I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life. For instance, it was not George A. Custer who was attacked at the Little Bighorn. It was Custer — in a bad career move — who attacked the Indians. Much more important, slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.I was gonna let this one sail over the plate, because, really, I don't want to be petty, but if you're taking your history from Gone With the Wind, I think that means you are, by statute, legally incompetent to handle your own affairs.
Steve McQueen’s stunning movie “12 Years a Slave” is one of those unlearning experiences. I had to wonder why I could not recall another time when I was so shockingly confronted by the sheer barbarity of American slavery. Instead, beginning with school, I got a gauzy version. I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people — fellow Americans, after all — and the sadistic Simon Legree was the concoction of that demented propagandist, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a lie and she never — and this I remember clearly being told — had ventured south to see slavery for herself. I felt some relief at that because it meant that Tom had not been flogged to death.
(I mean, come on, did Cohen sleep through Roots? Gimme a break,it ran eight nights, had two sequels and the book was everywhere in the Seventies.)
And certainly Cohen's column today does nothing to disabuse me of this opinion:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.Now, leave aside whether you think Cohen is accurately capturing the Tea Party's attitude, but how is the attitude described in the quote anything but racist? Newsflash: If interracial couples make a person "gag"--Cohen's choice of words, not mine--of course, that is a racist response. I mean what's the benign explanation of that? (Also, the gratuitous sneer at Chirlane McCray? Not cool, and not dispelling the charge of racism.)
And the fact that Cohen attributes this gag reflex to "conventional attitudes," in the course of a paragraph explaining that the people he is describing are not racist clearly implies that he thinks the attitude is not racist, his patently unconvincing denial of the fact notwithstanding.
Dodo birds were famous for being so stupid that they would drown in the rain. They are widely believed to be extinct, except, of course, in the carefully constructed habitat at the WaPo.