Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Hussein," Premediation, Virtual Racism

PBS news anchor Ray Suarez has recently claimed that "religion has become a proxy for race" in the presidential campaign, with the invocation of Barack Obama's middle name serving to rekindle doubts about his faith, to paint him as a Muslim.  Suarez points out that the "pseudo controversies" about Obama's background are representative of a "racial calculus" at work.

As I suggested yesterday, this racial calculus can be understood as a kind of premediated virtual racism, which works not by making an explicitly racist claim at the moment of utterance but by premediating racist doubts about Obama that will come to the fore in the voting booth on November 4.  In the past couple of days two Republican surrogates have referred to "Barack Hussein Obama" in introducing Palin or McCain.  In each of these instances, I would maintain, it is no accident that Obama's middle name is employed in the context of a mention of the date of the election.  

Before Sarah Palin appeared at a rally in Estero, Fla., on Tuesday, one of the speakers introducing her used Obama’s middle name in the context of Election Day. “On Nov. 4,” yelled fully uniformed Lee County (Fla.) Sheriff Mike Scott, “let’s leave Barack Hussein Obama wondering what happened!”

The next day, William Platt, the local GOP chairman in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, introduced McCain at a Lehigh University rally. The gist of his comment, which reporters weren't able to tape because they were entering the venue as he was speaking, was: "Imagine if you woke up on November 5th and Barack Obama - Barack Hussein Obama - was our new president, and you knew you could have volunteered to prevent it."  Here premediating Obama's election is meant as a form of electoral preemption, urging McCain supporters to act preemptively to prevent Obama's election.

These will not be the last premediations of virtual racism that we see in the days and weeks leading up to the election.  And, as McCain's "That One" remark at the debate attests, the racism may become more and more explicit as November 4 approaches.  But in all of these cases, what is telling is that they are oriented towards the future, premediating the fearful prospect of waking up on November 5 to the election of Barrack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

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