Dull Day in Barack Rock

Another day. Another hack. Another thinly veiled allusion to the internet as the root of all evil…

Obama’s white noise – Gary Younge

The internet seems a fulcrum for hatred of black people: not just for what they say, but for the fact that they have a voice at all.

As a skinny kid with a funny name who grew up with white parents and grandparents in Hawaii and for a while in Indonesia, Barack Obama is no stranger to racial insults.

Huh? Look I don’t doubt that the young Obama did catch his fair share of unseemly racial epithets during his formative years but I should also make the observation that much of the population of Hawaii are ethnic Polynesians and, of course, the majority population of Indonesia are anything but white, so the references to both locations strike one as being a touch incongruous. Now if you’d have said that he’d grown up in Texas and Alabama, then I think everyone would be pretty much on the same page as you right from the off, but otherwise you could have simple made the point that he’s taken crap as a child of mixed parentage and omitted the other extraneous information.

So Rush Limbaugh’s description of him as a “Halfrican American” along with the repeated playing of a racially insulting song deriding Obama as a “magic negro” will come as no great surprise. Limbaugh prides himself on being a shock jock but in truth his bigotry is not that shocking.

Of course, on this you’re entirely correct if a little verbose. It’s well known that Limbaugh is a complete cunt, it’s like saying that the sky is blue and the sun is hot.

Nor is the fact that CBS had to disable people from commenting on Obama stories on its website because of the sheer volume and intensity of racist comments.

Trolls are a fact of life on the internet, which is why we have moderation tools.

So, to recap, thus far we’ve discovered that:

Barack Obama is black (of mixed parentage to be exact, but, for the purposes of this article this is an incidental detail).

Barack Obama has, in the past, been insulted because to his ethnicity.

Rush Limbaugh is a cunt, and

There are trolls on the internet.

Not really a stream of stunning revelations, is it?

These things are depressing. They also stand in stark contrast to the ridiculous claim that being black will go in his favour when the polls open. And while they are not inevitable, they are expected. Every time I write on this site I expect it. And I am rarely disappointed.

Which polls are you referring to?

Sorry but the FT article you link to is subscription only, so you need to be a little more explicit in your comments and may be include a relevant quotation from the article to illustrate your point – that’s your lesson in blogging for this morning and I’ll not charge you for it.

If the FT is referring to the Presidential contest, should Obama pick up the Democratic nomination then yes, you may well have a point… kind of.

There is a segment of the US electorate who are, indeed, racist and would never, ever, contemplate voting for Barack Obama. But one also has to be a touch careful not to fall into the trap of allowing correlation to imply causality here. This segment of the electorate would not contemplate voting for Hillary Clinton either…

or John Edwards…

… or any other candidate put forward by the Democratic Party, because they are committed Republicans. And, as such, their racism is to a considerable extent incidental to their political beliefs in determining their voting intentions.

On the other hand, if what we’re talking about here are those states with laws that disenfranchise ex-felons to varying degrees, then you may well be on to something.

Current estimates suggest that around 5.3 million American have currently, and in some states permanently, lost the right to vote due to having a felony conviction.

This includes those currently in prison, naturally enough, but in two states all ex-felons are permanently disenfranchised even after completing their sentence in full, nine more disenfranchise certain categories of offenders and/or permit the restoration of voting rights by application but only after a set waiting period (typically from 2-5 years after release), and the process they have to go through to regain the vote is notoriously slow and bureaucratic to the point that relatively few ex-offenders are able to take advantage of them. To add to that, 35 States disenfranchise felons during the period of their release on parole and 30 of these also disenfranchise those who are ‘lucky’ and are sentenced only to probation as a result of committing minor felony offences.

Felony disenfranchisement disproportionately affects poor communities and, within that, black communities. The current estimate is that 1.4 million black men (13% of the adult population) are either temporarily or permanently disenfranchised. These are, as is well known, a substantial portion of the Democratic Party’s core vote – poorer communities, that is, not just ex-felons, such that these laws do have a disproportionate effect on the party’s electoral prospects.

However, if one is talking of the Democratic Primaries that will select their chosen contender for the Presidency, then the ‘Black vote’ is a significant factor in the equation as a black man, Obama does start out with something of an edge over his rivals. It’s not certain, by any means, that he will successfully capture the black vote but, by comparison to his rivals, that vote could reasonably be argued to be his to lose rather than theirs’ to gain.

There is, it seems, a critical mass of white people out there who does not simply loathe what a black person might say, but who hates the idea that they have a voice at all.

The problem is not confined solely to race. And as ever it is the work of a tiny minority. But a very vocal and belligerent one.

So there is a critical mass and tiny minority at the same time? Do make your mind up will you.

And somehow their numbers are amplified on the internet, where people hide behind anonymity in a medium for the time being dominated by white men.


There’s no somehow about it. Some of this comes down to mere sockpuppetry, but much of it stems simply from the fact that the internet is a global medium that makes things like the aforementioned CBS articles widely accessible to a mass audience, allowing a small number of otherwise widely spread arseholes to easily gather in a single location and run their mouths of to their hearts’ content.

The result is a curious and irritating form of white noise – a ribald gabfest in which either black people in general or a specific black person in particular become the target for considerable animus.

A “curious and irritating form of white noise” – oh very droll. Irrelevant but droll?

Despite stellar individual contributions the standard of these conversations only occasionally rises above those you might overhear in a pub. The difference is you chose who you talk to in a pub.

And you choose who you read on the internet, and CBS and other site owners also get to choose how can and can’t use their websites as a platform for their opinions, so your point is?

As seems to a common theme amongst the commentariat of late, the medium is being blamed for the message.

It is function of life that in every community there is small proportion of people who are complete twats, and it, therefore, follows logically that the bigger the community you’re dealing with the more twats you have to contend with, in terms of raw numbers, even if the decent person to twat ratio stays the same.

The internet is not a ‘fulcrum for hatred of black people’ just a means by which this particular foul-minded minority can collect together in certain locations and publicly vent their collective spleens. There is no more or less racism in the world since the development of the internet, its simply that the internet makes it that bit more visible.

The pub table analogy is a fatuous one, in this case. The fact that a journalist sitting in his office cannot see the racist pub bore in residence holding forth does not mean that the pub bore does not exist. He might as well try and suggest that trees fall silently in the forest when there’s no one around to hear them.

Obama has done well to simply parry these comments and get on with his campaign. But he can only do this for so long.

Why parry them? Why not simply treat them with the contempt they deserve and ignore them?

For these remarks do not come in isolation. Some push the boat out and make threats, creating a sense of siege that has a real effect.

Now that is a different matter, but then threats may come in many different ways.

One cannot ignore threats of violence but the very nature of the Internet, that it makes possible an immediacy of response not found easily in other mediums, does suggest that the vast majority of ‘threats’ uttered on-line will amount to nothing more than bullshit.

The internet is, for some, a ‘fire-and-forget’ medium that allows them to run off at the mouth without first engaging the brain and shoot off a comment or remark with considering precisely what they are saying or the impression their remarks might create. In that, threats issued on-line, while they can never be entirely discounted, are considerably more likely to amount to nothing when compared to, say, an anonymous letter, which necessitates that the author goes about the making of their threat with a measure of deliberate intent – although the precise intent may still be highly variable as most such threats turn out to be hoaxes designed to provoke a reaction rather than clear indications that the author intends violence – Assassins rarely, if ever, advertise their intentions before the fact precisely because the heighten security that would engender would make their ‘task’ considerably more difficult to pull-off.

It was Alma Powell who convinced her husband Colin not to run for president back in the 1990s, for fear of assassination. Now comes news that Obama has secret service protection. I wonder why that would be?

Possibly because he’s received a few threats from right-wing racist nutjobs which the security services have, as yet, been able to trace to source and assess for any real prospect of danger.

Or, equally possibly, because US security services have obtained intelligence from sources that are entirely unconnected with any of the on-line chatter, which suggests that there may be a real threat.

Who can say for sure?

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