American racism is starting to remind me of American alcoholism. At the founding of the republic, in the days when beer was thought of as “liquid bread” and a healthy nutritional breakfast, Americans drank about three to four times as much as they do now. Today the United States has a lower per capita rate of alcohol consumption than almost any other developed nation, but it has more alcoholism support groups than any other developed nation — around 164 groups per million people. France, which drinks about 50 percent more per capita than America, has one-twentieth the number of support groups. The French and Italians enjoy drinking, the English and Irish enjoy getting drunk, and Americans enjoy getting drunk on ever more absurd stigmatizatory excess. At Walmart they card you if you “appear to be under” — what is it up to now? 43? 57? And the citizenry take this as a compliment: Well-preserved grandmothers return from failed attempts to purchase a bottle of wine with gay cries of, “I was carded at Costco! They’ve made my weekend!”
And so it goes with American racism: The less there is, the more extravagantly the racism-awareness lobby patrols its beat. The Walmart carding clerks of the media are ever more alert to those who “appear to be” racist. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews declared this week that Republicans use “Chicago” as a racist code word. Not to be outdone, his colleague Lawrence O’Donnell pronounced “golf” a racist code word. When Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell observed that Obama was “working to earn a spot on the PGA tour,” O’Donnell brilliantly perceived that subliminally associating Obama with golf is racist, because the word “golf” is subliminally associated with “Tiger Woods,” and the word “Tiger” is not so subliminally associated with cocktail waitress Jamie Grubbs, nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel, lingerie model Jamie Jungers, former porn star Holly Sampson, etc., etc. So by using the word “golf” you’re sending a racist dog-whistle that Obama is a sex addict who reverses over fire hydrants.