"Ah ha!" I heard myself shouting—inside. "White trash!"
Not like my "good" white friends, people I know personally. Not like white people who, for the mercy of knowing their politics, education or cultural preferences (e.g. conservatives who nevertheless listen to NPR) I would never think of thinking of "that way." Not the people with whom I worship the Lord who just happen to be white.
No, this was the pure racial/political "other," jumping in my face after some many months absence from the center ring of the American political circus.
It was just after the ovation for Sarah Palin's proud self-caricature of a hockey mom as pit-bull with lipstick died down during Wednesday's coming out speech.
So, now we all know the difference between a pit-bull and a hockey mom.
"What's the difference," I heard my worst self screaming, between a hockey mom and a soccer mom?
Michelle Obama could very well be a soccer mom, as I could be a soccer Dad. We hate pit-bulls. We shudder at the thought of our kids being caught up in hockey's uncouth culture of gratuitous violence. And like most Americans, didn't notice when the NHL went dark a few seasons ago.
(To be sure, we don't actually watch soccer when it comes on TV. But we want our kids playing it with the children of the "right kind" of neighbors.)
And mothers of a certain class and breeding, regardless of race or even wealth, would rather die than bring up a daughter that would rub spit on a baby sibling in public, much less on national TV.
In that moment, the Palins became a meme--a witting and utterly calculated meme in my opinion-- for the nemesis of everything the Obamas—that is to say me and my whole generation of black upwardly mobile professionals—have striven and sacrificed to stand for.
And in the same moment, I realized I'd swallowed the sucker bait, right along with (if the post-convention blather is even half-right) most of small town, red state America. Nixon's silent majority, especially in the South. Reagan's democrats.
Sarah Palin got me to see them as my enemy, again, and to call them a dirty name. If the RNC convention delegates, in their cowboy hats and other anti-New York-Chicago-Los Angeles regalia, hadn't been so passionate about chanting Obama was a zero, maybe I'd have seen Piper's move as cute, if a little tacky. But in that moment...all I want to do is dehumanize her and her family and lash out in return.
The call of Christ to love one another above and beyond mere politics went right out the window, for a minute.
It's just so easy to fill in the script, the implications in the spaces between Palin and Giuluani's lie lines. I could make a list, but emotionally--in the natural as Christians say--it comes down to this:
People like me are not entitled to rule over people like her. What we've achieved can always be pulled down and ground, if necessary, into the dust. Like the businesses, property and wealth of so many African-Americans throughout much of our history were pulled down when local white folks decided the Negroes (to be polite) had gotten a bit too uppity.
Especially in small towns in the very parts of America that are cheering the loudest for Palin-McCain.
I fell for it. But by God's grace I'm getting right back up, asking His forgiveness and standing on His promise to us again. I'm following the example of Obama, not so much because I'm for him but because I think it's Christ's example. It's not about framing an "other" to hate. It's about shining a light and inviting all who would freely do so to come...or go their own way in peace.
This kind of war isn't really about culture at all. It's the poison of race resentment that has always been infused into our politics at pivotal moments in our history. It's not like black people— or political liberals for that matter—can't dig hockey, country western music or guns. This is about something else that is always getting thrust between us.
And it's not one sided-as even my initial reaction —liberal, elite educated and Christian me—shows. There may well have been a great sigh of relief in parts of black America: the suspense over when the "real" white America would come roaring back was getting to great to bear.
Now the white folks to hate—and fear—have a face again.
And now the non-black "liberal elite," even more villified, ultimately, than Obama's blacks, has a punching bag for its own purposes. I can't speak for them, but my first reflex is always to cringe when I hear them demonize Sarah's people (usally locating them in the South) as white trash, or the equivalent. (See Ta-Nahesi Coates reflection on what they mean when they see the Palin's as "ghetto") They don't see the part they're playing in a game of divide and conquer whose rules were set generations ago and then hidden from view.
Few of us do see it. Unless you really know where to look.
God bless America, in spite of our most original and continuing sin.