interim between Christmas and New Year's Day is a time for reassessment,
a lull in life's short march during which we resolve to patch up
what has gone wrong, and make more permanent that which has gone
help us in our contemplations. For the evaluative purposes of this
essay, we will employ the ancient icons of the Three Kings. Our
three kings are definitely not wise, but they do bear gifts. Their
names are Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, and David Duke and, without
intending to, they have set at our feet the gift of insight, an
opportunity to examine the foul effusions of their hearts, and the
moral character of those they represent.
Duke is a former Imperial Wizard; we will get to him and his faithful
subjects, later. King Lott is royalty among the white people of
Mississippi. They adore him. There's Trent Lott International
Airport, Trent Lott High School, in Pascagoula, Trent Lott Leadership
Institute at the University of Mississippi, and Trent Lott Space
Research Center at predominantly Black Jackson State University
(the name came with the deal, a tribute to the white folk's King.)
honors like these are bestowed in such abundance on living persons,
it is the result of a general consensus on the worthiness of that
individual. Whites run Mississippi, and for them there is nothing
in the least controversial or aberrant about Trent Lott. They know
him better than anybody else does; they "know his heart."
He is one of them, and beloved. Whatever you have to say
about Trent Lott, goes for the overwhelming white majority of Mississippi,
it comes to Strom Thurmond, "Long live the King" is a
puny understatement. White South Carolina loves him like a Holy
Ghost. They love him because they love their past, and are glad
it is still here in the present. Their Strom-love is contagious,
having long ago infected the entire Washington press corps. He is
the undying symbol of their determination to maintain white rule;
whites gasp when he coughs. Normal white South Carolinians have
spent one and-a-half of their own lifetimes (although not yet an
entire one of his) affirming that Strom Thurmond represents them
- always has, always will.
command the votes of white majorities in the Deep South because
majorities of white southerners are racists.
this may seem obvious to an African American audience, but self-evident
truth has no standing in the United States. It is the job of the
corporate press to find a way around the truth. Herculean efforts
are required to circumnavigate the mountain of historical and contemporary
evidence that the GOP is the self-conscious, swaggering White Man's
Party of the South, in every sense and connotation of the term.
The nation's media and public relations professionals have run themselves
breathless, this holiday season, yet remain bound and determined
to maintain the white American illusion.
referred earlier to the truth as observed by an African American
audience. That's because Blacks are not really part of the
conversation. While we revel in well-deserved glee at Trent Lott's
misery, the subject of the conversation, itself, has been changed.
The discussion no longer revolves around racism in the here and
now, at the very core of the ruling U.S. party. Instead, corporate
media and think tank talkers discuss the prospects for passage of
the New Republican agenda, as if that has nothing to do with the
pre-Lott downfall agenda. Lott has been discarded from leadership,
while the policies he shared in their totality with George
Bush, are retained. In addition, the constituency that elected Lott
is to be mollified, on the premise that Lott misrepresented them
as well as the institutional Republican Party.
nonsense, of course, but remember - we are not part of this conversation.
Instead, the 24-hour news cycle is full of proposals on how to best
rinse the Republican Party clean of Trent Lott's persona.
This is a quintessentially white conversation, since it has nothing
to do with the actual conditions of Black life in America. Ironically,
Trent Lott and the "old" (!) Strom Thurmond did speak
to those conditions; they demanded maintenance of white dominion
over Blacks. The "New Republican Party," conceived, gestated
and baptized in the two weeks between Strom Thurmond's birthday
party and Trent Lott's resignation announcement, promises to utter
no racist words. The conversation on race has ended. Get over it,
say the Republicans, the corporate media, and many Democrats - we
is made to appear that Trent Lott's and Strom Thurmond's political
supporters, the white majorities in their states and the region,
are blameless in the entire matter. The fiction emanates even from
the Atlanta studios of CNN, in rebel yelling distance from places
where, just last month, fields of Confederate flags greeted the
successful Republican candidate for Governor of Georgia.
has been no national discussion of race, merely an amelioration
of temporary white embarrassment at Trent Lott's words.
question of semantics
have learned - or re-learned - that no assault on Black people is
sufficient reason for white institutions to make substantive alterations
in their political behavior. And we are quickly being reminded that
it is uncivil for African Americans to bring up the subject, once
the one-way conversation has been closed, or re-directed.
backsliding is already evident, as signaled by the Washington Post,
one of the arbiters of the national consensus. In the paper's December
22 edition, Lott's birthday remarks were described as a "gaffe,"
typical of the corporate media's treatment of the event. According
to the American Heritage Dictionary, a gaffe is a "clumsy social
error; a faux pas," "a breach of sensibility and good
taste," or "a blatant mistake or misjudgment."
other words, Lott embarrassed the Republican Party and polite white
society in general. His conduct was like that of a drunken uncle,
acting the fool in mixed company. The implicit solution: next time,
it would be best to make sure he's not invited.
entire episode is being trivialized out of existence - like American
a glimpse of what the GOP is really talking about - the conversation
within the general white conversation -one must listen as
the racists communicate directly to one another, rather than with
winks, nods and euphemisms. In a December 18 column, just before
Lott swallowed the potion, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Abigail
Thernstrom explained why she and her Hard Right colleagues wanted
between the lines: he will now take his cues from the Democrats
and their allies like the N.A.A.C.P. and the Leadership Conference
on Civil Rights. Thus, the original tragedy - remarks that certainly
sounded racist at Strom Thurmond's birthday bash - is compounded
by his new posture as groveler-in-chief of the Republican Party.
At a time when fighting racial inequality requires a willingness
to challenge the mainstream civil rights establishment, Mr. Lott's
party will no longer be able to stand tall."
and her husband, Stephen, earn millions as anti-affirmative action
intellectual gurus. Lott had to go in order to maintain the momentum
of the GOP's assault on affirmative action and civil rights leadership.
These are the conversations that made Trent Lott disappear from
Republican leadership. Blacks barely had a chance to put their two
cents in before Lott was undone - the entire purpose behind the
hasty, covert White House maneuverings against their champion of...
it seems like, yesterday.
news analysts had been reporting since December 12 that White House
hit man Karl Rove had put out the contract on Lott. And we told
you on the 19th why Bush chose a Philadelphia faith-based initiatives
gathering to publicly pull the rug from under the Mississippian's
feet. (See "Trent
Lott Furor Threatens Faith-based Bribery Scheme.) Lott was generating
the kind of talk that is hazardous to the GOP agenda. The conversation
had to be squashed, and quickly, before Black America found its
voice. Will we lose it again, now that Lott has been sacrificed,
even as the Republicans steamroll on?
hear, remember no evil
and his crowd are waging war against human memory. Only by erasing
memory can they hope to remake themselves instantaneously, by proclamation,
without changing their actual agenda one iota. African Americans
do not have the luxury of forgetfulness, since the abominations
of the past continue in the present, without pause, as facts of
daily life. Trent Lott's white majority didn't go anywhere. Mississippi
is still Mississippi. The Republicans are still the White Man's
Party. In the southern GOP heartland, under present conditions of
relative quietude among a Black population that does not threaten
disruption of business as usual, it is against Republican interests
to be otherwise. Their goal is to fracture the Black vote, not win
are told that the Dixiecrat presidential campaign of 1948, celebrated
by Trent Lott as the apex
of Strom Thurmond's glory, should be consigned to the archives of
history. In fact, if Lott hadn't kept bringing it up, the Dixiecrat
revolt would have slipped from most memories, gathering dust.
However, the Right demands that recent history also be expunged.
Living truths are the most dangerous of all.
last Sunday's Chris Mathews FOX gabfest, Weekly Standard writer
Tucker Carlson put on a display of dementia, demanding proof of
the existence of a racist GOP voter base. "I'd like to see
the poll numbers that show there is a huge number of racists out
there," said the bow-tied young Carlson. Nobody took him up
the most definitive poll of all was taken only 12 years ago, in
1990, when David Duke - yes, the third King of our essay, bearing
gifts of historical value - won 60% of the white vote in his race
for U.S. Senator from Louisiana. Astoundingly, the youngish ex-Nazi
and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan won seven out of every
ten white male votes.
could be no doubt about the meaning of the contest. Everyone in
Louisiana knew who David Duke was. With just three years in the
state legislature, Duke had not been in office long enough to have
built schools or delivered loads of contracts. He wasn't part of
the political network, with a briefcase full of favors to cash in.
His only claim to fame was that he hated Black people, and that
was more than enough for an overwhelming majority of white males
and most of their sisters, wives and daughters. The Black vote spared
the polite white South from an embarrassment far bigger than the
one occasioned by Trent Lott's words. Duke's campaign was as close
to a laboratory-type measurement of Deep South white racism as can
be imagined - there were no convenient variables to explain away
the abject racism of the white electoral majority.
youngest supporters are barely 30 today. Nothing much has happened
in a little over a decade that would have shaken their racist worldviews
from previous moorings. There has been no social/political earthquake.
If anything, the ascension of George Bush has probably emboldened
the racists of Louisiana. That seemed to be the effect Bush had
on Trent Lott.
is no data to indicate that non-voting whites in Louisiana are less
racist than the voting kind. And there is nothing so strange about
Louisiana to set it dramatically apart from Mississippi or Alabama
or, for that matter, the native white populations in any of the
Deep South states.
Tucker Carlson, "there is a huge number of racists out there."
is the base vote of the White Man's Party. The relative liberalism
of Dixie's suburban "swing voters" is over-rated - Duke
won his state legislature seat from a New Orleans suburb.
to act like a human being
this vicious political environment, Blacks must also accept some
responsibility for Trent Lott's behavior. We have fraternized with
the enemy, respecting his lies as if they have some claim on our
notions of civility. He has taken civility for acquiescence. We
have suppressed righteous anger under circumstances in which anger
is the best proof of our humanity. Our enemies have interpreted
forbearance as servility. We have relied solely on the vote, when
simple math dictates that we must commit to direct and unrelenting
actions outside of electoral politics, as well. Our foes believe
that we have no other options. We have hobbled our gifts of language,
fearing to be labeled "harsh," "strident," or
"abrasive." It is assumed that we are meek.
to behave as full citizens in the New Year. Bush fears that kind
of African American. Make it a loud 2003. It is our civic responsibility,
our duty as human beings, and our only protection. 40 million is
a big number, and we have always proven to be stronger than our
numbers. Never forget that.