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