There’s an old saying: never attribute to malice that which you can attribute to incompetence (or coincidence).

This saying came to mind when I read about this.

Apparently some are up in arms because there are ominous tom tom drums playing in the background during mentions of Harold Ford Jr’s name in this Corker ad.

Let’s walk logically through the steps here:

  • Did the Corker campaign hire a band and jingle-writing firm, or use Garageband, or whatever, to produce a song that has tom-toms specifically to coincide with mentions of Ford’s name? Ooor, did they just use some stock crap jingle and put it in the background. I vote the latter, but the Corker campaign does have some pretty deep pockets.
  • IF the former, did they use tom-toms to subtlely reference Harold Ford’s blackness? Or did they use them because the tom-toms work with the low cello/bass hits to produce a more ominous effect. I vote the latter. Are deep bass and cello strokes racist, too?

Now, if we take it for granted that they used the tom-toms to produce a more ominous effect, I think there’s an interesting sociological case to be made that the association of tom-toms and an “ominous” mood could be construed as a racist artifact. What are the tom-toms emulating? A more “tribal” drum sound. Why is that ominous? Because it may tie into our historical cultural association of “darkies” (be they native american, african, or anything else) with a tribal, “beastial”, inferior, violent and predator nature (i.e. the justification for roughly half a millenium of colonialism and exploitation).

While I think this angle is interesting, I don’t really think it is something you can blame on intent on the Corker camp. Never attribute to malice that which you can attribute to incompetence, coincidence, or subtle embedded 500-year-old institutional racism.