Is Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor Rally Racist, or Just Free Speech?

6 years ago

Conservative right-wing political talk show host Glenn Beck is hosting the Restoring Honor rally (renamed by Wonkette the "Lard-Baby Rally & Hate Festival") this Saturday. The rally takes place near the Lincoln Memorial -- one of the most important monuments built to honor an American president -- and is described on its web site as a "non-political event that pays tribute to America's service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation's founding principles of integrity, truth and honor."

"This is going to be a moment that you'll never be able to paint people as haters, racists, none of it," Beck says of the event, which features Sarah Palin and other conservative political and cultural figures. "This is a moment, quite honestly, that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement."

Who are "we?"

Fox News host Glenn Beck speaks during the National Rifle Association's 139th annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina on May 15, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

Saturday is also the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous delivery of the “I Have a Dream” speech. Coincidence? Well, if it is, it takes irony to a whole new level. Beck claims that his choice of date was unintentional. The Root points out that his team has been suspiciously (and unsettlingly) silent about the details of the event, outside of noting appearances by Palin; rocker and NRA enthusiast Ted Nugent; and Marcus Lutrell, a celebrated former United States Navy SEAL, who became a darling of the right wing when in 2009 he chased four men through three counties for breaking onto his property and shooting one of his dogs, which led to one blogger to call his actions “Educating Foreigners." While they deny that their event is a reaction to Beck's, Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III are also planning a march in DC on the same day.

Since Beck announced his plans for the rally, the reaction has been a mix of mild skepticism and outrage. Beck and Palin, the main faces of the event, are two highly controversial figures known for their puzzling outbursts -- especially Beck, who has previously declared that President Obama is a racist with a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” I actually feel a bit sorry for those who will travel to Washington and struggle to listen to a speech by Palin, who is barely coherent ("Refudiate, misunderestimate, wee-wee’d up. English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”).

Many have given both Beck and, more recently Palin, the side-eye for the many “we need to take this country back!” pronouncements without ever having been pressured to answer the question, “from whom?” in a manner that is not vague. There is a lot of online chatter from those who feel that the event is racist and geared towards those who, like Palin, don’t seem to understand the negative, and quite frankly violent, connotations underlying her famous saying, “don't retreat...reload!” They see the rally as made up of a bunch of racist, homophobic Neanderthals who are using this presumably post-racial society to say, “You know what? We really don’t like a black man telling us how to live our lives” in a passive-aggressive manner. After all, white folks should never use the N-Word.

A man reads a newspaper article about the Restoring Honor rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on August 27, 2010. Many conservatives have staked out positions near the Memorial for tomorrow's conservative political rally, organized by Fox News TV host Glenn Beck. Many of America's top conservatives will speak at the rally including former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin. Beck stirred controversy by choosing to host a rally on August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial, as it is on the 47th anniversary and same location of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic I Have a Dream speech. UPI/Alexis C. Glenn Photo via Newscom

However, it is difficult to call out overt racism in this event -- and to be fair, by people from both sides of the political spectrum have pointed this out. King III tried to downplay the fact that there are racist undertones to Beck's march:

"(It is) commendable that this rally will honor the brave men and women of our armed forces who serve our country with phenomenal dedication."

"My father championed free speech. He would be the first to say that those participating in Beck's rally have the right to express their views. But his dream rejected hateful rhetoric and all forms of bigotry or discrimination, whether directed at race, faith, nationality, sexual orientation or political beliefs."

Yes, but free speech seems to only be a luxury granted to some, not all. We all recently saw how Dr. Laura Schlessinger was able to duck a formal, sincere apology for her ill-advised and racially-tinged rant by complaining that she was leaving radio so she could practice her First Amendment Rights. Free speech was also argued by Bruce Majors, who has created a "Visitors Guide" for his "people" who are planning to head to DC for Beck's march.

Most of it is pretty innocuous, except when he suggests that people avoid certain areas of the city:

DC's population includes refugees from every country, as the families of embassy staffs of third world countries tend to stay in DC whenever a revolution in their homeland means that anyone in their family would be in danger if they went back. Most taxi drivers and many waiters/waitresses (especially in local coffee shops like the Bread and Chocolate chain) are immigrants, frequently from east Africa or Arab countries. As a rule, African immigrants do not like for you to assume they are African Americans and especially do not like for you to guess they are from a neighboring country (e.g. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia) with whom they may have political or military tensions. It's rare to meet anyone who gets really offended, but you can still be aware of the issue.

Many parts of DC are safe beyond the areas I will list here, but why chance it if you don't know where you are?

If you are on the subway stay on the Red line between Union Station and Shady Grove, Maryland. If you are on the Blue or Orange line do not go past Eastern Market (Capitol Hill) toward the Potomac Avenue stop and beyond; stay in NW DC and points in Virginia. Do not use the Green line or the Yellow line. These rules are even more important at night. There is of course nothing wrong with many other areas; but you don't know where you are, so you should not explore them.

If on foot or in a cab or bus, stay in Bethesda, Arlington (preferably north Arlington), Crystal City, Falls Church, Annandale, or Alexandria, or in DC only in northwest DC west (i.e. larger street numbers) of 14th or 16th streets, or if on Capitol Hill only in SE Capitol Hill (zip 20003) between 1st and 8th Streets, not farther out than 8th (e.g. 9th, 10th etc). (Or stay on the Mall and at the various monuments.) Again there are many other lovely places, from the Catholic University of America to Silver Spring, Maryland. But you don't know where you are so you cannot go, especially at night, unless you take me with you.

(He also provides the addresses of the private homes of various White House staff … oh, that must be covered under the First Amendment).

A man takes photos between posters of Frederick Douglass (L) and President Abraham Lincoln, near the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument in Washington on August 27, 2010. Many conservatives have staked out positions near the Memorial for tomorrow's Restoring Honor conservative political rally, organized by Fox News TV host Glenn Beck. Many of America's top conservatives will speak at the rally including former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin. UPI/Alexis C. Glenn Photo via Newscom

But is this racist? Racist in a way where even the dude on the street could understand a direct correlation between racism and plain old safety tips? Angered that people were calling him the dreaded R-word, Majors commented to a post written by Adam Serwer in The New Prospect that there was nothing wrong with suggesting that people avoid certain subway stations because they were in ill repair. In his comment, he starts off with the very thin excuse that he had sex with many people of color, so unlike John Mayer, his penis isn't racist, so that's okay. But then loses his mind with this:

Then MSNBC, which is infamous for having NO African American hosts or co-hosts, employs mush mouthed hack Eugene Robinson on the Maddow show, and that more honest and respectable African American guy who appears on the McLaughlin Group (his name escapes me) to chortle on about how my guide would prevent visiting tea partiers from eating at Ben's Chili Bowl (didn't Michelle Obama say not to eat that stuff?) at 13th and U Streets. Apparently the almost all white MSNBC network needed black faces to give them some street cred on DC neighborhoods. Now we know that Chris Matthews travels far and wide to find lesbians to molest, sometimes all the way to Burbank, but I suspect I have been out dining and dancing in the New U way more than he has -- and more than Robinson or the other guy. And, as a pseudo-journalists and pretend DC citizens, they seem unaware that the New U clubs had stabbings and shootings that led openly gay left-liberal Democratic city council member Jim Graham to consider shutting them down ( I guess Jim Graham has been a Manchurian candidate all this time, a secret raving right wing member of the tea party. Welcome aboard Jim! Cosmos at 5:00 at JR's? So it is moral and thoughtful to tell tourists to go to this neighborhood at night and to smear me as a racist for telling them not to do so. Right Chris! It seems that that tingling synapse in your leg is the only part of your central nervous system that is still alive.

What Beck's rally signifies is the new face of racism, in that it's insidious, but not in-your face racist. There's the sense that there is a need to "take back" a country or the implication that one's civil rights have been taken away by the new regime -- a regime that is supposedly led by a communist, half-Black Muslim. Tea Partiers are coming, the current guests are suspicious, but no one can outright say that crosses will be burned and people with white hoods will circle the White House. While it is somewhat a good thing that there is some fear to be publicly outed as a racist, the sentiment has not gone away. Racially coded phrases like "Take the country back," the usage of "First Amendment" to try and defend using hurtful racial epithets, and encouraging people to stay out of densely populated "immigrant" populations, are racially coded messages. If people want to take America back, well, who has took it from them? The people who do not look like what we have been told are "real Americans."

Tea Party apparel maker Neil Feuer poses with his shirt in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington August 27, 2010. The site will be the venue for tomorrow's Restoring Honor  rally organized by right-wing talk show host Glenn Beck. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MEDIA)

These coded messages, ones that mean that we have to conjure up bad memories and unfair and unjust covert mannerisms and behavior that have been created so people do not have to use overt racist language to get their point across, are ones that we are all aware of...well, those of us who either have taken the time to observe the experiences of people who do not look like them, or those who have faced every instance of subtle and overt racism that can smell something offensive right away.

What do you think? Should people be worried about the Restoring Honor rally or is it much ado about nothing? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Contributing Editor, Race, Ethnicity & Culture

Blog: Writing is Fighting:

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