Keeping It Real: White Demagogues in the 21st Century: They Are Not Playing, Nor Are They Stupid
July 2011

As we refute Michele Bachmann’s narrative on enslavement, it is essential that we read slave narratives to democratize a conversation. After all, the members of the community of enslaved African-Americans are the legitimate, authentic, and primary voices whose testimonies give us the real picture.

On another level, I think that we miss an important opportunity to pull the cover off Bachmann’s racism when we reduce her blatant racial demagoguery to the acts of one crazy, insensitive, and ignorant white individual. Our refusal to situate Bachmann’s actions within historical and structural frameworks gives her a free pass, while absolving her of accountability and responsibility for her actions. Moreover, our approach obscures the real nature of her actions, which are calculated and insidious motions to build on a history of race-baiting and demonization that has held center-stage in American political, cultural, and intellectual life, all the way back to enslavement. This white supremacist movement is very alive today and extends beyond the deeds of individual people such as Bachmann. I believe that it is time for us to bring to bear our cultural resources and assets to contest this movement and its tactics, rather than spending our energy focusing on and answering individuals like Palin and Bachmann, who are only as strong as we permit them to be by our inaction. 

It is imperative that we do not resort to a false sense of comfort that hampers our resolve and urgency to contest the fires of a 21st-century white-supremacist movement which blazes in far too many white communities and scorches the earth in our communities everywhere. The truth of the matter is that Bachmann and her allies carry a big racist stick. In line with this point, the Washington Post proclaims Michele Bachmann to be the leader of a new form of evangelical feminism.

Many black Americans act as if the burden of proof is on us to show that we are not racist, and that we are morally fit to enjoy the rights of citizenship as well as fruits of democracy. The burden lies with Bachmann and her gang being given their choice to follow racial demagogues such as Pitchfork Bill Tillman, John Stennis, and Herman Talmadge. The racism displayed by Bachmann rises above her personal defects; rather, it emerges out of the deep soil of a white supremacist culture of domination, which is fueled by the belief that whites come from a superior culture and civilization that naturally makes them the legitimate heirs of God’s creation and the natural rulers of the U.S. and global nations.

In keeping it real, my question is why is it easier for us to reduce Bachmann’s actions to ones of an insane or ignorant person, rather than admit that the racial storms that whites unleashed at the end of the 19th century and the turn of the 20th century still billow in our lives today?  Are we going to protect ourselves and marshal a strategy of realism, or are we going to stay in the storm for another 100 years? Whichever we choose, please know that we are at a point in history where we must create a collective mission to carry us to a common destination, while we reconstitute a new community for the 21st century. Our task is to recover as a community from the post-civil-rights right-wing culture wars against the black strongholds of education, church, and family. Bonding together as a united coalition, they created propaganda, public policies, and theology to recover the power they lost during the Southern Freedom Movement, as well as to shatter our power to resist and to move forward as a community that is reasonably intact! We must. Our collective souls depend on it.  Paraphrasing the old black spiritual, “if we wake up tomorrow and our souls be lost, ain’t nobody’s fault but our own.”


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