"You Lie": Racism as a Social Form
Joe Wilson’s outburst “You Lie!” has been analyzed and instrumentalized for political purposes on all sides of the aisle. Yet very few of these analyses explore the ahistorical frames which are being used. The problem with ahistoricity is a decontextualized understanding of an event as a social form. When the comment is isolated and individualized as it has been, it is disembedded from the racialized society in which it takes form. As Kenan Malik argues in The Meaning of Race, the problem arises when the relationship between identity and society are denied. (Re)situated within Wilson’s individual history of racialized comments (Strom Thurmond’s grandaughter and confederate flags) and the larger social history of latent racism masked as multiculturalism, the comment transforms. This transformation is the reassertion of history to understand that racism is a social form, that it is brewing beneath the surface and yet, is so often explained away with excuses of anger, opposition to an issue, or a personal decision. As with all forms of oppression, it is crucial to assert these instances into historical context and to see them as social forms rather than instances of individual lapses in judgment.
New York Times
Bringing context into the conversation is one of sociology’s great strengths. Your post on the context of Wilson’s remarks is a fresh take on this news item. Thanks!
Absolutely, but this works both ways. By isolating and individualizing the comment one helps to deracialize society. By looking at everything in a racial context society is racialized (sure, also in a racialized society people look at things in a racial context but this is a chicken and egg situation – causality runs both ways).
From a political POV it beggars belief how almost any criticism of a mixed race president is sieved for racial prejudice when for years the media and academia has happily looked at the floor and whistled whilst the most outrageous race-based slurs were directed at Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Bobby Jindal.
Given that there is more in President Carter’s background to suggest implicit racism than in Joe Wilson’s, it might be more fruitful for people to seek the motivation for his comments rather than for Joe Wilson’s intemperate and rude outburst.