Racism Is Not Over, Bob Dylan Getting Sued

Yesterday, the Republican National Committee sought to honor the memory of Rosa Parks with a tweet which read:

Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism.

While the mistake inspired its own hashtag #RacismEndedWhen, a collective Scooby Doo “EURP?” from the vast majority of Americans, and a correction– it also likely comes as news to Bob Dylan who is currently being sued in France for “racist” remarks made in a September 2012 Rolling Stone interview.

The remarks in question- when considered in light of the RNC’s gaffe and recent reports indicating Americans don’t trust each other anymore- offer insight into the messed up priorities of “post-racial” America.

During Dylan’s Rolling Stone interview he was asked to draw parallels between America today and America in the 1860s to which he said:

Mmm, I don’t know how to put it. It’s like . . . the United States burned and destroyed itself for the sake of slavery. The USA wouldn’t give it up. It had to be grinded out. The whole system had to be ripped out with force. A lot of killing. What, like, 500,000 people? A lot of destruction to end slavery. And that’s what it really was all about.

This country is just too f***** up about color. It’s a distraction. People at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color. It’s the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back – or any neighborhood back. Or any anything back. Blacks know that some whites didn’t want to give up slavery – that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can’t pretend they don’t know that. If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.

It’s doubtful that America’s ever going to get rid of that stigmatization. It’s a country founded on the backs of slaves. You know what I mean? Because it goes way back. It’s the root cause. If slavery had been given up in a more peaceful way, America would be far ahead today. Whoever invented the idea “lost cause . . . .” There’s nothing heroic about any lost cause. No such thing, though there are people who still believe it.

The bolded portion above, specifically the reference to Serbs and Croats, two groups with a long-standing and bloody conflict, is the basis of the lawsuit filed in December of 2012 in France by a Croatian Community Center.  Europe’s strict free-speech laws are such that Dylan can be sued and fined if charged despite not being a citizen of France.

Now I’ll admit, Dylan’s sentiments are a bit cringeworthy, but it’s important to remember that despite being a huge proponent of the Civil Rights Movement he remains a man of that era.  You don’t call people “blacks” anymore and the concept of one group being able to sniff out another group’s blood is “poetic”, sure, but also pretty cynical.

What it isn’t is racist.

Racism isn’t over.

We’re far from the point of being “post-racial” in part because there’s a perpetual sense of distrust hanging over all of our rhetoric, as well as an instinct to call lots of things racist.  I don’t think Bob Dylan meant to say something disparaging of Croats.  And while the RNC is definitely responsible for advocating on behalf of policies that are harmful to people of color, I don’t think their Rosa Parks tweet was intentionally striving to fan the flames.

That doesn’t stop everyone from being on edge, and while public shamming has its place, what does it accomplish?

We don’t trust each other to the point where it’s reflected in our rhetoric and by what dominates our attention.  Controversy sells!  How often do good things get covered?  To what scale?  We’re inundated with the sideshow in a circus with no main act.

What do we actually stand for?

4 Responses to "Racism Is Not Over, Bob Dylan Getting Sued"
tomallen | Monday December 2, 2013 06:49 pm 1

This tweet controversy has always seemed like a bum rap to me. As you write, the RNC advocates plenty of racist policies for which they deserve heaps of criticism; but this is the weakest of sauce. The phrasing is so common:

“We applaud Senator Warren’s stand on bringing Wall Street to justice.” — does not mean Wall Street has been brought to justice.

“We remember Rachel Carson’s bold writing and her role in saving the planet.” — does not mean the planet has been saved.

And so on. I enjoy seeing the RNC get shamed, but there are so many better reasons than somewhat ambiguous tweet phrasing to do so.

cregan | Monday December 2, 2013 09:31 pm 2

“Polonius had a role in Hamlet.”

“You dope, Polonius did not say ‘To be or not to be?’”

Uh, I said he had a “role” in Hamlet.

Yeah, but, he didn’t build the sets.

Uh, I said he had a role in Hamlet.

JamesJoyce | Tuesday December 3, 2013 02:28 am 3

“The pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handle.”

Vandals still have the handle…..

SharonMI | Tuesday December 3, 2013 08:10 am 4

At a get-together last weekend, someone mentioned the theory that the American Revolution was fought because the British were outlawing slavery. I don’t know if that’s true but it wouldn’t surprise me none. I think U.S. employers are happy to enslave their employees, and have since the revolution. If the minimum wage is not a living wage, then where are we? I’ve read when the Irish came to America, more dangerous jobs were given to them than slaves, since slaves were more valuable, and the immigrants more expendable. Same as it ever was. (Have any employers gone to jail for employing, or mistreating “illegal aliens”?)

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