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David Sirota
David Sirota
25 Sep 2015
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11 Sep 2015
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Our Selective Definition of Bigotry


If they have any value at all anymore, presidential election campaigns at least remain larger-than-life mirrors reflecting back painful truths about our society. As evidence, ponder the two-sided debate over Republican candidate Ron Paul and bigotry.

One camp cites Paul's hate-filled newsletters and his libertarian opposition to civil rights regulations as evidence that he aligns with racists. As the esteemed scholar Tim Wise puts it, this part of Paul's record proves that he represents "the reactionary, white supremacist, Social Darwinists of this culture, who believe ... the police who dragged sit-in protesters off soda fountain stools for trespassing on a white man's property were justified in doing so, and that the freedom of department store owners to refuse to let black people try on clothes in their dressing rooms was more sacrosanct than the right of black people to be treated like human beings."

The other camp tends to acknowledge those ugly truths about Paul but then points out that the Texas congressman has been one of the only politicians 1) fighting surveillance, indefinite detention and due-process-free assassination policies almost exclusively aimed at minorities; 2) opposing wars that often seem motivated by rank Islamophobia; and 3) railing against the bigotry of a drug war that disproportionately targets people of color.

Summarizing this part of Paul's record, the Atlantic Monthly's Conor Friedersdorf has written: "When it comes to America's most racist or racially fraught policies" affecting the world today, "Paul is arguably on the right side of all of them (while) his opponents are often on the wrong side."

So which side is right? Both of them. And thanks to that powerful oxymoron, Paul has become a mirror reflecting back our own problematic biases. Specifically, his candidacy is showing that the conventional definition of intolerable bigotry is disturbingly narrow — and embarrassingly selective.

This reality is best demonstrated by those voters who say they detest Paul not because of his extreme economic ideas but because they feel his record represents an unacceptable form of racism.

These folks will likely tell you that their alleged commitment to policies promoting racial equality has moved them to support Mitt Romney or Barack Obama — politicians who, of course, support bigoted civil-liberties atrocities, Islamophobic foreign invasions and a racist drug war.

In making such a choice, then, these voters are tacitly embracing the definition of unacceptable bigotry as only hate speech (Paul's newsletters) and opposition to civil-rights laws (Paul's odious position) but not also various forms of institutional bigotry that their favored candidates support and that Paul has fought to end. Incredibly, this selective definition asks us to ignore many of the most destructive tenets of what legal scholar Michelle Alexander's celebrated book calls "the new Jim Crow." And yet, as the reaction to Paul proves, it is precisely this definition that pervades so much of American society.

To be clear: Noting this hypocrisy is not meant to urge a vote for Paul (I'm not a Paul supporter), nor does it absolve those Paul fans who wholly ignore the objectionable parts of their candidate's record on race. Instead, it is simply meant to argue that if we're going to have a long overdue discussion about bigotry, then let's have an honest conversation about all forms of bigotry — not our current talking-points-driven screamfest that rightly criticizes one kind of prejudice but wrongly tolerates other forms of prejudice that are often just as destructive.

Perpetuating that kind of naked bait-and-switchery may help one set of candidates and hurt another in a given presidential campaign, but it does nothing to advance the cause of equality in America.

David Sirota is best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. Email him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at



2 Comments | Post Comment
The problem with left-leaning supporters of Paul is that they are only looking at his position and not thinking about the reasons behind them. Just because he is against the so-called "drug war" doesn't make him any less a racist. He isn't motivated to remove racism from our system; he isn't motivated to take the moral or socially just positions. His policies come from a very bad place, they just happen in some cases to be the same positions as those on the left. He is only motivated by his hatred of anything from our government. That makes him very dangerous to our society and I really don't get why so many progressives/liberals support him. He is NOT the opposite of the corporatist establishment politicians like Obama, Romney, Gingrich, ... He's very much of the 1% and not the 99%. A vote for Paul is still a vote for the 1%.
Comment: #1
Posted by: A Smith
Tue Jan 24, 2012 8:29 AM
Tocthe above post, your implication that Paul is part of the 1% is unfounded, please backcup your opinion with facts. Paul,s top donors to his campaign come from individuals serving active duty from the U.S. Navy, Airforce and Army. The other candidates top donors are mega corporations and goldman sachs. Now, who do the 99% support?
As to the article and the issue of racism, Paul is the only candidate that views African Americans as sovereign individuals, not as Federal citizens. The newsletter issue is such a tempest in a teapot. Eight to ten sentances(out of how many issues, how many thousands of paragraphs?) Twenty year old newsletters, that Paul did not write. Yes, it branded his name and he should have read them, but he was kind of busy actually reading the legislation presented to him in Congess (wish more of his peers in DC would do the same) and delivering babies on Mondays and Saturdays.
Paul looks at people as Individuals, not as a collective. That viewpoint is anything but racist.
Comment: #2
Posted by: samakya
Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:04 AM
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