismantling the formalized racism of our first 200 years on this continent, but because we have been dismantling a million years of not fully trusting the guys in the next cave because they are somehow different. 

This all still lingers about us, all of us, whether we see it or not.  And since it‘s no longer fashionable, indeed no longer acceptable, it oozes out around the edges and those who speak it don‘t even realize that as good as their intention might be, as improved as their attitudes might be from where they used to be or where their parents or grandparents used to be, or where America used to be, it‘s still racism. 

Thus it has become fashionable, sometimes psychologically necessary that when some of us express it, we have to put it in code or dress it up or provide a rationalization to ourselves for it.  That this has nothing to do with race or prejudice, the man‘s a socialist, and he‘s bent on destroying the country and he was only elected by people who can‘t speak English.  Or was it he was only elected by guilty whites? 

The rationalizations of the racist are too many and too contradictory for the rest of us to keep them straight.  The whole of the anger at government movement is predicated on this.  Times are tough.  The future is confusing.  The threat from those who would dismantle our way of life is real, as if we weren‘t, to some extent, doing it for them now. 

And the president is black, but you can‘t come out and say that‘s why you‘re scared.  Say that and in all but the lifeless fringes of our society, you are an outcast.  So this is where the euphemisms come in.  Your taxes haven‘t gone up.  The budget deficit is from the last administration‘s adventurous war.  Grandma is much more likely to be death paneled by your insurance company.  And a socialist president would be the one who tried to buy as many voters as possible with stupid tax cuts.

But facts don‘t matter when you‘re looking for an excuse to say you hate this president.  But not because he‘s black.  Anything you can say out loud without your family and friends bursting into laughter at you will do. 

And this is where those Tea Parties come in.  I know I‘ve taken a lot of heat for emphasizing a particular phrase, which originated at a FreeRepublic.com rally a year ago this month, originated with a Tea Partier.  And I know phrases like Tea Klux Clan are incendiary, and I know I use them in part because I‘m angry. 

But at so late a date we still have to bat back that racial uneasiness which has to envelope us all.  And I know if I could only listen to Lincoln on this on all days about the better angels of our nature, I would know what we‘re seeing at the Tea Parties is, at its base, people that are afraid, terribly, painfully, crippling, blindingly afraid. 

But let me ask all of you who attend these things how many black faces do you see at these events?  How many Hispanics, Asians, gays?  Where are these people?  Surely there must be blacks who think they‘re being bled by taxation?  Surely there must be Hispanics who think the government should have let the auto industry fail.  Surely there must be people of all colors and creeds who believe in cultural literacy tests and speaking English. 

Where are they?  Where are they?  Do you suppose they agree with you, but they‘ve just chosen to attend their own separate meetings, that they‘re not at your Tea Party because they have a Tea Party of their own to go to?  Are you thinking like my father did about Sachel Page and the Black Yankees, that they want this. 

My father had an excuse for that.  He was 12 years old.  It was 1941.  Are you at the Tea Party 12 years old?  For you, is it 1941?  You‘re scared and you‘re in a world that has changed in a million ways.  The most obvious one is something unforeseeable a decade ago, a black president. 

Yet you are also in a world inherited, installed by generations that knew only fear and brutality and prejudice and difference and suspicion.  The generations have gone, but the suspicion lingers on. 

Not all of our heritage is honorable.  Not all the decisions of the founding fathers were noble.  Not very many of the founding fathers were evolved enough to believe that black people were actually people.  The founding fathers thought they were and fought hard to make sure they would always remain slaves. 

Fear is a terrible thing.  So is prejudice.  So is racism.  And progress towards the removal of any evil produces an inevitable backlash.  The Civil War was not followed by desegregation, but by Jim Crow and the Klan.  The Civil War rights legislation of the ‘60s was not followed by peace, but by George Wallace and anti-busing overt racism. 

Why should the election of a black president be without a backlash?  But recognize what this backlash is and maybe you can free yourself of this movement, built of inherited fears and of echoes of 1963 or 1873. 

Look at who is leading you and why, and look past the blustery self-justifications and see the fear, this unspoken, inchoate (ph), unnecessary fear of those who are different. 

If you believe there is merit to your political argument, fine.  But ask yourself when you next go to a Tea Party rally or watch one on television or listen to a politician or a commentator praise these things or merely treat them as if it was just a coincidence that they are virtually segregated, ask yourself, where are the black faces?  Who am I marching with?  What are we afraid of? 

And if it really is only a president‘s policy and not his skin, ask yourself one final question.  Why are you surrounded by the largest crowd you will ever again see in your life that consists of nothing but people who look exactly like you.  Good night and good luck.

  16 comments for “Olbermann: Beware fear’s racist temptation

  1. junior
    February 16, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Amazing – not one “Teabagger” bomb in the entire fanatical tirade. KO almost seemed to apologized for using the term.

  2. yvonne wagner
    February 16, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    As an African American Female I am glad that someone finally is acknowledging that this is happening. The hatred that has erupted since the president has taken office is unbelievable. I was elated after the election but sadden by the reality that this man is giving up so much only to be rejected by a country that he loves so much. Congress should be slapped down for the overt disrespect that they are showing and I am ashame of the Democrates for the weakness that they have displayed. I feel like a person without a country. We have children failing, murders, people withoug jobs, gang violence and all congress can think about is party loyalty and the good ole boys well DAMM you all. President and Mrs. Obama I applaud you for your efforts and I will stand behind you as long as you choose to work for the good of the people but personally, I pray to God that you can withstand the idiots that don’t appreciate your efforts. And to the Democrats if you can’t get anything done get the hell out and give a third party a chance. Republicans continue with your lynching in the name of the Lord because he(God) is going to get you for fraud. On a positive note; President OBAMA YOU WILL WIN IN THE END. KEEP THE FAITH.

    • Jo
      February 17, 2010 at 9:21 am

      The failings you describe were set in motion by an extreme left philosophy of progressivism. Margaret Sanger the mother of planned parenthood, hero of Hilary Clinton began a eugenics movement against the Black community resulting in the genocide of millions of babies. LBJ continued the enabling and weakening of the Black community through extensive welfare/social programs, he was a leftist democrat. Prior to all these handouts, Black communities had two parent households and was rooted in great faith in God. The leftists have sucked out that faith by attacking religion every instant it can. Please read about conservative Black viewpoints, including Alan Keyes, Kenneth Blackwell, Armstrong Williams, etc,. Embracing the charismatic Obama and the ideology of his leftist associates will only worsen the situation. Trying to be more like Venezuela and Cuba will only create an environment for further exploitation. Olbermann is nothing but a mouth and not a critical thinker of long term effects of ill conceived ideas. Our children are being indoctrinated in schools, textbooks rewritten to make America an oppressive appearing nation, when in fact is the opposite. The French gave us the Statue of Liberty to acknowledge the fact we have opportunity for everyone given the liberty to pursue freedom. What this country needs is a return to our roots and basis for our existence, grounded in the constitution and Declaration of Independence, not a remake to suit a few leftist political elites.

      • junior
        February 17, 2010 at 10:35 am


        You continue to amaze – eloquently and succinctly stated.

        • junior
          February 17, 2010 at 10:37 am

          PS: One could also say that this country’s black population is trapped on the Democrat plantation.

  3. junior
    February 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm


    The racist country you decry ELECTED this black man, Barrack H. Obama to be President of the United States of America.

    Where is the racism in that?

    Why can’t you acknowledge that this is simply a sharp opposition to his policies?

  4. Gary Kephart
    February 17, 2010 at 8:49 am


    Your statement has a false implication in it. You are assuming that since Obama was elected, that means 100% of the population is not racist. If you didn’t mean that, then you would have acknowledged that some percent less than 100 could still be racist even though he got elected. It could be the same 23%-25% that always approved of our last president, no matter what he did.

    Why can’t you acknowledge this fact?

  5. junior
    February 17, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Gary: “Why can’t you acknowledge this fact?”

    Because it isn’t a fact. It is your supposition – a brain fart.

  6. Claudio
    February 17, 2010 at 1:23 pm


    It is a FACT, sorry you cannot comprehend that. It is amazing how conservatives, with every fact thrown in their face, deny the truth when it does not benefit their pathetic world view. But when some e-mail with the latest conservative lie is sent out bad mouthing liberals, they simply take it as fact at face value without any investigation into whether or not it is the truth.

    I guess that explains how George W. Bush was able to bamboozle them for 8 years. At least it lets us know who the 28% who gave the worst President in US history are exactly. And Junior, learn to back up your facts instead of calling people brain farts, dickwads and other names. What are we here, 3rd graders or Finge o sphere commenters?

  7. junior
    February 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm


    I did back up the only fact that I stated – that Barrack H. Obama, a black man, was elected President of the United States of America. That is primae facia evidence that the US is not a racist country.

    And since when did you get on a high horse about a little harmless and descriptive name-calling? Are you a thin skinned blogger?

    • Gary Kephart
      February 17, 2010 at 8:05 pm

      Sorry, Junior, but you miss the mark again. We are not talking about the country as a whole being racist, but people within the country being racist. That is what Olbermann is talking about.

      So, will you acknowledge that some percent of voters, less than 100, could still be racist even though Obama got elected?

      • junior
        February 18, 2010 at 6:34 am


        Of course there are still racists, on all sides of the spectrum.

  8. Jo
    February 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Junior- he does seem thin skinned to me, remember-
    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will
    eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest
    enemy of the State.” — Joseph Goebbels


  9. junior
    February 17, 2010 at 6:27 pm


    I appreciate your quite eloquent comments. However, Claudio is a friend of mine – he does not deserve to be compared to a Nazi.

    Quotations such as you note above need to be remebered and have their place. However, this is not that place.

    • Jo
      February 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm

      No one is comparing Claudio to a Nazi, the point was that perpetuating lies is nothing more than a tool of sometimes bad consequences. Junior, I think you may be acting a little thin skinned. Why Anita Dunn quotes Mao, does that make her a Communist?

      • junior
        February 17, 2010 at 10:47 pm

        No, I am not thinned skinned Jo – your comment was inappropriate to the circumstance.

        When Anita Dunn quotes Mao it makes her an idiot.

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