When Sarah Palin first appeared on TV, my goldfish Eddie started swimming upside down. That was my first clue. Eddie has a way of predicting disasters. When the disturbing accounts of her governing style and decision-making process started to trickle in, he started doing inverted circles. When she gave her speech last week, he disappeared into his plastic underwater castle. I didn’t know how to read that. But Eddie and I are instinct-driven animals, and it appears both of us spent the past week trying to articulate something we already knew.
When I first laid eyes on Sarah, I felt like I recognized her. I couldn’t place it at first, but then I read her comment on Obama and it all came together. It was like that Bruce Willis movie where you find out he was a ghost the whole time. Suddenly it was obvious. I knew why I recognized Sarah Palin. She’s a racist.
Don’t get all up in arms, fellow GOP brothers and sisters. You know it to be true. You’ve seen this woman before. You’ve heard those “humorous” asides that reveal her true nature. This is the kind of racist who doesn’t even consider herself a racist because the gap between black and white is so obvious to her, the bell curve so steep, she’s just “telling it like it is”.
I’ve met white people like this. Not at my church, but at my friend Randall’s. “HooRandy” lives in California, somewhere near Disneyland. On a business trip to San Diego last spring, I drove up to HooRand’s on a Saturday night and we had dinner at some Brazilian joint that pretty much rapes you with food and drink. The next morning, hangover notwithstanding, HooRand took me to a church that was all glass and crystal and the size of a football stadium. The pastor wore a Hawaiian shirt and had a backup band. It was a good enough sermon, maybe a bit too focused on Jesus’ power to bring “riches and prosperity” to his followers. Afterwards we had refreshments. People were talking life, family and politics. I watched and listened. And I knew at that moment, back at my apartment halfway across the country, Eddie was swimming upside down. These people were mind-numbingly racist. Not angry racists, mind you. But happy, laughing racists. Proud, jolly racists. I heard one guy make a crack that Barack Obama would be “shining shoes in the White House” if he won the presidency. Then I watched about 8 people around him laugh (without caring that HooRand and I were standing five feet away). It was nothing short of shocking.
But then, the folks there seemed to love HooRand, his wife and his kids. It was not the kind of cartoonish hatred that you see in racists on TV. It was a very natural, relaxed racism. It was the Casual Friday of racism. Good Christian people just hanging out, loving Jesus and making fun of the uppity blacks.
On the drive home, HooRand made no excuses. He was fully aware of the blinding ignorance and sweltering racism that went down in his glass church every Sunday. But he felt a responsibility to show these people how a black family can love Jesus every bit as much as they do. I found his resignation both honorable and sad. But that’s HooRand for you.
When I read this week that Sarah Palin often calls the native peoples of her state “Alaskan Arabs” and that she referred to Barack Obama as “Sambo”, I was not shocked. I know where she’d go to church if she lived in Southern California. She reminded me of those jolly racists. Pretty, witty and poised, with a sharpness to her smile while spewing the most backwards redneck bile you can imagine, coated with spun sugar.
So where does that leave me? I feel the same way about my party as HooRand felt about his glass church. I’m here because I want my fellow Republicans to see that it’s possible for a black man to love America every bit as much as they do. And maybe if they see that, they’ll realize that their jolly racism doesn’t even represent the way they actually feel about black people. It’s a residue, leftover from their parents, and it can be cleansed if conservative leaders appeal to the better side of their nature instead of encouraging the worst.
I have made no secret of my gut feeling that Sarah Palin is not the best choice for the party. Good Christian Racism should not be mass-marketed, and she’s the best example we’ve seen in the public square for some time. But Sarah Palin’s racism makes her a prime candidate to change the way her fellow Republicans think. As her world experience grows, her views will naturally evolve. And she can inspire millions to leave that old country club nastiness-with-a-smile where it belongs: in the past.
So Sarah, take this opportunity to delete the word “Sambo” from your vocabulary and lead this party to a better place. That’s what leaders do.