Hey folks! Remember that time that Clint Eastwood did something hilarious?
Clint Eastwood did end up stealing the show at Mitt Romney’s formal appointment as his party’s choice for the US presidential election but perhaps not in the way he or the candidate would have wanted.
The 82-year-old’s rambling gravel-voiced conversation with an empty chair – supposedly supporting an invisible Barack Obama – proved a bizarre and confusing warm-up act for Romney.
“Mr President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them? I mean, what do you say to people?” he asked. He berated Obama for not learning from the Russian experience in invading Afghanistan. It was George W Bush who ordered US troops into the country.
For your convenience, the word “hilarious” has been temporarily redefined to mean “sad and pathetically embarrassing”. Eastwood, in a fit of improvisational zeal, decided that it would be an effective strategy to bring out an empty chair to symbolize the President and then have a one-sided conversation with him/it in front of an international audience. Columnist Jamelle Bouie noted that the image of an old white man angrily lecturing an imaginary Obama was a perfect encapsulation of the entire Republican election process.
So that happened, and it was weird, and after a couple of weeks we all just kind of moved on from it. Well… almost all of us:
A Republican man in Austin, Texas this week lynched a chair which many are interpreting to be a threat against President Barack Obama because of Clint Eastwood’s bizarre speech at the Republican National Convention last month.
“We have a sad and awful history of white people lynching African-Americans in Texas, and this history is exactly what this Republican’s front yard display taps into,” the Burnt Orange Report’s Katherine Haenschen, who obtained a photo of the lynching, wrote on Wednesday.
There are too many things to say here about how powerful this simple statement is, and there is no way I am going to do them all justice but I will try to hit some of the high notes very briefly.
- For this to occur in Texas has a very storied history. Lynchings were used as a tool of not only violence but of political suppression as well (more on that in a second). To give any credence to the explanation offered by Bud Johnson and his defenders that this is anything other than a violent racist statement, it is necessary to be completely (and some would argue, myself included, willfully) ignorant of Texas history.
- The case that this was not an intentionally-racist act becomes harder to make when you consider that a similar event happened in Virginia, where the racism and the target was much more overt.
- This symbol is a direct nod to efforts to suppress black political involvement in years past. The “uppity niggers” were lynched not for any actual crime, but simply for expressing a desire to enjoy the full measure of their human dignity, including participation in political life. It is important to note that Texas Republicans recently took part in an effort to suppress the black vote through legislative means – an attempt that was blocked by the Voting Rights Act specifically on the grounds that Texas was too racist to be allowed to amend its own voting laws without the federal government’s okay.
- I don’t think it would be unreasonable to connect the dots from this particular act to a statement threatening black Texans. This isn’t simply a protest against a president’s policies; this is a strongly-implied threat to all black people who would try to exercise political power: step out of line and we’ll string your black ass up. It should be investigated as a hate crime, since the impact goes far beyond the mere act itself.
- This is perhaps a perfect example of how privilege can manifest itself along orthogonal axises. Bud Johnson has little political or economic power – essentially zero when compared to the president of the United States. But what he can do is take part in a heritage that allows him to delegitimize black political power – a heritage of American white supremacy. It is a power that every white person, no matter how lowly they might be in other power dynamics (education, wealth, class, political power, etc.) can exercise over any black person. I know of no corresponding anti-white symbol that can raise the same spectres that lynching does, and it is not the only white supremacist symbol with this power.
When I first started this blog, I coined the phrase “forces of stupid” to describe a pattern of lazy cognition and, to be reductively blunt, idiotic decision-making that is a result of it. I can think of no illustration more perfect than the follow-up to this story:
“I’m not a racist,” Bud Johnson told KEYE-TV Friday while untying the chair from a tree. “I don’t dislike any race.”
Johnson, who also threatened to attack the station’s cameraman, also complained about being harassed for hanging the chair, saying it was “the only place [he] had to put the damn thing.” He said he hung it on the tree because he wanted to cut the grass on the lawn.
According to Burnt Orange Report, Johnson added an American flag to the hung chair Wednesday, fueling the perception that the chair was meant to symbolize President Barack Obama.
It’s got all the elements: the denial of being “a racist” in the face of a clearly racist action, an excuse so flimsy that it beggars belief that one would even offer it up (it was a folding chair, incidentally – also, chairs can be moved around while cutting grass – also, it’s more effort to hang a chair from a tree than to move it to your porch), and then an action that undermines the credibility even of that crappy excuse. This is a man who desperately wishes to avoid the necessary conclusions of his actions, and the consequences thereof. This is typical of those who use racist symbols and “code” (although one could argue that this is barely coded at all), and yet it is apparently black people that lack a sense of “personal responsibility”.
It’s otter time.
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