Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) was accused of playing the race card when
he characterized Southern governors’ opposition to the $787 billion
federal stimulus package as “a slap in the face of African-Americans.”
He was referring to the four Republican governors
who have opposed accepting some or all of the money, including Gov.
Rick Perry of Texas, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Mark Sanford
of South Carolina, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. These states are
part of the Black Belt, states in the South with the largest percentages
of African Americans. These are among some of the poorest and neediest
counties in America. Rep. Clyburn believes that these Republican
governors don’t want the stimulus to help poor Black people, so
they’d rather not take the money. And not surprisingly, I agree
with the Congressman.
When I first heard about this, I googled the deep
recesses of my memory and recalled an episode of Little House on
the Prairie. Just work with me on this one. In this episode, Dr.
Caleb Ledoux, a Black university-trained doctor, comes to work with
Dr. Baker, the town doctor. Ledoux is a far superior doctor to Baker,
who assigns him menial tasks because he is, well, Black. And with
the exception of the Ingalls, none of the other people in Walnut
Grove would go to him. One day, Doc Baker is away, and a woman is
in childbirth and needs an emergency C-section. Dr. Ledoux can do
the job, and Dr. Baker would have been ill-equipped in any case,
but the racist husband of the expectant mother refuses his help.
A whoopin’ from Charles Ingalls allows the husband to see the error
of his ways, and the operation is a success, with mother and baby
doing well. Dr. Ledoux, tired of the disrespect, decides to leave
the town for good, but the townsfolk convince him to stay.
Fast forward to today: Obama is playing the role
of Dr. Ledoux, and the Southern governors are defiant patients in
a Black hospital.
Part of the GOP Southern Strategy had been to oppose
social programs on the grounds that they would help people of color.
Never mind that poor Whites would benefit as well. And it was this
strategy which, applied years earlier by Southern elites, helped
to keep the South dumb, backwards and poor by convincing poor Whites
to support slavery and render their own labor superfluous. Under
Jim Crow segregation, those elites kept poor Whites and Blacks separate
and apart, by law, thereby preventing the formation of a biracial
labor movement. Even to this day, the South is wholly nonunionized.
So, let’s return to the matter at hand and take a
look at the states in question. Texas, which will receive an estimated
$16.9 billion share from the Obama stimulus package, boasts the
country’s ninth highest poverty
rate in the country, and ranks eighth in childhood poverty. The state is 15 percent
Mississippi - whose governor says he will refuse
$50 million from the federal government for unemployment compensation
- ranks first in the nation in poverty, second in childhood poverty,
and ranks 48th out of 50 states in educational standards. And the state is 39 percent Black.
South Carolina, where my family traces its origins
in this country, is the twelfth poorest state in the union. It is
also 30 percent African American. Clyburn noted that relief from
the stimulus would assist 12 of South Carolina’s 46 counties along
the I-95 corridor, in which more than
one-fifth of the residents have lived in poverty
for the past 30 years.
Finally, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has said
that he wants to reject $98 million in stimulus money that would
expand unemployment benefits for his state. Louisiana stands to
collect $4 billion from Washington, and it needs every penny. Its
wounds still festering from Hurricane Katrina, and its people displaced,
Louisiana ranks number 44 in education and number 3 in poverty.
Louisiana is also one-third Black. Jindal, one of the more prominent
water carriers and hewers of wood for the Republican retrograde
freak show, is Louisiana’s second governor of color (the first was
Benton Stewart Pinchback, who became the nation’s first African American
governor in 1872).
Jindal, who is of Indian descent, opposes abortion,
embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage. He has an A
rating from the Gun Owners of America. He signed into law the teaching
of intelligent design in the Louisiana public schools, and authorized
the chemical castration of sex offenders. We are told Gov. Jindal
is the future of the Republican Party, a brilliant individual who
has accomplished many great things in his state. But during his
fifteen minutes of fame, when he gave the GOP response to President
Obama’s address to Congress, we learned how underwhelming and inconsequential
this man really is. His performance that evening was far more of
an embarrassment for Brown University and the University of Oxford,
the schools he attended, than for the governor himself.
We know about Jindal’s Punjabi background, but we
get absolutely no sense as to whether he has learned anything from
his people’s rich cultural heritage. And how ironic it is that this
second generation immigrant, who would fashion himself as an anti-tax,
anti-government spending, Simple Simon “redneck of color” in order
to appeal to the base of his party, would quickly be labeled a “terrorist”
by the same base that smeared and vilified Obama.
But I digress…
opposing crucial economic aid to their citizens, these four governors
seem to be channeling their inner George
Wallace, their inner Ross
Barnett, or their inner Orval
Faubus. Their strategy is to stand in front of the schoolhouse
door, with a 21st century twist, and stand in the way of an historic
seismic shift in America. The political winds have brought federal
budgets that reflect progressive priorities and an emphasis on the
needs and concerns of everyday people. Pragmatic moderates such
as Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California
are taking the stimulus money because they are no idiots (and Obama
won their respective states in November), but they are few in number
in their party.
Governors of any state likely cannot pick and choose
which parts of the stimulus they wish to take, and their state legislatures
can override them in any case. If nothing else, this latest chapter
of the Republican Party makes for good entertainment, and I have
my popcorn ready. If this is the only strategy they have left -
to refuse to take the Black man’s help when their people are jobless,
hungry and increasingly homeless, yet conclude they’ll end up looking
fabulous in the process - then they have already written their own
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a lawyer
and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive
Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune
News Service, In These Times and
Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons
(St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International
UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference
as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and
served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is davidalove.com.
here to contact Mr. Love.