DILUTED RACISM/ POLLUTED POLITICS: From the ‘Other Side’ of the Civil Rights Movement?

Talking Drum: At Peace... “…the partisan forces that play out on the campaign trail are simply too great to overcome. If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s how deeply rooted partisanship is in our modern political culture. Even a tragedy of its magnitude could barely contain the forces that perpetually rip apart members of the two parties.”  (CNN- 09/12/2011– Julian Zelizer, CNN contributor, “What happened to spirit of 9/12?”)

Just before listening to President Barack Obama’s recently televised pronouncements on “9/11,” on the heels of his speech on “jobs and the economy” before a special joint session of congress, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of advice his advisors gave prior to his going before “We the People of the United States.” Did they once again remind him to avoid the display of any “angry black man” dynamics?  Did they remind him that he’s the president of all Americans, not just African-Americans or other so-called minorities, but white America, too… not just rich America, but poor,  middle- and working-class America, as well? Did they remind him not to piss off the status quo and wealthy elite? Or, did they simply remind him to make sure he appeased the so-called GOP leadership, no matter what?

Who knows?  But, following the recent events of the this weekend’s “9/11” tributes and celebrations, I thought to myself how far this nation has come from the turbulent times of school desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement years that I recall growing up in Kentucky and my military service. My thoughts stemmed from a mixed bag of personal racial experiences- some negative, some positive.  And, I was reminded of many of them within a recent article, sent by a childhood friend from my hometown, whom my kids still refer to as “Uncle Buzz,” after he allowed them to go horseback riding on the stallion he owned.  The article,  dubbed “Pure Unadultered (sic) Racism,” was written by Helen L. Burleson, Doctor of Public Administration, a contributing writer @ http://www.birminghamtimesonline.com.

A couple of things from her essay stood out for me. First, her stated age of 81 reminded me of the age and life-experience gaps between myself and my older sisters. They’re both in their early-to-mid 80s, nearly 20 years my senior, with different degrees of similarities regarding racial experiences within the Jim Crow South. Their experiences were before the South began to integrate. Mine belched from the bowels of school desegregation when Ole Jim Crow began to get slapped around pretty hard, confusing the political status quo and traditional norms of the good-ole-boy South. Folk around my sisters’ age were taught how to survive the racial realities and nightmares of the South by “knowing their place” in society. We were schooled in those realities, as well, but taught how to strategically challenge them, while proudly representing and further enhancing our so-called “place” in society. Of course, we were fortified with the changing legal landscape of the nation, such as Brown v Board of Education (of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483, 1954), The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, etc.

The second issue which was significant in Dr. Burleson’s essay was her description of the nation’s current political psyche.  She pointed out that, “There are Southern boards of education including, but not limited to Tennessee, Texas and Virginia who want to rewrite the text books either to omit slavery or to revise and rearrange history to fit their biased views.”  She added, “These states all have Republican governors.” She also painted an unflattering profile of the so-called Tea Party, a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, a former governor from Alaska and a Republican governor from Mississippi, “Who knows nothing about slavery and racial tensions in the South.”

And, then, I wondered if President Obama’s advisors ought to include her observations within their wise counsel, as well. Surely, I thought, they must be aware of the mind, soul and ultimate intentions of the adversarial political parties, Tea… or GOP. Then, I thought, perhaps not.

Dr. Burleson aptly painted the political leanings of certain conservative legislators in bold, broad strokes:  “Ignorant! Yes, that’s part of it; but, the main thing is their psyche. Taught at an early age to look down upon and to hate people of African descent, this hatred is buried deep, deep within the throes of every fabric and fiber of their beings. Just as a light weight object put into a glass of water will float to the top, no matter how long racism has been festering in their bodies, confronted with a president of African descent, the covert racism rises to the top. All of the subliminal messages weighing them down for years since infancy, now surface; and unabashedly, they would rather see this nation, this Democratic Republic crumble as long as they can blame this black man and cause his Waterloo!”

As I recall, this blame-the-black-guy mentality has been a part of this nation’s retrograde thinking from the Apartheid-related Jim Crow Era ever since I can remember. I’ve seen it effectively used, when I was a child and, on many occasions, as an adult, as a tool on the wrong side of American justice. The stuffed duffel bags of dirty laundry within our nation’s closets  include many instances where Southern political and law enforcement strategies comfortably shielded horrific white crimes-  crimes against black citizens.  Some never made it to the courts.  Some never even made it to an arrest. On the other hand, many which resulted in an arrest, arraignment and/or trial, including convictions- resulted in cases being blatantly tossed out or overturned or white defendants simply being released on various stupefying legal technicalities.

Yes, this is the hushed other side of the Civil Rights Movement, still missing from classroom history books.  Ample evidence and documentation abounds- but, remain missing from a publicized accounting of events. To its credit, the criminal justice system has changed for the better, over the years. Police units, law enforcement and court personnel are better educated and diversity in education, the military and the workplace has favorably impacted the nation’s perception of itself, in my opinion.  Yet, negative stuff remains concealed, deep within the crevices of systemic hate and racism which stifles real problem-solving communications, today. 

Much of our racial past lies buried beneath the surface, in the closet, behind closed doors and hushed conversations of otherwise responsible citizens.  But, when you grow up in the South, the way I did, you see, hear and remember things as a child that forever imprint your mind and motivation, regardless of your religious training, sense of fairness or unshakable patriotism. They are the realities that many of us are aware of, but refuse to admit.  While the perception of improved race relations tend to dilute the ugliness of racism in America, the stench from the polluted pool of partisan politics hawks back to a time when our courts and politics sanctioned bigotry and discrimination. And, in my opinion, the funk will continue unless we somehow learn to talk and reason together as in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream that “…that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

Oh, there’s been progress, surely. However, we won’t even make it to the table until our nation’s “sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners” can equally understand the crux of why miscegenation has been so important to the status quo or how creeping white political and community leadership fought hard against racial integration during the day but eagerly sought to desegregate the bedrooms of many black women at night, long before Brown and the Board of Education squabbles in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware. Or, why the pervasiveness of potential sexualized violence once made it dangerous for black women to simply walk down the street alone, night or day.  Or, why certain segments in society still today stockpile weapons and food for the inevitable coming “race war” which they envision. 

Interestingly, the Civil Rights era violence and sexual assaults on brave black women, following protest marches, inside many of the nation’s jails and prisons- as well as a few white homes serviced by black domestic workers- has never been widely acknowledged, publicized or discussed by whites or blacks.  Rather, it’s been mostly swept under the rugs of various courtrooms or backroom political shenanigans and backyard conversations of the South, forever cloaked in shame or purported “common good” of the Civil Rights Movement, without any fear of retribution to criminals.

In my opinion, it remains part of the many reasons why, a half century in the wake of the 88th Congress enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a black president’s row is so hard to hoe, today.  It’s not just the stench of lingering, systemic and narrow-minded bigotry. It’s a combination of diluted racism, polluted politics and a bull-headed refusal to relinquish power to an intelligent and caring African-American leader that the 112th Congress seems to be choking post-“9/11” America on.

That’s my take.  What’s yours?  Simply click on the Leave a comment hyperlink at the bottom of this page.  Thanks.  

“Backstreet Djeli”  w.d.s.

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About William "Duke" Smither (formerly, pen name: "Backstreet Djeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at www.backstreetdjeli.com and contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy.