*** This post contains spoilers about RACE by David Mamet ***
I can't believe that nobody except me and a right-winger picked up on the similarity between the straw-woman character Susan in RACE with her crazed college thesis, and the vicious, out-of-context misrepresentation of Michelle Obama's college thesis that was trumpeted by the right-wing smear machine.
To quote one of the emails that went around during the 2008 election and reprinted on the web sites of many teabaggers
Michele Obama clearly has a chip on her shoulder.
Not only does she see separate black and white societies in America, but also she elevates black over white in her world.
Michelle Obama does not look into a crowd of Obama supporters and see Americans. She sees black people and white people eternally conflicted with one another.
The last sentence is an EXACT description of Susan's thesis.
Fox News' Sean Hannity also promoted the smear.
The urban legend web site snopes.org explains
Much scrutiny and discussion has been focused on a single phrase contained within the thesis, the statement that "blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor." This phrase has repeatedly been quoted out of context and presented as if it reflected Michelle Obama's own philosophy, but in its full context it is clearly her speculation about what she thought some of the respondents she surveyed for her thesis (i.e., students who had attended Princeton in earlier years) might have been feeling:
As discussed earlier, most respondents were attending Princeton during the 70's, at a time when the Black Power Movement was still influencing the attitudes of many Blacks.
It is possible that Black individuals either chose to or felt pressure to come together with other Blacks on campus because of the belief that Blacks must join in solidarity to combat a White oppressor. As the few blacks in a white environment it is understandable that respondents might have felt a need to look out for one another.
The Tea Party as such was not around during the 2008 election, but this incident is strikingly similar to the recent Shirley Sherrod
case - a black woman smeared as a racist when her words were taken out of context - and this time they did some real damage.
Here is a piece of "satire" recently written by Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams
Dear Mr. Lincoln
As blogger Lindsay Beyerstein notes
We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!
In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the 'tea party movement'.
The tea party position to "end the bailouts" for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn't that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.
And the ridiculous idea of "reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government." What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!
The racist tea parties also demand that the government "stop the out of control spending." Again, they directly target coloreds. That means we Coloreds would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.
Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government "stop raising our taxes." That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?
Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.
Precious Ben Jealous, Tom's Nephew
NAACP Head Colored Person
Last week, the NAACP passed a resolution at its annual convention asking Tea Party leaders to condemn the racists in their ranks. The NAACP was right on the money. Regardless of whether you think the average Tea Party supporter is racist, overt racists regularly show up and make headlines at their events. Tea Party leaders would have you believe that they're a fringe element that is absolutely not representative of the core values of the Tea Party. So, the leaders should be only too eager to publicly distance themselves from the ugly fringe, right?
Wrong. Instead, one major Tea Party group doubled down, accusing the NAACP of racism.
The large and influential Tea Party Express withdrew from the National Tea Party Federation rather than rebuke TPE executive director Mark Williams for a satirical blog post in the voice of "Precious Benjamin Jealous", "Tom’s Nephew National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Head Colored Person"[sic]. (The current president of the NAACP is named Benjamin Todd Jealous.)
Williams later tried to defend himself by saying that the piece was satirical, that he was using the absurd to illustrate the absurd. Satire to underscore an offensive point is still offensive. The point Williams was trying to drive home with all the juicy stereotypes about "coloreds" and their "wide screen TVs" is that anyone who thinks the Tea Party is racist is the real racist for wanting to perpetuate slavery.
This is the kind of bizarro hall-of-mirrors logic that typifies the Tea Party rhetoric around race. Their favorite language game is "Who's the Real Racist"? Whenever anyone accuses the Tea Party of racism, they accuse the accuser of racism.
This game of Who's the Real Racist is a game that David Mamet likes to play too. In an essay he wrote for the NYTimes right before RACE opened
he quotes Chris Rock:
Chris Rock, in his last tour, addressed the subject of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and asked, rhetorically and on behalf of the whites in the audience: Is it possible that a 70-year-old black man hates the whites? Let me enlighten you. You cannot find a 70-year-old black man who does not hate the whites.
This made sense to me. (I apologize to the esteemed Mr. Rock for what I am sure is a clunky paraphrase.)
Presumably because Chris Rock is black and therefore in Mamet's mind an authority on the racial views of 70-year-old black men, it's OK for Mamet to agree with this incredibly racist statement. Imagine for a moment if Michelle Obama said: "you cannot find a 70-year-old white man who does not hate the blacks."
Mamet then goes on to his very favorite tactic, false equivalence:
There has always been, at the very least, a little bit of hate between blacks and whites in this country, with each side, in its turn, taking advantage of its political strength (as who does not?). But that relationship is also perhaps like a marriage. Both sides at different times are bitching, and both at different times are bailing, but we’re all in the same boat.
You see it's a level playing field. Blacks taking advantage of political strength is the equivalent of hundreds of years during which whites held blacks in slavery, plus another hundred years of terrorism, bigotry, vote supression etc. etc.
RACE is full of the constant drumbeat of blacks hate whites, whites hate blacks over and over again, in between the incessant lawyer jokes. Mamet's message is clearly along the lines of, hey, let's not argue about who is the victim - we ALL are because we are ALL racists and liars.
The rightwing loves false equivalence as Media Matters for America documents.
And as in OLEANNA, Mamet completely stacks the deck. Even though it seems like he's saying we are all equal in our racial hatred, the villain of the piece is Susan (all the other characters get last names) who is basically inhuman and possesses a Terminator-like obsession to get whitey.
I am quite serious. The character has nothing to say about anything except race. She doesn't appear to have any friends, or relatives, or hobbies, or even very much to do in the law office where the entire play is set. She is presented as a bright woman with an Ivy-league law degree, she has talent the white lawyer guy says. But she throws it all away in order to set up her law firm, make them take a case and then make sure they lose the case. She destroys her own career, which presumably she worked very hard for. So that she can hurt a colleague who is fond of her.
And the final proof given for her insane obsessive hatred for whitey is when a portion of her thesis is read aloud during the play. (I will get down the the Dramatists Book Store soon and copy it down and post it here.)
Susan is a straw-woman like Carol from OLEANNA, but she is an even more fearsome invention than Carol. Carol is clearly a pawn of The Group, as I wrote about in my essay about OLEANNA History is Written by the Winners
, and can only work her dastardly will on John through the amazing influence and reach of The Group, with its daring scheme to censor heroic John's work through a trumped up rape charge.
But Susan - wow, she is amazing! She seems to have no need for the corrupting influences of a Group, she soaked up the evil all on her own, from the very reverse-racist atmosphere of Academia itself. And she executes her scheme to destroy poor white lawyer guy - making sure that they take the case, making witnesses change their testimony all by her lonesome. But maybe she doesn't care that she completely destroyed her legal career - with those powers she could get a gig as a Super Villain in any comic book universe.
I mentioned one right-winger got it, Harry Stein writing in the City Journal
Late in David Mamet’s recently premiered Race, something happens that, for those accustomed to the pro forma left-liberalism of typical Broadway fare, is little short of stunning. The play deals with a black-white legal team defending a prominent white client accused of raping a powerless, young black woman. They’ve just learned that the centerpiece of their ingenious strategy to prove his innocence was leaked to the prosecution—the culprit being their stylish, newly minted female black associate, the protégé of the white, liberal attorney (James Spader). The black attorney (David Allen Grier) is irate. He’d warned his partner not to hire her, knowing from the start that she’d be trouble, that she’d put race loyalty above the firm’s interests and even the truth. How could he have known all that, wonders his chastened colleague? Grier stalks over to a file, pulls out the young woman’s college thesis, and begins reading aloud. It's full of the inchoate, anti-white rage characteristic of such efforts - indeed, it recalls Michelle Obama's at Princeton. You think you know this woman, Greer tells Spader; you think she likes you, but she's an affirmative-action babe, a perpetual victim. That's how she sees herself, and this is her revenge.
Talk about an electric theatrical moment! The play may be otherwise seriously flawed, but here is vintage Mamet — in fact, a new, even more daring Mamet. It's the Mamet conservative theater fans have been waiting for since he took on the issue of sexual harassment in Oleanna back in 1992; and even more so since he came out as a quasi-conservative early last year in a Village Voice essay entitled, "Why I Am No Longer a Brain Dead Liberal"
Note he thinks the rest
of the play may be flawed, but that moment there was just right. Because Harry Stein actually believes this creature exists, this "affirmative-action babe, a perpetual victim." And in fact, he thinks she is Michelle Obama.
Nobody has clued Harry Stein into the fact that the smear against Michelle Obama has been debunked - but unfortunately not only conservatives like Harry Stein are slow on the uptake - there are still liberals who let David Mamet slide because he's a Great Man of the Arts. Sarah Seltzer writes
The nightmare that "Oleanna" predicted never happened. I hope that if Mamet took on the issue today, the results would be a bit different.
Mamet did not predict the nightmare that is OLEANNA - he believes the nightmare exists. Every bit as much as he believes that Susan exists - maybe he, like fellow conservative Harry Stein, even believes Michelle Obama is just like Susan.
Is he a card-carrying (or teabag carrying) member of the Tea Party? Probably not. But he would be perfectly comfortable hanging out with Tea Partiers, most of whom are, like Mamet a White, Republican, Older Male with Money
Now I admit I am a little surprised by the non-reaction to RACE. Whereas misogyny is perfectly acceptable from a Great Man of the Arts, and will not hurt a man's career in the least, as David Mamet demonstrates, I would have thought that more people would have called him out on RACE - but then again a good number of liberal arts-types defended admitted child-rapist Roman Polanski on the grounds that he's a Great Man of the Arts and shouldn't be held to the standards of mortals, so I guess they have no problem at all giving Mamet a pass for his paranoid reverse-racism obsession.
I'll leave the final word to a member of the demographic Mamet hates and fears the most - a female college student in the clutches of the corrupting liberal forces of Academia
Last year, Mamet came to UT to conduct a writing seminar for several graduate and undergraduate playwrights and screenwriters. During the seminar, Mamet called Muslims terrorists and Arabs pedophiles. He also, unsurprisingly, spewed misogynist rhetoric in addition to his racist diatribe. Several students were shocked and appalled and took Mamet to task for his bigoted remarks. He countered with, "Why shouldn't we pick on Arabs? They blew up New York City."