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Is race a factor in Obama protests?

Mark Mardell | 16:04 UK time, Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Will the Congress vote today to reprimand Congressman Joe Wilson? That is a much less important question than the issues raised by his cry of "you lie!" during the president's healthcare speech last week.

Because weeks of mutterings are now out there, in the open, on the front page of the Washington Post. The allegation is that the fury towards the president that has been seen at town-hall meetings and tea party protests is in part motivated by racism.

Over the last couple of days there has been a focus on Mr Wilson's intervention, which was widely seen as disrespectful. A stream of articles has revealed that he was one of a handful of politicians who voted to keep the confederate flag flying over the South Carolina state house and was a long time ago a junior aide to Strom Thurmond, a former presidential candidate and one-time staunch segregationist.

But this is not to do with one individual. The Post asks: "Is racism a factor in the way the president is being judged?" The question has already been answered most vehemently by columnist Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

Race is such a touchy, bitter subject it is often left alone by the mainstream media, and some would say should be avoided by wise British bloggers.

Slight remarks can be explosive. On a recent sleepless night, I followed a thread on a science fiction discussion forum about whether a fiction character in one novel (apparently based on a dark-skinned figure from Celtic mythology) was reinforcing racist stereotypes. How much more sensitive the issue is in the political arena.

So I am describing and inviting debate, not passing comment. The relationship between black and white has been such an important driving factor in American political history that it would be strange if it now mattered not a jot. The allegation is that many of those who are calling their president "un-American" mean he is not white.

Democratic propaganda, over-sensitivity or truth? Tell me...

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