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Racism lingers large in presidential election
By Ray Hanania — When one of his supporters went to the microphone at a Republican presidential rally and called Democrat Barack Obama an “Arab,” John McCain immediately took the microphone away and said “No ma’am.” And then McCain added the line that really hurt more than the woman’s outburst of racist hatred, when he probably unintentionally wanted to remind people that Obama is not an Arab, but he is a “decent family man.” What happened at this event in Philadelphia this week was not an effort to temper racism, but rather a depiction of the two kinds of racism that exist in America today that is coming out in the presidential election campaign and is directed at Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, people who “look” like they are Middle Eastern, and anyone who doesn’t fit into the profile of who is an “accepted” minority.
The woman displayed an outward burst of raw hatred by calling Obama an “Arab.” She did not say it because she was making a comment pertinent to any discussion but to assert the “flaw of being Arab.”
McCain’s response was not an outright example of racism, but was a form of subtle racism. What McCain did was come to Obama’s defense viewing the woman’s comment as slander and then responding to the slander.
What McCain did not do was say “There is nothing wrong with being an Arab.” And that is what he and other Americans will not say.
I don’t believe McCain said it on purpose that way. It was probably something that happened so fast he just responded. But impromptu responses often are reflections of the true inner-self of individuals. How you respond from your gut probably reflects what you believe because it requires an immediate response without the ability to think about what you are going to say.
It’s not McCain’s nature to be racist, but he doesn’t believe that being called an “Arab” in the context of an attack is wrong.
His response said loudly that he feels that attacking Obama with the word “Arab” is unfair and should not be used in the campaign to criticize Obama.
But the issue of the nature of the slander – calling someone an “Arab” in a form intending it to be slander – is in fact racist. And McCain never did say, “Ma’am. Being an Arab is no different than being Irish, Italian, Black, Hispanic or any ethnic or racial group in this country. We’re all American and that includes Arabs.”
Of course, Americans are not that educated, although they pretend to be. They really don’t understand the Middle East nor do they understand the Arab or Islamic Worlds. That ignorance is reflected in the country’s flawed American foreign policies which are feeding not fighting the terrorist threats from extremists that originate in part from the Arab and Islamic Worlds.
American often confuse the terms “Arabs” and “Muslims” into the same context.
Obama missed the nuance of the racial incident, too, when he acknowledged McCain’s attempt to keep the campaign battle civil. He also failed to address the issue that was at the heart of the woman’s ugly outburst.
The woman wasn’t just attacking Obama. She was attacking Obama and attacking Arabs. She stereotyped an entire race of people as being negative and bad. She used that context to attack Barack Obama.
She was told not to attack Obama personally, but she was never told that slandering people of Arab heritage, or who are Muslim, which was probably equally behind her racist gesture, is wrong.
Neither Obama nor McCain responded probably.
But in a country where racism is a cornerstone of the election process, where voters look first to find their own in terms of the ethnic identity of the candidates, and then look to see how the candidates address those ethnicities that they dislike, like issues involving “Arabs,” it is difficult to expect real leadership from our presidential candidates who are forced to compete in this pre-defined environment.
For Obama to defend “Arabs” would only open him up to more racist attacks from American voters and even exploitation from McCain.
And McCain is certainly not going to eliminate the undercurrent of racism that is driving many voters to his ranks because they believe deep down in their hearts that Barack Obama is really a “secret Muslim” and “Arab” – remember, the meaning of the words for many naïve Americans is exactly the same.
Ask the average person if they will vote on the basis of race, and any intelligent person in today’s America will flatly deny it.
But once they are in the privacy of the voting booth, with the screen drawn, racism will move their hand when it comes time to deciding to whom they will give their vote.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.radioChicagoland.com and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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