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 …

 

When Black People Don’t Vote

The other day, I was going into a library and as I approached the door, a young man with a clipboard approached me, asking if my voter registration was up to date. As I assured him it was, my ears perked up when the other gentleman with a clipboard asked an African-American woman the same question I had been asked, and she snapped, “Yeah. Naw. I don’t vote!” And at that, she stormed into the library. I followed her and she grumbled to a child who was with her, who may have been her grandchild, “how dare them ask me if my registration is up to date! They don’t question me! If I want to vote, I’ll vote.”

I didn’t know if that meant she had a voter registration card and was just miffed that someone asked her if her information was up to date, or if she really planned not to vote. I don’t have the answer to my own question, but this I do know: it does something to me when I hear black people say they are going to vote.

Last year, I visited Selma. I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As I walked, I remembered reading what happened on that bridge, how black and white people were beaten back by white police officers who beat them, injuring many, including Congressman John Lewis, who was a young man at the time.

As we walked across that bridge, I remembered thinking how chaotic and scary that day or that project had to have been. The bridge is not large; it is not long and it is not wide, and yet, thousands of people, tired of having to take literacy tests given, many times, by people who could not read themselves. I thought about how those people kept hitting against the Evil called white supremacy, being beaten, imprisoned, having their houses burned down by white people, many of who were law enforcement officers…I thought about how people stayed the course and risked their lives and much more, just to get black people the right to vote.

And yet, some people say they will not vote.

I have heard young people say voting doesn’t matter, or, more specifically, that their vote does not matter. I have heard other people blame God, or give God credit, for their not voting. One woman, when I was registering people before the 2008 election, said God told her not to vote, that the only One she had to answer to, was God. No, she said, she would not be voting.

Her statement confused me and bothered me, just as this woman the other day at the library confused and bothered me, and, frankly, made me angry.

I remember growing up, when we kids would do something wrong that made us look like the selfish kids we were, my mother saying, “I’ve done (and she could list the things she had worked and sacrificed for) for you …and this is the thanks I get?

Those words gripped me as I grappled with this woman’s reaction to the question about being up to date with her voter registration information, and her declaration that, “no,” she would not be voting.

How can anyone of African American descent say that?

For many, there is disappointment that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee. They are disappointed because they feel her message was supported by the media, though they feel that her message and candidacy was supported at the expense of Bernie Sanders. Others are angry at her because she supported policies of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, that were responsible for many black people being in prison today for either petty crimes, or crimes they did not commit.

To be honest, I am not wild about Hillary being in the White House, either. I don’t think she is any worse than any other candidate, but I am just not inspired by her campaign promises and rhetoric.

But though I am unimpressed by what she is saying, I cannot choose to skip this election and my by absence, give more votes to Donald Trump. Trump and the Republicans represent the racism, overt racism, that our ancestors fought to be rid of. Trump is a bully,and a narcissistic racist who is appealing to the guy wrenching fear and anger of a group of people who want him to “make America great again.”  I don’t think we as black people understand fully about how being present in the political arena and exercising our right to vote is about the best way to make sure white supremacy is held at bay.

I am hoping black people who are planning not to vote will rethink their plans. Black people don’t win by withholding, or rejecting  their privilege to vote. We have got to be present, in the middle of the cocktail party, so to speak, to make our voices heard and to not let the poison of white supremacy spread across these United States like a toppled jar of non-washable ink. Our ancestors, I keep thinking, must be weeping in their divine sleep, screaming screams that cannot be heard, saying, “No!”

We have come too far, but the powers that be are working to undo those changes, slowly, persistently, and financially. If we don’t vote, we contribute to Trump’s victory. But listen up: We needed the right to vote.  Even if you hate Hillary Clinton, there is or will be more chances to perhaps get people in high places so that the gains we’ve made will not be completely eroded by a group of people who “want their country back.” I don’t know what all that means, but it feels like something that will be designed to break our backs. They are gearing up for the victory of a man who thinks of no one but himself; if we let him in, we suffer; the gains we’ve made will be done away with.

And our ancestors will weep again.

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 ….

No Time to Go Backwards

By now, everyone knows that seven states have passed laws that compromise the ability of some people to vote; the feeling is that the laws unfairly impact minority voters.

Seven states, including Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and Maine, have passed laws that prevent early voting, and at least 15 states have passed laws that require voters to have a photo ID. States requiring photo identification include Texas, South Carolina, Kansas, Floria, Wisconsin, Rhode Island,Mississippi and Kansas.(The states with new voter ID laws include Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin.)

Civil rights organizations are concerned that these new laws, which have been adopted in so-called “battleground” states, will unfairly impact minority voters. It is estimated that about 5 million voters will be negatively impacted by the new laws. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University,  states that about 18 percent of seniors and 35 percent of African Americans do not have the proper photo identification.

This, after so much blood was shed by black and white people, during the 60s, to give African Americans the right to vote.

In October of 2011, a 96-year-old Tennessee woman, having learned of the new photo ID requirement of her state, was denied a photo ID because, in spite of having an envelope full of documents which affirmed her identification, including her birth certificate, she didn’t have her marriage license.

That was a problem, said the clerk, because the name on her birth certificate and on her old voter registration card was different from the name she currently has.

That sounds like something from the days of poll taxes, where clerks denied African Americans the right to vote for all sorts of contrived and dastardly reasons.

GOP presidential candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich say the new laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud.

That is GOP-speak for “we-didn’t-like-the-huge-voter-turn-out-in-2008-that-helped-put-Barack-Obama-in-the-White-House.

The United States Justice Department is looking into these laws, but the slowness of “the system” is a tad worrisome. It is January, sure, but before we know it, we will have gotten through what is sure to be a lurid election campaign season and November will be upon us.

I am sure there are nice, compact “directions” on what people should do in order to make sure they have the correct identification come November, but folks who make laws know how people work. They know that a great number of people will either remain uninformed about the new laws, or will wait until it’s too late to get the needed photo identification, and then, come voting day, tear-tear…they will not be able to vote.

The Justice Department has locked horns with South Carolina over their new law. Some Republicans say that its “intrusion” into South Carolina’s business is just another example of  “big government,” and is proof of why President Obama, dubbed by some as “the most liberal president in United States history” needs to be out of the White House.

But, no. I would have to disagree. In its history, the United States government has been either slow or absent in matters pertaining to protecting or ensuring the rights of African Americans far too often. A government that said nothing about what’s going on to compromise the right to vote for African Americans and others would be a government that would not be worthy of respect.

This is not the time to go backwards.

A candid observation…