The Age of Disrespect

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Bob Butler
July 6, 2011

Socialist. Muslim. Hussein. BO. Bambi.

These are all names that have been used to describe President Barack Obama by those who disagree with him and/or his policies.  The political discourse reached a new low last week when MSNBC senior political analyst and Time Magazine editor-at-large Mark Halperin called the President a vulgar, four-letter word that starts with D.

Mark HalperinHalperin was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program when host Joe Scarborough asked what he thought of the President’s speech. Before responding Halerpin asked if the “seven second” delay was on and then said he thought the President “was a ‘d*ck’ yesterday.”

Apologies came immediately from Halperin, host Scarborough and MSNBC, which also suspended him indefinitely. Time Magazine told him not to do it again.

Every president is criticized and called names. George W. Bush was called, among other things, dumb, Nazi, liar, and baby killer.

But an atmosphere now exists where some journalists feel it’s okay to use, directly or indirectly, Barack Obama’s race in their criticism.

The New Yorker 2008 This New Yorker Magazine cartoon during the 2008 election campaign displayed all the stereotypes that supposedly scared people about an Obama presidency.

He’s seen as a Muslim in the Oval Office giving what has been described as a “terrorist fist bump” to wife Michelle, dressed as a 1960’s Black militant.

Retired television journalist Barbara Rodgers said President Obama is subjected to more disrespect than any president before him. And the reason, she believes, is racism.

“I think that there is in this country a lot of unconscious racism,” she said. “The undercurrent is there’s not a Black man who is as smart as the White people who have been in office. And if you’re led to believe this man is not as smart as White men, than it’s okay to disrespect him.”

There are many people in the African American community who agree with that statement. There are many people who are not African American who would call her statement racist.

But there are many examples of journalists, or commentators, using racial code in their criticism of the President.

When Fox Business News and former commodities trader Eric Bolling was taking the President to task for lack of leadership on the economy, he criticized the President for inviting rapper Common to the White House and for “drinking 40’s” in Ireland.

A 40 is a slang term for a 40-ounce beer and supposedly favored by members of the hip-hop generation.

And you can’t forget the New York Post cartoon depicting the President as a chimpanzee being shot by police.

“The racial element is lurking in people's minds and it’s lurking in the media,” said Wayne Dawkins, assistant professor at the Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

But critics of the President – and the President himself – won’t admit that negative comments, not matter how inflammatory, have anything to do with race.

“It’s the third rail. (President) Obama is not going to go there. The first person who says there’s something racial is called a racist,” said Dawkins.

Rodgers said the lack of respect exists in conservative and mainstream media. She recalls watching Meet the Press one Sunday when (host) David Gregory talked about Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.

“He referred to President Clinton, President Bush and Obama. He did not refer to him as President Obama,” she said. “Just like the media refer to Michelle Obama as Michelle Obama and not the First Lady.”

Rodgers believes many people do not do this consciously but they’ve been conditioned to believe that African Americans –including the Obamas -- are not worthy of the respect.

“It’s all connected. It’s the same dynamic that makes it very easy for someone to yell “you lie” during State of the Union, which has never been done before.”




I'm not condoning the lack of respect for President Obama at all.  On the other hand, he has a casual, down-home style that might (and i'm not saying it should) fit into the African Americans' raucous, confrontational, insulting style I see at the local high school.  Fist bumping, dancing, calling constituents 'folks' 'brothers' etc. is ok with me, but do less conscious people pick up on this as a signal that they can be less formal, less respectful, if you will?  When black kids call each other and even non-black peers the n-word, why can't anyone use that word?  Our whole society has become less formal, less polite, less focused, less respectful of authority and it doesn't need to be a racial issue.

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