Black Caucus members said Joe Wilson's outburst is but the latest in a long string of ugly events rooted in racism, such as last week's flap over Obama addressing the nation's schoolchildren, protesters showing up outside Obama events carrying licensed firearms, and "birthers" questioning Obama's citizenship. Black Caucus members say such incidents are designed to disrespect the office of the president now that a black man holds it.
"I don't think that this would have happened" to a white president, said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., a black caucus member. Wilson "wouldn't have done that to (former President George W.) Bush or any of the 43 presidents like that."
The push, experts said, reflects growing anger in the black community over how Obama is being attacked with venomous and false charges that he's a socialist, born in Kenya, a Muslim, and somehow un-American.
"It feels very O.J-ish," said Kathryn Russell-Brown, the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida, referring to the racial divide in public opinion over the guilt or innocence of former football star O.J. Simpson for the 1994 murder of his white wife. Surveys found that white majorities thought Simpson guilty was and blacks didn't. Simpson was acquitted in 1995. "It's deja vu all over again. People have staked out their ground: 'It's about race; no it's not about race.'"
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., also black, said that the racial undercurrent against Obama has been the least discussed aspect of his presidency. Scott said he experienced some of the racial vitriol aimed at Obama when someone painted a swastika on his Smyrna, Ga., office following a contentious town hall meeting on health care last month. One letter sent to his office addressed him as "Nigga David Scott."
"The folks* are not going to stand for socialized medicine even though negro's (sic) refuse to stand on their own two feet," another letter read.
Georgia's Johnson said that Wilson's outburst, and the House Republican leadership's response to it, gives a wink and a nod to racist behavior and that Tuesday's resolution was needed to restore civility.
"The other party has been stoking the flames of disrespect among the people," Johnson said, adding: "I guess we'll have people putting on white hoods and uniforms."
*Bill O'Reilly terminology