Roger L. Simon

Chubby and 'The Twist'—Clinging to Racism in the Age of Obama

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I turned on my office TV a few minutes ago, intending to flip over to the Olympics, when the Huckabee show came up.  I was startled by the relatively young looking black guy singing. Could that actually be Chubby Checker?  He had to be older than that. He’s 72, according to Wikipedia.  But he sure didn’t look it and he was singing his anthem — “The Twist.”

Suddenly a white woman — she could have been in her sixties or seventies herself — got up out of the studio audience and starting dancing with him.  As the audience applauded the dancers, tears started to pour out of my eyes.

This doesn’t happen often, folks.  I’m not all that sentimental.  But it didn’t take me long to figure out why the tears fell. Chubby Checker recorded “The Twist” in 1960, when he was 18 years old.  I was 15 0r 16 at the time, depending on the time of year.  Six years later I was in Chubby’s native South Carolina in the civil rights movement.

I don’t know who that white woman dancing with Chubby on the Huckabee show was, whether she was in the civil rights movement too, but I sincerely doubt she was any kind of racist.  White people loved to dance to Chubby back then — and eventually with Chubby.  Soon enough white people were dancing with black people and Latino people and Asian people.  I know I was — and most of my friends were too. I had a Puerto Rican girlfriend,  a Chinese-American girlfriend and a Ghanaian girlfriend.  (Okay, I had a lot of girlfriends.) Nobody cared.  And nobody should.

Yet racism is still supposed to stalk the land.

Does it really?  Well, maybe a little.  There are racially biased idiots everywhere from here to Chechnya. But as one who has visited sixty or so countries in a lucky life, I don’t know any place less racist than the US of A at this moment.  (If you speak French, try pretending you don’t and listen in on one of their dinner table conversations.)

The only way finally to end racism, to stomp its last excrescences, when it has become illegal and a societal pariah, as it has here, is to ignore it and declare it over.  Nothing else will work. You can’t hang on to it, because hanging on to it preserves it.

I am Jewish (no surprise to many) and the first time I was in Germany  (1968) I was more than a little spooked by the experience. I drove through the country with my young family as quickly as possible, only spending a night in Hamburg and getting up early to cross the border into Holland and what I thought was freedom. Not long thereafter, however, I started to meet a number of Germans.  They were my contemporaries and, I realized, not responsible for the evil of their parents, no matter how recent that was.  Not more than ten years later, many of my best friends were Germans, and I was in Berlin, promoting my books.  Later I made a movie with a German producer. Now I don’t think twice when someone says they’re German. It means nothing in particular to me.

I don’t say that to brag about my great “evolved” personality.  It’s the only way that progress can happen.  Sooner or later, you have to let the bad past go.  Morgan Freeman — one of the greatest actors alive — understood that when, in an oft-quoted interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, he told Mike that he didn’t want a Black History Month or to be referred to as a black man.  He wanted to be referred to as Morgan.  And Morgan wanted to refer to Mike as Mike.

Sadly, Freeman walked back on this view, as many have, during the age of Obama.  Why is that? It’s not just the pathetic exploitation of race-baiters like Jackson and Sharpton or even the somewhat understandable defensiveness that happens when the first black president doesn’t turn out to be as great as many hoped.  (Think about this:  what would be more racist than not to criticize the first black president because he is black?)

The real problem is modern liberalism itself.  Ideologically adrift and basically unpopular in an era when Keynesian economics seems like crazy talk, “liberals” have no choice but to keep racism alive, to continue to exploit African-Americans whose situation is the worst it’s been, primarily because of their methods, in decades. Going into the next election, they will be doing the same thing to women.  As my grandmother would say, “Oy, what reactionaries!”