10:35 a.m. September 9, 2013

Bloomberg's Racist Swan Song

Hearing Michael Bloomberg decry alleged racism is a bit like hearing Paula Deen do the same - you want to believe the righteous rhetoric is sincere, but then the facts get in the way.

Unlike Deen, New York's term-limited mayor didn't decry charges of bigotry after dropping the "N word". Instead, Bloomberg this weekend slammed mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio's campaign as "racist" right as Bloomberg was continuing to construct one of the most institutionally bigoted municipal governments in 21st century America. Worse, Bloomberg's seemingly righteous comments ended up reinforcing rather than challenging the most insidious form of racism of all - the kind that resurrects the ugliest and most discredited race-baiting of modern political history.

Bloomberg's comments (which he later tried to amend) came in an interview with New York magazine just a few days before the city's Democratic voters choose their mayoral candidate to replace him. Criticizing de Blasio's ads about rising economic inequality in the Big Apple, the billionaire mayor said the spots were "racist" not because they say something prejudiced or endorse bigoted policies, but because they include de Blasio's African American wife and bi-racial children. That's it. This, the mayor asserted, is "racist" because it allegedly constitutes "making an appeal using his family to gain support" in the African American community in the same supposedly racist way it would be to "point out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote."

Forget for a moment that in 2001 and 2005 Bloomberg did exactly what he ostensibly decries. Forget, too, that Bloomberg's racial-preference theory insults New York City's two million African Americans by implying they are so stupid, mindless and uninformed that they will vote for a mayoral candidate simply because they see a TV commercial showing that the candidate's wife and children happen to be people of color. Instead, focus on Bloomberg's resurrection of the old political talking points that claim A) blackness provides unfair political advantages and that B) blackness, unto itself, is racist.

The former meme can be seen in the mayor's claim that de Blasio is surging in the polls, in part, because his African American family members are helping him unduly "gain support." The idea here is that de Blasio derives an unfair advantage over other candidates just because he has familial connection to African Americans.

Such a line, of course, traces its roots to the coded politics of white resentment that first emerged during and after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Back then, conservative crusades against affirmative action and "welfare queens" told a whole generation of whites that they were the real victim of racism and that black people weren't oppressed all. On the contrary, the white resentment crusade cast African Americans as lazy, dishonest or otherwise unworthy undesirables living a high life of privilege - one that supposedly came at the expense of the earnest, hard-working and virtuous white dude.

Any honest analysis of economic and electoral data shows this white resentment narrative to be patently absurd. As Barack Obama put it, "Anybody who knows the history of this country I think would not take too seriously the notion that (being black) has been a huge advantage." And yet, the white resentment narrative lives on - especially in politics.

Recall that only a few years before Bloomberg's recent comment, other famous New York politicians channeled the same white rage. Yes, back in 2008, former U.S. Rep Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY) claimed Obama was succeeding primarily because he is black. That came only months before New York U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign deployed Bill Clinton to repeatedly imply that Obama's pivotal South Carolina primary win was purely a product of his racial advantage. Now we get Bloomberg implying that a de Blasio win will happen because he was unfairly advantaged by his connection to black folk. It's the same ballad of white resentment - just playing in a different election.

It's that same familiar tune, too, in Bloomberg's suggestion that de Blasio merely showing black people on TV is, unto itself, a bigoted race play. The insinuation is that regardless of what they say or stand for or do, African Americans in any political context automatically exude divisive and unacceptably racialized messages. In other words, Bloomberg is forwarding the age-old political trope that says simply being black is synonymous with promoting prejudice against whites.

Again, a look back to reminds us that we've seen this before. Back in 2008, for example, the Clinton campaign tried to frame Obama as "the black candidate" - with the attendant insinuation that by virtue of him being African American, he automatically carries an unacceptably racialized message. Clinton also told Democratic primary voters to support her because she claimed Obama didn't have solid "support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans" - the idea being that a "black candidate" was too inherently racial.

Once Obama was elected president, the right took up that same rhetoric against him - only with an even sharper edge. Radio host Glenn Beck, for instance, pointed to Obama's anti-racial-profiling statement as proof that Obama is a "racist" who exudes a "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." Citing absolutely no substantive evidence, Rush Limbaugh similarly said: "How do you get promoted in a Barack Obama administration? By hating white people." Likewise, right-wing media voices said much the same and worse about Obama when the president merely mentioned that he is of the same race as Trayvon Martin.

In each of those cases and others, Obama has been portrayed as a racist or an unacceptably racializing force simply because he happens to be a black person. Now, in New York, Bloomberg is going a step beyond even that by pushing the same ugly argument about a mayoral candidate's family. He is claiming that their blackness alone - not their words, not the content of their character - automatically makes their image on television an image of bigotry.

As noted before, Bloomberg has worked hard to create one of the most institutionally racist governments in America. He is the mayor who champions the so-called "stop and frisk" program that disproportionately targets non-whites. He is the mayor who arrests African Americans on marijuana charges at four times the rate of whites. He is the mayor who responds to criticism of his racist police policies by calling for fewer white people to be detained by the NYPD and even more punitive law enforcement techniques aimed at minority communities. And he is the mayor who proudly uses his police force as the CIA's instrument to surveil his city's Muslim population on the basis of their religion.

Considering that bigoted record, it is hardly surprising that the same mayor would finish out his term portraying blackness alone as unacceptably offensive or "racist" toward whites. What is surprising is that even after such bigotry has been so thoroughly vanquished at the polls, Bloomberg is still expressing it in public and in such overt fashion.

Perhaps that is the best proof that for all the speculation about a future Bloomberg presidential run, he doesn't have any aspirations for higher office. After all, if he did harbor such aspirations in an increasingly diverse America, you would think he would probably try to do a better job of hiding his true feelings about people of color.