And If You Freeze the Frame at Just the Right Moment, You Can See a White Robe and Pointy Hood Hanging on the Back of the Door


Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson has watched Hillary Clinton's "something is happening in the world" ad so many times that he has lost his mind. Spurred by "an uneasy feeling that something was not quite right," he found that "repeated watching of the ad on YouTube increased my unease." Eventually Patterson realized what was bothering him:

I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad's central image—innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger—it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn't help but think of D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad—as I see it—is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.

Patterson concedes that the Clinton campaign might not have had a racist intent, but he's pretty sure that the candidate benefited from the support of voters spooked by the idea of a black man answering that red phone. And if that was not the plan all along, why on earth would the ad's creators have put a blond child in it? True, "two other sleeping children, presumably in another bed, are not blond, but they are dimly lighted, leaving them ambiguous. Still it is obvious that they are not black—both, in fact, seem vaguely Latino." Just like the children menaced by lurking black men in Birth of a Nation?

I hate Hillary Clinton more than the next guy, and I thought the red phone ad was moronic and demagogic. But Patterson's take on it is even stupider.