Right-wing pundits are jumping all over Attorney General Eric Holder for daring to suggest on Sunday that "racial animus" plays a role in the "level of vehemence" that's been directed at President Obama. They're denouncing him for "playing the race card" and "stoking racial divisions."
Who do they think they're fooling?
The rhetoric is what's hateful. Calling people out for it is not.
The racism Holder described has been obvious since the 2008 campaign, when Obama was portrayed as someone who was not a "real American" -- a Muslim, a Kenyan, a communist, even a terrorist sympathizer.
Since then, an entire movement has been built around the thoroughly discredited notion that the president's birth certificate is a fake. And that's just the beginning.
Rush Limbaugh has said Obama -- and Oprah Winfrey, too, by the way -- have reached the pinnacle of their professions only because they're black. He added this week that "so-called conservative media types" praised Holder's nomination only because he's black.
Glenn Beck has said the president, whose mother was white, has a "deep-seated hatred for white people, or white culture."
Conservative hero and former rock star Ted Nugent, who was invited to campaign with the GOP nominee for Texas governor, called the president a "subhuman mongrel."
A Confederate flag was waved in front of the White House during last year's "Million Vet March."
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina screamed "You lie!" during the president's address to Congress in September 2009. When has that happened to a president before?
All manner of overtly racist posters have been seen at tea party rallies, including one depicting the president as a "witch doctor."
We've repeatedly seen stories about conservative politicians sharing racist jokes about Obama.
And, we've seen an explosive growth of radical-right groups, including armed militias, since Obama was elected, and repeated threats that violence is needed to "take our country back" from the "tyranny" of Obama. This is part of a backlash to the growing diversity in our country, as symbolized by the presence of a black man in the White House.
I grew up in rural Alabama during the Jim Crow years and lived through the civil rights movement, when white supremacists did everything they could, including committing violent atrocities, to turn back the tide of progress. And I've stared across the courtroom at some of America's most vicious hatemongers -- men like neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Cross, who recently killed three people and once targeted me. I know racism when I see it.
No one, of course, is suggesting that merely disagreeing with Obama is evidence of racism. That's clearly not true.
But we have a political party and a right-wing media machine that pander incessantly to the racist reactionaries in our society, often through code words. It's been going on since Nixon implemented his "Southern strategy" of appealing to white resentment in the wake of the civil rights movement.
I wish it weren't so. But it is simply undeniable. We should call it what it is.