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Racism Blindness in Van Jones Political Lynching

Submitted by News Desk on Wed, 09/16/2009 - 11:02am

White liberal leaders generally racismblind response to Van Jones’ political lynching bodes badly for next right wing wedge attack

My previous piece "Can white liberals keep their eye on the prize when racism comes a knockin?" (Firedoglake, TheRoot, Alternet) pointed out that while significant people of color groups including the NAACP and the Equal Justice Society released statements supporting former WH Green Jobs advisor Van Jones before his resignation, no major white green groups--Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, or Greenpeace--did (environmental online magazines Grist and Treehugger, and Campaign for America's Future's blogger notwithstanding). This, despite their heavy beltway-focused staffing, alleged connections to the administration and congress, and political expertise.

Many whites across the ideological spectrum truly have implicit bias when it comes to racism, causing racismblindness, or a "surprisingly high tolerance for racism." White liberals and white progressives seem to disagree with white conservatives and white neoconservatives only that white liberals and white progressive think it’s sometimes somewhat about racism, but not this time and not that much, whereas white conservatives and white neoconservatives say they don’t even see race, never mind racism.

Breaking stereotypes, it seems like the white green groups and other white lefties were on Caucasion time, because Sunday, after Van Jones resigned, several of them released statements. Let's evaluate a spattering of white green and other white lefty post-resignation responses to judge their racismblindness:

Racismblindness score: Hindsight, but still 20/20 vision

The best, most reflective and most humble of them all was Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope's We All Blew It. He articulated that the attacks on Van were racist, that they were coordinated, and took some blame for not taking seriously the ability of the right to prevent policy reform by fomenting racism. Sorry to quote at length, but as you'll see, it doesn't get any better than this from white liberals:

"Collectively we -- the environmental community, progressives, and the Obama administration -- blew this, and we let our cause, our president, and Van Jones down....This was a lynch mob and, when it started forming a month ago, we didn't take it seriously enough...Silence enabled Fox to keep pushing...What we underestimated was the power of the fact that both Jones and the Barack Obama are black. Yes, the hysteria was about politics -- I don't think Fox News really cares about Jones's ethnicity -- but it was enabled by race. Calling Bush a "crack-head" is seen by a large part of America as worse than calling him "addict-in-chief" because crack is not just a drug -- it is a drug used largely by black people. It reminds those Americans who are still uncomfortable with Barack Obama that we have a black president....But we shouldn't forgive either ourselves or the Administration if the next time we sense this happening we don't fight back harder, faster, and in a way that calls a mob a mob, racism racism, and an attack on the president an attack on America.

Racismblindness score: Good vision, but still tardy to the party
David Sirota's Taking the Movement Out of the Obama White House has as it's second point a section that included discussing the similarities between the right wing lynching mobs after Van Jones, and the lynch mobs in the Old South. Very good start. Then he comes back to "let's just be honest - the fact that the right chose to mount a
hysteria campaign specifically around an African American, Jones, was no coincidence."

Racismblindness score: Only wear glasses at night

Justin Ruben, Executive Director of MoveOn's statement also mentioned the political use of dog-whistle racism at play

"This should serve as a wake-up call to all reasonable people that the right wing politics of race-baiting, distortion, and hate—as practiced by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Republican Congressional leaders like Mike Pence--are a growing threat to the change America desperately needs." At least Justin mentions race-baiting.

But for many white liberals and progressives, even after Van resigned due to the right's orchestrated political lynching, racismblindness reared it's ugly head:

Racismblindness score: Please retest
Andy Stern, SEIU's brief tweet: "Van Jones deserved a more spirited defense. I underestimated the
traction of the attacks - and like the White House should have done more" Granted, 140 characters isn't enough to say much, but racist attacks is only 14 characters, and i don't think allocating 10% of a tweet about Van Jones resigning to the racism surrounding the attacks is too much to ask.

Racismblindness score; Bifocals just might help
The closest John Podesta, the President and CEO of Center for American Progress Action Fund could say about the attacks on Van was "Van’s chief tormentor Glenn Beck, who spent weeks engaged in vicious name-calling, retains his perch at Fox News after calling the president a racist who has “a deep-seated hatred for white people.”" Yes, Podesta could only refer to Beck calling Obama a racist, which he refers to as 'vicious name-calling.' There's quite a few problems with this--first, to be called a racist isn't 'name-calling,' you either are, and it's true, or it's not, and its a lie. Second, of course, while he transmits Beck's attack on Obama, he doesn't touch at all on a description of the attacks on Van.

Racismblindness score: Cokebottle glasses and contacts, just maybe

Michael Oko, NRDC's Federal Media Director notes, in Van Jones: Still A Hero, only noted that both Van and Obama are African-American leader(s), and that Beck "launched a vicious campaign...of nasty politics"

Racismblindness score: Call the truancy (or relevancy) police
Neither Greenpeace nor the Environmental Defense Fund, as of Sept 7th, had posted anything on their websites. Maybe they don't work weekends. Neither has the Apollo Alliance. Demos, where Van Jones is a board member, has also published no statement or releases.

Racismblindness score: What color seeing eye dog do you want?
Doug Henwood's Delusions on the left takes the cake:

So it’s looking like the buzz around the Internet left is that Van Jones’s ouster is all about race. No doubt that’s part of the story—but does anyone really think the reaction from the right would have been much different had Obama appointed a white ex-Maoist to the job? ...At what point will people stop blaming things like the failure of white green organizations to fight a racist attack and start admitting to Obama’s loyalty to the deep structure of American capitalism?

Rather than respond myself, I'll leave it to anti-racist white activist Tim Wise, from The Afrikaner Party Draws First Blood: Van Jones, Barack Obama and the Audacity of Capitulation

"(this) is what the attack on Van Jones is about: exploiting white fears and anxieties...if you think it's merely a coincidence that the right has sought to
make Jones such an issue--rather than some of the other administration officials they are now threatening to "expose" (two of whom are white)--then you haven't been paying attention to Republican and conservative politics for the past forty years."

In order to prevent the next political lynching, whether it uses racism, sexism, homophobia or national origin, all of the left will have to respond directly and forcefully to set the terms of debate, call out the fascist attacks that rend the soul of America for political gain, and just plain old play hardball. From now on these beltway groups will need to play hard, or their donors will need to invest elsewhere.