Rupert Murdoch's Crazy Tweet Proves He Knows Nothing About Blackness
Murdoch stuck his foot in his mouth recently with a tweet that claimed Republican Ben Carson is blacker than President Barack Obama.
Photo by Wiki Commons user David Shankbone
This article originally appeared on VICE US
Rupert Murdoch is into tweeting. He's the 84-year-old billionaire executive chairman of NewsCorp, which makes him the head of Fox News and many conservative-leaning newspapers in America and abroad, including the Wall Street Journal. [Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 5 percent stake in VICE Media.] He tweets in such a breezy, folksy style, that it's certain he writes his own. It offers him a chance to shoot from the hip about whatever's on his mind. What could possibly go right? Not much when he tweeted this:
What on God's Earth is the Australian trying to say? The first sentence is perfectly clear and unobjectionable, but that second sentence is really vexing. A smart man once said, "Do not seek to be understood, seek to not be misunderstood." That's a higher bar and Murdoch has not cleared it. The first real roadblock to comprehending his real meaning is that overused and oft vague word real. What does it modify in this sentence? Does it modify "black" or "president" or "black president"? Murdoch has already apologized for the tweet, but I'm not looking for mea culpas, I'm looking for claritas, which is Latin for clarity. What exactly is he apologizing for?
If "real" modifies "black," then Murdoch is saying Obama is not a real black person. Can Murdoch possibly be passing judgment on Obama's blackness and calling him an Oreo? The notion that Obama isn't a real black person means either he's a fake or fictional person, or that he isn't a standard, stereotypical, urban, working class, undereducated, hyper-street smart black person. He isn't from Hollywood central casting. He isn't a lazy white person's image of a black person. He's someone who challenges white people's perceptions of what a black person is.
In my 2011 book Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means To Be Black Now, I explored the vast diversity of portrayals of blackness, the infinite number of ways to perform blackness (I say perform because all personalities are a performance). To put blacks (or women or gays or Latinos) in a box and say there are real or authentic performances of that identity and then there are inauthentic (or surreal?) performances of that identity is reductive. It reduces me to performing an expected stereotype or risk giving up my blackness. It means I have to bow to Hollywood's narrow vision of a black person or act as if I've had a world of experiences that have let me grow beyond that two dimensional stereotype. And I refuse to choose. I want both. I am still a real and authentic black person even when I'm walking out of a yoga class in Paris on my way to eat gluten-free Danishes and discuss the new Jon Franzen novel.
Blackness is not fragile, it's not lost or damaged or put at risk by non-stereotypical experiences. Some seem to think blackness is as perishable as milk and the hood is the refrigerator and the longer that milk strays from the fridge the more spoiled it gets. No way. My blackness is sturdy and strong.
Maybe Murdoch meant for "real" to modify both "black" and "president." The subsequent phrase is "who can properly address the racial divide." This is another example of the right blaming Obama for not fixing race in America. Of course, this is not something a single human being could do—even an extraordinary one. America's racial problems are about institutional structures that perpetuate generations-old racial inequalities in schooling, criminal justice, job opportunities, wealth acquisition, and more. It's an all pervasive matrix that shapes black and white lives.
It's true that Obama has not dismantled white supremacy, but the right holding that up as evidence of him failing is proof that the right has set a standard for him that is unattainable. The previous 43 presidents also did not end white supremacy, but maybe Murdoch doesn't think that should be part of their job because they were white? Plus, the hypocrisy of white people criticizing Obama for not doing enough for blacks is hysterical. Obama has tried to change our criminal justice system's approach to racial inequity and used the DOJ to police the police and the assault on the voting rights act and used Obamacare to increase black access to health care. But the very question of what has Obama done for blacks is silly and reductive (yes, that word again), unless we're going to go through all of the presidents and assess what they did for black people.
If Murdoch's critique is that interpersonal racial unrest is now more palpable to him, well, the reason for that does not lie with Obama. There is a vocal fringe within America that sees equality as the enemy. And where is their political home? The overwhelming majority of Republicans are not racist, but the racist contingent is welcome in that party even after they say bigoted things in public like the Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson or Cliven Bundy or Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter or Congressman Steve King or Donald Trump. Republicans who wish to see movement toward racial healing should push racists and xenophobes and homophobes out of the party rather than heartily embracing them.
Truth be told, I see nothing in Carson's statements that prove that he's ready for the presidency at all. Yes, he's a brilliant, surgeon. But what does that past have to do with politics?
The other part of Murdoch's tweet that I don't understand is his notion that Ben Carson would deliver for black people where Obama can't or won't. I see nothing in Carson's statements that suggest he's advocating policies that supports that notion.
Truth be told, I see nothing in Carson's statements that prove that he's ready for the presidency at all. Yes, he's a brilliant, legendary, innovative surgeon. Stipulated. But what does that past have to do with politics? As David Axelrod, who helped run Obama's campaigns, said, "Politics ain't brain surgery. It's harder."
The core argument underlying Carson's candidacy is that he was a great surgeon, so he can be president. But that's not logical. Carson repeatedly stuffs his foot in his mouth proving him unfit for the highest job. He has said Obamacare "is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government." That misunderstands slavery, government, Obamacare, and the meaning of subservience. He said "9/11 is an isolated incident," which bizarrely removes it from decades of struggle with Middle Eastern extremists. He has said, "A lot of people who go into prison, [they go in] straight and when they come out, they're gay." I just can't get with that. It's nonsense.
Recently, in response to the mass shooting in Oregon, he said, "Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say: 'Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me, but he can't get us all!'" That's called victim blaming and it's incredibly disrespectful to all those who were there. Is he really saying that if only those people had had more courage they would've survived? And he would've had that courage when a crazy person is pointing a gun at him? Does he know that an army veteran was there and tried to attack the gunman and was shot several times? I could go on because Carson has again and again shown a weak grasp of so many of the core concepts necessary to be president. As Joan Walsh of the Nation said, "On guns, he's a neurosurgeon who seems like he's performed his own lobotomy." I wonder if she considered removing the first phrase.
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