By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Playing on racial fears

Let’s see how many media outlets report on the speaker who angrily referred to President Obama as “Barack Hussein” (not even the typical “Barack Hussein Obama”) at this morning’s tea-party rally on the Boston Common — and on all the members of the audience who cheered. Not this one, unfortunately.

I won’t call it racism, but it’s certainly a case of playing on racial fears.

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  1. Lordy, Dan, when will you call any of the tea bagger’s rhetoric racist? You’re not the only person being overly cautious about calling some of this vitriolic barking racist. Isn’t speech that intentionally plays on racial fears racist?

    Imagine reading these press accounts 20 years out from now; do you think people will label a lot of the tea bagger rhetoric as racist?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bill: I report, you decide. You’re not even finding out about “Barack Hussein” from any other outlet.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bill: I’ll take it one step further. Though I don’t think yelling “Barack Hussein!” fits the textbook definition of racism, I do think anyone who would do such a thing is almost certainly a racist.

  2. who was the speaker, Dan?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Al: I don’t know. I had just tuned in the stream. There was a guy bellowing about “Barack Hussein” and a woman screeching about “socialism.” They were both featured speakers — it’s not like they had wandered up there. But I do not know who they were.

  3. When Obama started running for president and the racist rhetoric starting increasing in frequency and viciousness, I thought of a Web project that would be kind of like Memory Hole or Wiki Leaks: When They Were Racists.

    When They Were Racists site would be profiles of people that publicly spoke racist speech and identified themselves. I think 20 or 30 years from now we should remember these people.

  4. L.K. Collins

    Wasn’t it just a few years ago when “George Bush” was a slur?

    An isn’t our current President adopting many of Bush’s policies? (Go on, deny it.)

    Do we get to call you a hate monger for this, your latest hyperbole and scare?

  5. Ray Richard Jr.

    I attended the rally as a curious observer. I found the rhetoric softer than advertised. After a few leaders spoke about the usual conservative agenda, the rally turned into a patriotic event with a reading of the pledge of allegiance and flag waving. After singing God Bless America, a Mrs.Lee told a moving story about her son, the first Navy Seal to die in Iraq. Had a meeting so I left before Palin

    Overall: More Americana than Vitriol.

    Best Placard: M.I.T.= Our Looks and your Brains

    The crowd: Middle class, lots of young woman clearly enthused by the Tea Party agenda

  6. Darn, I missed that – I was too busy enjoying the real tea party (had my first watercress sandwich!) on the other side of the Common. But I did enjoy Michael Graham ranting about how it’s time to “take Boston back from the hippies.”

  7. BP Myers

    L.K. Collins says: Wasn’t it just a few years ago when “George Bush” was a slur?

    Either one of us is simply confused about the definition of the word “slur” or that never happened. Were kids calling each other “George Bush” derisively in the schoolyards? Did the phrase, “That’s so George Bush” come into vogue and I just missed it?

    And I don’t recall ANYONE of any stripe repeatedly calling him “George WALKER Bush” (emphasis on the ‘Walker’) as a putdown for, oh, I don’t know, new money or something.

    Course now that you mention it . . . just who WAS this ‘Walker’ fellow he was named after? And how much do we know about him?

  8. Renee Aste

    People always use middle names to be condescending, like a parent yelling with disapproval towards a child. If McCain was elected would critics use his middle name of Sidney in their disapproval. But yes, because it’s Hussein being very common (meaning handsome according to Wiki), it brings up sensitivities because it is Arabic. For a conservative to state it for something it isn’t compared to disapproving of President William Jefferson Clinton. I admit it could be due to current international conflicts, but back in the 80s Ronald Wilson Reagan was linked to the sign of the devil.

  9. Al Fiantaca

    When the speaker hollered “Barack Hussein”, he was certainly doing it to be insulting and make a dig against the President. I’m not sure I would call it racist, but would include it in the xenophobic, specifically, anti-Muslim prejudice against foreigners, especially those with exotic sounding names. Their hero George Bush “took out” Saddam Hussein, and here we have in our very own White House, a man who has a similar name. It’s statements like that which make me discount anything the group has to say, and the sad thing is that it’s encouraged.

  10. Al Fiantaca

    IIRC, I think the “Walker fellow” was a wealthy (what else) grandfather, or close, from his mother’s side of the family. It seems to me there was a North or South Carolina connection involved, as well. That side of the family is where the name “Walkers Point” came from up in K’B’Port. Mind you, this is off the top of by head, with no effort to verify. It’s been a few years since I heard it, so take it with a grain of salt.

  11. Steve Stein

    Dan, I wouldn’t call it racially-based at all. But it *is* “Red-baiting” updated for the 21st century.

    And just think, Obama can be a “commie” AND a “Mooooslim”!

    It’s a two-fer!

  12. Bill Duncliffe

    Dan – Apparently I missed your outrage over “Bushitler.”

    Google it.

    If you want to post about needless incitefulness across the board, I’d be interested in that.

    Otherwise the reader is forced to conclude, as is true all too often, that your outrage is highly selective.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bill: What’s fringe on the left is mainstream on the right. Got any examples of someone yelling “Bushitler” or such on the same stage as a Democratic vice-presidential candidate? We know the answer to that.

  13. BP Myers

    Bill Duncliffe says: Dan – Apparently I missed your outrage over “Bushitler.” Google it.


    Results 1 – 10 of about 16,400 for Bushitler


    Guess it didn’t quite catch on, eh Bill?

  14. L.K. Collins

    Dan’s reduction of a what appears to have been pretty routine conservative offerings to “racist” and, by implication, inflammatory is exactly the type of rhetoric that Dan abhors from others.

    He’s become rather practiced at it as well as practiced in denying his usage of the tactic…

    Still hyperbole and scare.

    Now, what was your middle name again, Dan?

  15. Bill Duncliffe

    16,400 hits in Danworld is immaterial, apparently.

    Apparently, by narrowing the universe to “(said) on the same stage as a Democratic vice presidential candidate.” Selective, indeed.

    Of course, it’s more correct to say “spoken at the same venue as one a vice-presidential candidate appeared at later” but I suppose that’s just quibbling.

    Dan – if you are seriously suggesting President George W. Bush did not face similar invective during the course of his presidency than you really can’t be serious.


    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bill: Yes, both sides do it. The fringe left and the Republican Party.

  16. Ben Rivard-Rapoza

    I was at the rally to hold signs for a friend of mine campaigning for state Auditor. His name – Kamal Jain – could pass for Islamic. But there wasn’t a hint of concern, or even curiosity, about this among the people we met there.

  17. L.K. Collins

    And so does the fringe of the journalist profession.

  18. this is from Joan Venocchi’s column ( this morning, about the event. A quote from the local tea partier-in-chief:

    The sharpest rhetoric of the morning came from Mark Williams, the Tea Party Express chairman, who told the crowd, “Political correctness is going to kill us. Political correctness led to 9/11, political correctness led to Barack Hussein Obama. Political correctness is a societal HIV. (America has) a full-blown case of AIDS and we’re the cure.’’

    Williams also called Obama an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug.” Nah, no implicit racism there…

    keep up the good work, Dan

  19. Peter Sullivan


    Are you really going to call anyone that refers to The President by his legal first and middle names a racist???

    Aren’t we getting just a little carried away?

    Free speech and the right to assemble are the cornerstone of our political process, even if you disagree with the message.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Peter: I’ll leave aside the fact that I wrote, “I won’t call it racism,” although it doesn’t say much about your reading comprehension. I now realize the person who was blurting out “Barack Hussein!” as though it were an epithet was Mark Williams. And Williams has called Obama “an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug, and a racist in chief.” Williams is a racist.

  20. Peter Sullivan

    “Though I don’t think yelling “Barack Hussein!” fits the textbook definition of racism, I do think anyone who would do such a thing is almost certainly a racist.”

    That’s what I read, for the record.

  21. Sean Griffin

    I don’t remember any of McCain’s opponents calling him John Sidney McCain III.

  22. BP Myers

    @Peter Sullivan asks: Are you really going to call anyone that refers to The President by his legal first and middle names a racist???

    Love to hear your alternate explanation for why they’re doing it (using just his first and middle names and leaving out his last).

    Oughta be a hoot.

  23. Peter Sullivan


    I actually don’t know what people are thinking about when they are yelling things at a rally, but labeling them all as racists is just as bad.

  24. BP Myers

    @Peter Sullivan says: I actually don’t know what people are thinking about when they are yelling things at a rally, but labeling them all as racists is just as bad.

    Nobody labeled them all as racists.

    Dan has, however, apparently concluded that the gentleman who repeatedly shouted “Barack HUSSEIN!” and left out his last name was (not to put words in Dan’s mouth) doing so only to stress the “otherness” of the man, a man of a different color than those gathered, with a strange name, a name which has ISLAMIC connotations and was the name of our enemy, and who, nudge nudge, wink wink, probably wasn’t even born here and thus has no right to be President.

    Personally, I have a hard time concluding anything different from Dan. You, apparently, have decided either not to think about it at all, or to simply impugn neutral motives to the folks who are engaging in that behavior. Best of luck with that.

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