The remembrance of the late President George H.W. Bush was moving; his good work as president – i.e., ending the Cold War, getting the Berlin Wall down – was rightfully noted. His civility was understandably emphasized in light of the total lack of civility we are experiencing now. His family was surely comforted by affirmation of his inherent goodness.
But his racism was nearly totally glossed over.
It was his administration that used the case of Willie Horton to feed into the racist fears of white people. In 1988 a group called “Americans for Bush” created and ran what came to be known as the “Willie Horton ad.” It was so reprehensible that it still gives me chills. This group of white Americans capitalized on the sad fact that a man who was given a furlough by Bush’s Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, raped a white woman twice while on a weekend furlough. Many governors in states across the nation granted furloughs at that time, but the impact of this ad on white people was enormous. Lee Atwater, the brains behind the Bush campaign, ended up apologizing for the ad on his deathbed, but at the time of the election, all bets were off. Dukakis was too much of a threat, and so white campaign strategists used what is being used today – race – to make sure their guy got into office.
It was disgusting.
It is beyond dispute that President Bush 41 did some really good things while in office. Nobody can dispute that. But he did some things that were not so good (https://truthout.org/articles/i-will-not-speak-kindly-of-the-dead-bush-was-detestable/?utm_source=sharebuttons&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=mashshare&fbclid=IwAR3lfOMPejr4FOtKxgkUda0PfQaaSjWchIGO3LvF1uyVUm7AMBpb5hqZGPk) and in lifting him up as one of America’s last great presidents, those things, which have had a tremendous impact on the world, have been ignored – including his racism.
White Americans have historically been able to separate their racism from their faith. In the antebellum South, whites would say that slavery was a problem but that it was not immoral or wrong; the Slavery Bible was written to contort the will of God to fit the racist mindset of Southerners who believed in it. White Christianity has always been different from the Christianity practiced by oppressed people. The god of white people has been ok with racism and all of its tentacles, but their god did not gel with the God of all people described in the Christian Bible.
Robert P. Jones in his book The End of White Christian America says that “White Christian America…has died.” But has it? This sect of Christians is making a comeback, using race as their foundation, to maintain what has been the status quo. If the “swamp” was drained, it was refilled with these “good, Christian” people who believe in the sanctity of white supremacy. The noticeable silence on the part of the media about this president’s racism supports that reality. Nobody expected the funeral of the late president to be the place where Bush’s racism was mentioned, but the media should have. The role of racism in this country and its use by the “best of the best” as indicated by the Bush campaign, should have been noted more prominently, not to beat him over the head but to remind America that we still have a problem.
My guess is that the majority of white people, white Christians especially, do not know about the Willie Horton ad and that if they did, it would not bother them. They would shrug and say that Willie Horton was a bad guy and that using him to win an election was fair game.
This attitude, even though the very architect of the ad struggled with the wrongness of that ad until he died.
Revising history when it comes to race seems to be the only way white Americans can survive. Dr. Joy DeGruy, the author of Post– Traumatic Slave Syndrome, identifies the cognitive dissonance that white people have learned to use so well as a major reason why racism still fills this country with its stench.
The voter suppression that is running rampant throughout the country has a racist core; many of the policies being created have a racist core. We are a racist nation, and we will not admit it.
President George H.W. Bush was a good person to and for his family and friends. He did some things that perhaps helped the African American community during his presidency. He was certainly civil, unlike the current president; he was not an outright liar, again, as is the current president.
But he was racist and knew how to use racism to get what he wanted. I cannot forget that, and I suspect, many others cannot, either.
A candid observation