Following the shooting rampage that killed 26 people in Connecticut last week, the nation seemed united in grieving the loss of precious lives.
Then Sunday Night Football came on TV, and the veneer of national unity promptly fell apart.
If you give credence to the barrage of racist tweets sent out Sunday, you might think President Barack Obama spoiled the night. The president flew to Newtown to console the community devastated by the murder spree carried out by Adam Lanza.
NBC pre-empted the first quarter of the Patriots-49ers game to broadcast Obama’s memorial service speech. And like the 20-year-old Lanza, who apparently lost his mind, some whites in the blogosphere went ballistic.
“Really?” tweeted Brandon Ortiz, incredulously. “Can’t even watch Sunday night football cuz our nigger prez has to talk? Really?”
And there was this from Jared Faul, a dandy example of human kindness:
“Obama, you stupid sand nigger, get off my TV. You’re just making families hurt and miss their kids more and I wanna watch football.”
Pretty nasty stuff for a nation in mourning. Pretty revealing, too.
Let’s start with this most bizarre of ironies: The shooting spree that killed 20 children and six employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School was not even remotely race-related. Yet a host of citizens who felt inconvenienced by the timing of the memorial used the occasion to vent racial hostilities.
“What the f— is this nigger doing on my screen!?!?!?” wrote Nick Brack. “I want football.”
Speaking of race, one glaring contradiction embedded in these harsh responses is so profoundly dim-witted it actually boggles the mind. The contradiction is this: these same people who hurled racial epithets at the president were eager to run off and root for football players, most of whom are black.
African Americans comprise 67 percent – two-thirds – of the players in the NFL, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. In its 2012 report, the Institute reported that half of the 12 teams that made the 2011/2012 playoffs had either an African American coach or general manager.
Which means that white football fans are more than accustomed to cheering for blacks competing in one of America’s favorite sports. Yet somehow these tweeters detached their seething hatred for a black president from their adoration of African American athletes.
I’d bet my next paycheck that, at the very moment they were typing their racist rants, some of the bloggers wore jerseys with the names of black players emblazoned on their backs.
Such is America in the age of Obama.
The disconnect seems rather puzzling until one considers the nation’s history. Remember, the so-called founding fathers wrote wondrous documents proclaiming the inalienable right to freedom while, at the same time, owning slaves.
That was centuries ago. Since then, Americans have become more experienced – expert even – at juggling racial contradictions.
Since the Newtown shootings, there has been much banter among politicians about the need to revisit the issue of gun control. Tightening regulations on guns, as the logic goes, would help curtail the kind of senseless violence that has claimed multiple lives in various cities nationwide.
Banning assault rifles would certainly be a step in the right direction. But as some football fans’ response to Obama’s speech Sunday demonstrates, other disturbing features of this nation’s collective psyche also deserve a closer look.
The truth is, America is such a delusional nation. Symptoms of the delusion have played out repeatedly over the past several days as people appeared on TV and declared they are clueless as to how these senseless murders could have happened in such a “nice” community as Newtown.
What’s missing from much of the analysis is an acknowledgment that violence comes in many forms. And in America, we seem to have mastered them all, starting with the casual use of malicious words.
“So Obama is going to interrupt my football,” tweeted some guy named Bernie. “I wanna see Tom Brady, not Barack, Michelle and their fugly ass kids.”
For blacks in particular, these are routine expressions of psychic violence. Consider the long legacy of random lynchings, leading up to the recent shooting deaths of black teenagers in Florida. It’s easy to see that the kind of terrorism visited upon Newtown, though sad, is not new to us.
On Sunday, one would assume that every soul in the country would appreciate Obama’s compassionate gesture in visiting the shooting site and addressing a grieving nation.
That certainly was a huge improvement over the man who held office several years back, when Hurricane Katrina left untold thousands stranded in Louisiana and Mississippi. Then-president George Bush didn’t even bother to drop in and console the victims. Instead, he circled over the disaster in Air Force One, peered through a window, and then went on his way.
In short, Obama did what leaders are supposed to do. Yet he got blasted for appearing on stage at that very critical hour when sport is king.
“Damn nigger takes up my football time,” complained Cody Baker.
It’s time we face it: With all the talk of American “greatness,” a mean-spirited Zeitgeist permeates the nation. Adam Lanza expressed it with a gun. These others used cell phones and computers to spew racist venom.
It’s all violence just the same.