Plumb Lines

September 17, 2009

Don’t Blame the Buses

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 1:00 am

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Rush Limbaugh has said that a schoolbus beating reflects the rule of race in “Obama’s America.” This is despicable. Limbaugh is manufacturing hate, and unless leaders on the right denounce him, his hateful product will go out to the world bearing the conservative brand. We are only one year into the Obama presidency. How far will Limbaugh go before its end?

Advertising is an industry without conscience or compunction, so it is ironic that advertisers are always among the first called on to boycott whatever some interest group finds offensive. Even if profit is the only principle, they should understand that racism does not sell in America today. Or maybe the Limbaughs of the world are right.

One of the things that commentators have failed to note about the video that started this obscene fracas was the supporting role played by that Zelig of American racial strife: the bus.

A lot of people hate buses. They have none of the privacy of cars and, under most circumstances, none of the speed of trains. America’s love affair for cars is very nearly matched by its hatred for the bus.

With the bus boycotts and Rosa Parks’s heroic stand, buses became footholds for blacks reaching for some small measure of equality. But with those gains came white resentment and, in time, broad distaste for the bus. Buses became notorious once again with forced busing. The policy was wildly unpopular among both blacks and whites and the bus unfortunately became a symbol of ham-fisted government control.

The appearance of the bus in this latest video might seem to be neither here nor there. But in many cities, buses remain one of the few places where people of different races regularly interact, and, I would venture, are still experienced by some whites as places of maximal racial threat. That said, I have no idea how much the presence of buses in this video  heightened the sense of racial confrontation.

This year was supposed to be the advent of Obama’s post-racial America. But buses, even as they run empty, remain loaded with ominous racial significance. Considering the honorable part they once played in our history and their promise for helping us in the future, that’s a shame.

-Matthew Schmitz

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