In a recent interview with former President Bush who is promoting a new book or something, he was asked about the most difficult part of being in office. His response?
“The suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low,” Mr. Bush told a surprised Matt Lauer on NBC on Monday night.
“I didn’t appreciate it then; I don’t appreciate it now,” he added fiercely. “I resent it, it’s not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency.”
Not the thousands of lives lost in the Iraq War or in New York on 9/11. Not seeing the economy take the fast train to the dumps. And not any of the other really difficult times of the 8 years in his Presidency.
Perhaps this tells us something about Bush’s unwillingness to admit mistakes and take responsibility for the many challenges the American people face during his administration and into the current moment.
More so, I think, however it’s about the truly impossible reality of race in America today. We have managed to demonize racism so fully that we are unable to have conversations about race. We are so convinced that by electing Barack Obama we transcended into a post-racial utopia, that any mention of the real and persistent existence of racism feels like a personal attack.
Bush didn’t say that what happened in New Orleans after Katrina (or his role in it)- the displacement, the death, the poverty and the inequitable distribution of resources which persist today- were disgusting. Merely that being called out was disgusting.
In a society where authentic conversations about race and racism are almost impossible, Bush’s reaction to the accusation of racism is really telling.
In order to fight racism, especially for those of us with white privilege, we can’t linger in resentment and guilt. We can not take it personally when the real and actual manifestations of a racist history and present are pointed out. And when seeing racism and oppression make us feel “low,” we need to transform that emotion into fuel for the long, hard work of fighting racism.
Suggested reading: Colorblind by Tim Wise.