Why Don’t White People Get It?

The other day on CNN, during one of those now-familiar pointless conversations by a so-called “distinguished panel,” one of the speakers, a Trump supporter, blurted out, “Why does race have to be injected into everything?

Because, my dear, white people in power have always made race an issue.

From the writing of the U.S. Constitution to the present day, white people in power have done all they can to keep black people out of power. White lawmakers, many of them, have done all they could do to keep black people from voting; they are doing the same now. White people wanted black people to work this economy and make them money, but these same white people, too many, were clear that they did not want black people to have political and or economic power. They were not equal to whites, these white people said. They were inferior, white supremacist dogma said. Black people were not worth the time of day, these whites felt, unless, of course, they were making money for white people.

Does that sound caustic and cynical?  It can sound no other way. It is the truth.

Blacks having the right to vote has always been an issue. After the Civil War, during Reconstruction, blacks were allowed to vote and enjoyed political power for a time. But with the coming of Jim Crow, the right to vote was one of the first “rights” to be taken from black people. The poll taxes, the literacy tests, the murders of those  – white and black – who tried to register black people to vote – became a part of the fabric which is America.

Donald Trump keeps lifting up the GOP as the party of Lincoln – which it was. At one time the Republican party was the party which believed in the words “all men are created equal” and worked to assure that black people in this country were treated with dignity and respect.

But many Republicans, in addition to  Southern Democrats who had historically and openly fought against equal rights for black people,  were uncomfortable with blacks having more political and economic power. The Civil War was fought because Americans couldn’t agree on what to do with black people. The South thought they should forever be slaves; the North, though they were no less racist than their Southern neighbors, thought slavery should be abolished. In drama no less compelling than what is going on now, the pro and anti-slavery people fought.  Black people, as W.E.B. DuBois said, were a “problem.” The political parties tossed the issue of civil and human rights for black people back and forth like they were a hot football. Frederick Douglass said that, no matter how bad the Republican Party was, however, it was a whole lot better than was the Democratic Party.

Republicans held on as the party which would fight for blacks, even as individuals began to defect. The American political landscape, always changing, endured a significant shift during the Great Depression. Not only were black people marginalized – which they had always been – but now, many white people were marginalized, too. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to do something to save the nation, much like Abraham Lincoln had had to do as the country fell deeper and deeper into the Civil War. While Roosevelt saved the nation, he spawned a new level of racism and classism. Many politicians, Republican and Democrat, were upset with his New Deal.The New Deal saved the country and really created a space and way for black people to make a better living than they had previously. But many Americans, especially white powerbrokers, were not happy.

The objection to “big government” began to take front and center in the Conservative political platform. Many believed that too many black people were benefiting from the government programs. Few people would say that, but the racial undertones were there. Black people were wrecking the country, many felt. They were getting too much government assistance. The atmosphere for rebellion on the part of whites was set, and it was in the 60s that white discontent erupted – with race still in the center of it all.  Some in the Republican Party, which had  actually been more supportive of the 1964 Civil Rights Act than had been the Democrats –  were not happy. Just two weeks after the CRA was passed, Sen. Barry Goldwater, a Republican from Arizona, included in the number of Republicans who were angry at the passage of the Civil Rights Act,  began a campaign to “appeal to Southern white voters.” Goldwater ran for president on a platform of racial politics. More Democrats defected to the Republican Party – with race being the primary impetus. The Southern Strategy was a way of  minimizing the power of the black vote. The Party of Lincoln became the Party of Racial Bigotry.

This race thing…isn’t a Republican or Democratic phenomenon, however. It is an American phenomenon. Issues of race eat us up as Americans. We cannot get past it. Even now, Republicans are trying hard to suppress the rights gained by blacks via the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But that fact does not obliterate the fact that many white Democrats are supportive of voter suppression as well.

Many in this country soundly believe that America is and was always meant to be a “white man’s country.” Donald Trump knows this sentiment; he is speaking to people who want to say what I just wrote but don’t dare. Mr. Trump, however, says what they want to say. In an article in The Nation Magazine, the authors noted that the “Republican Party became the party of white backlash, especially in the South.” (https://www.thenation.com/article/when-republicans-really-were-party-lincoln/)

But the white backlash is everywhere. Racism is part of America’s fabric. I just don’t understand why white people …just don’t get it.

A candid observation …

 

On “The Race Card”

It is singularly interesting and puzzling to me why people so quickly say one is “playing the race card” if he or she mentions the racial issues we deal with daily.

America is “the race card,” and everything, or nearly everything, she does, somehow circles back to the issue of race.

For instance, while people gathered in Selma to celebrate or remember the horrid day 50 years ago when peaceful protestors, wanting the right to vote in this nation, were beaten by Alabama law enforcement, we were and are concurrently dealing with a United States Supreme Court which is steadily dismantling the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To be Conservative seems to be, albeit an unspoken truth, one who decries funding for “entitlements,” which to many Conservatives means “hand-outs” for  black people. The racist emails uncovered in the Ferguson Police Department saying that President Obama would not last four years in the White House because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?” shows the putrid undergirding of the American thought. That type of sentiment is not just a “Ferguson” phenomenon. (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/06/ferguson-police-officers-resign-racist-emails)

When President Obama, talking about the death of Trayvon Martin, said if he’d had a son, he’d look like Trayvon, the outcry of protest was immediate; the president, folks said, was playing “the race card.”

Poppycock. He was telling the truth.

If we talk about the racist history of this nation, we play “the race card.” If we mention the ongoing racial disparities in this country, we play “the race card.” If we point out that black people are disproportionately profiled by law enforcement, we play “the race card.” If we say mass incarceration of black people makes America hold the title of incarcerating more people than any other nation in the modern world, and if we say the “war on drugs” was targeted at black people, we play “the race card.”

That charge, in spite of the documented “Southern Strategy” which was designed to compromise the black vote.

So, today we are dealing with two racist acts. One, the ranting of the white kids in Oklahoma who chanted there would never be a n***** in SAE, their fraternity…and the Congress, which hates Obama being in the White House so much that they wrote a letter to America’s enemy, Iran, undercutting and undermining the president’s efforts to come to some sort of negotiated agreement to keep Iran from making a nuclear weapon.

Forty-seven Republican lawmakers participated in the unprecedented move. White people, angry. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/world/asia/white-house-faults-gop-senators-letter-to-irans-leaders.html?_r=0)

Say what you want about Congress, but what they did is not patriotic or American or wise. It was racist.

It seems that the racism of some people is bubbling so furiously that they cannot contain it. It has always “been there,” but the presence of the president makes it bubble over. His policies make it bubble over. And the biggest irony of all: the president really does not talk about “race” because if he says a mumbling word about anything which is racist, he gets pummeled, charged with playing “the race card.”

When Skip Gates was arrested for trying to get into his own house, we who are black shook our heads; we knew that it was the racism of the “neighbor” who saw Gates trying to get into his house that made her call and say she thought a burglar was breaking into that house, and that it was racism that made the white cops doubt that Gates really was the owner of the house. When President Obama intimated the same, the pummeling began.

The dismantling of the Voting Rights Act is racist. People in power are disturbed that people of color turned out to the polls in record numbers in the last two presidential elections and got Obama back into office…and one white talk show host said that it was the ignorance of black voters who were responsible for getting people like Obama into office. Andrea Shea King, angry because members of the Congressional Black Caucus boycotted the Congress the day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke, said that they should be “hung from nooses.” (http://aattp.org/tea-party-radio-host-wants-black-democrats-hanging-from-a-noose-for-boycotting-netanyahu-speech-audio/) Part of what she said:

“[Most] of those members who are opting out of attending the speech are members of the Congressional Black Caucus,” she made sure to add.

“How do people like this get elected to represent us in Congress?” she continued. “Because there are stupid people out there in those congressional districts who are so ignorant that it’s dangerous. Because these people that they elect into Congress vote, and when they vote, their vote affects us.”
“Stupid, stupid people! Our lives are on the line and all they can think of is skin color. You know, all of us are going to turn black if we end up in a cage on fire!”

I guess she forgot about the numbers of black people actually put in cages and burned in this country.

It’s “the race card” being played  by an irate white person.

America is “the race card.” The resentment of blacks by so many whites has forever been a part of the quilt of American government and American life.

Why talk about race, people ask? Because it is the “seasoning” that is on everything America does. Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. Talking about it makes it come from its hiding place; talking about it exposes it for what it is: a horrible reality that keeps America from her best self.

“The race card” needs to be honored and played …so that reality replaces myth and makes denial of the same impossible. It would help America see herself for what she is …and thus be in position to be healed.

By the way, racism is not a uniquely American disease. It has metastasized throughout the world. But maybe if America would go on and play the race card and stop acting like it doesn’t exist, America’s healing would begin to spread all over the world as well.

Wishful thinking …but a thought nonetheless.

A candid observation …

 

 

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

I am trying not to be angry, but I am.

The Republicans have made a point of saying they want to appeal to all Americans, that they want to enlarge their base and show people that they “care” about those who are not Conservatives.

But today, as people gather in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate that awful Sunday in 1965 when black people were beaten as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they had to in order to reach Montgomery from Selma to demand the right to vote, Republican leadership is not there. Save one, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, there will be no Republicans in leadership there to commemorate, really, the working of democracy.

It is clear that there is not a lot of support for upholding the Voting Rights Act amongst Conservatives. The United States Supreme Court has done much to dismantle much of what the more than 25,000 people marched for on that day in 1965. It seems that Conservatives give much lip service to the concept of democracy, but in practice, they seem not to believe in it at all.

Their absence in Selma today says that they do not care …about a large number of American citizens …who happen to be people of color. It seems that they do not care that, as Americans fought the British for independence – and won  – that they do not care that people of color had to fight the white power structure for dignity and a basic American right …and won …in spite of being brutally beaten.

It was the goal of Alabama state law enforcement to impede black people from crossing that bridge and from demanding their right to vote. It was only after President Lyndon Johnson, at the behest of Civil Rights leaders, ordered protection for the marchers from the federal government …that the people had enough protection to …be Americans and to demand an American right.

The interference of the federal government in cases of racial inequality and injustice was the basis for the battle cry of “states’ rights” back then, a cry which is resurrecting today. Folks resented the federal government “telling them what to do.” It was the right of states, they believed, to treat their “nigras” like they wanted to. When the federal government intervened, they fumed …and are still fuming.

That’s why we are seeing such an erosion of the Voting Rights Act today.

I think of all those people who were beaten that day as they marched peacefully to claim their right to vote …and I weep inside, because it seems like, feels like, much of what they suffered for has been forgotten.

I remember when President George Bush, in his inauguration address, called for “1000 points of light” to help address and fix some of this nation’s problems.

Those lights either do not exist or have been blown out by the winds of racial injustice which have continued to blow in this great land of ours.

It would be great to look up and see that some of our Republican leaders swallowed their emotions and showed up today in Selma. It would be good to see Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner …and others …but they will not show up. House Republicans showed up to support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but have so little respect for African-Americans and people of color that they will not show up today.

I am angry about it; well, maybe “saddened” is the more apt adjective to use. It says volumes about this “land of the free and home of the brave.” It is not yet, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Not yet.

A candid observation ….