Jimmy So, CBS News, July 25, 2010
Sensational accusations of racism propagated by the far-right are depriving America of the chance to talk about more substantial issues like poverty and education, prominent racial scholars said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“The Obama administration has been intimidated by the far-right wing, which is addicted to a kind of paranoia of race that then leads to paralyzing racial conversation,” Rev. Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and an author of many books on African-American issues, said. “There’s no word from the White House that’s positive about the issue of race.”
He added that the Tea Party movement has subjected President Barack Obama to absurd scrutiny over his birth certificate and portraying him “as an African witch doctor,” and that the far-right is an opposition that has “no interest in principled dialogue.”
But Abigail Thernstrom, the vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, disagreed with Dyson’s view of the Tea Party.
“A Gallup poll has shown the Tea Party movement is completely representative of America,” Thernstrom pointed out.
Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund backed Thernstrom’s view by quoting one of her predecessors, Mary Frances Berry, former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under President Bill Clinton. Berry, who is now a sociology and history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, had said in an online discussion on Politico that “tainting the tea party movement with the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for Democrats. There is no evidence that tea party adherents are any more racist than other Republicans, and indeed many other Americans. But getting them to spend their time purging their ranks and having candidates distance themselves should help Democrats win in November. Having one’s opponent rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness.”
But Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson–who in a piece this week called “Signs of Sanity from the Tea Party,” said that a lot of racial controversies show that “too many Americans are searching for excuses to justify their rage”–told host Bob Schieffer that the media is making it look like there’s a crisis of race “when in fact these are incidents in America.”
Dyson said the problem is that President Obama is not addressing the issue.
“I think the unfortunate reality is that there’s a kind of gag order imposed on the Obama White House when it comes to issues of race,” Dyson said. “There’s an understandable lamentation among the Obamanites that, look, we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into the corner of race, so to speak. But at the same time what is sacrificed is clear and decisive action on behalf of, I think, valuable principles of racial negotiation.”