Wednesday, September 29, 2004

White Democrats Don't Let Their Kids Play with "N____rs:" How did Republicans become the "party of segregation" when the exact opposite is true?

In 1972 my parents purchased a home the Township of New Sewickley, Pennsylvania; it was just two miles from the Freedom, PA housing projects where we had lived for about two years. We were displaced when Beaver County decided to put a two-mile highway bypass in place of the two way street through downtown Freedom…replacing the only stop light in the town with a mere stop sign.

My parents were delighted with the move, but cautious because my brother and I were to enter an elementary school that was 100% white. With self-desegregation at the previous elementary school, I had naturally made friends with the four black kids in second grade at that school and I was quite comfortable there. In addition, living in the housing projects had made life fun for a second grader, because there were always other kids around to play with. This represented a change that I clearly perceived in terms of its immediate effect on me, but more remarkable is the fact that this change was apparently of concern to the adults in my life; not only did my parents express some caution, but I remember my mother talking to the Superintendent of Schools and recall her worried observation that we would be the only black kids at Big Knob Elementary.

I remember elements of that first day clearly… specifically; I remember having lunch with the rest of the kids from the school in the cafeteria. It was clear to me at the age of seven that these kids had obviously never even seen a black person before, at least not in “real life.” On that day and for maybe week or so afterward, all of the kids stared at my brother and me with a curiosity that made us both uncomfortable. What was worse was the reaction of many of these same kids when we came out of our new house to play, as no one wanted to play with us. I remember going up the hill behind our house and hearing white parents calling their kids into the house so that we wouldn’t have contact with them. Indeed, the attitude went beyond avoidance to hostility, and even as a second grader, I found myself getting into many fights with the older kids, even fifth and sixth graders, who found cause to pick on a new second grader.

Though over the years this changed, especially with the kids, I still remember having a friend of mine report that his parents would not allow he and his sister to play with “N_ggers.” Fortunately, living in the same neighborhood through high school graduation did see many changes in attitudes as we waited at bus stops, played baseball with one another, studied and socialized together. Still, stereotypes remained throughout my youth. I was a huge Steelers fan and loved Franco Harris, a Black Hall of Fame running back who led the Steelers to many victories and four Super Bowls. I remember going to watch our high school football team take on cross-town foe Beaver High and hearing kids shout that the Steelers are great because of Franco Harris, but adding that Franco was great ONLY because he was half white (Italian). I really resented that as a kid. I still loved Franco--not as much as JOE GREENE - but the caveat that kids associated with him led me to not respect him… until he came to my house to recruit me years later to attend Penn State. (There is a story there that I may get to in another posting.)

This racism came, not from a tiny town in the Deep South and not from an upper-class Republican stronghold, despite what stereotypes perpetuated from the Democrats would have you believe. This was a solidly Democratic, consistently pro-union community. The questions that as an adult perplex me have to do with the deep inconsistency between the reality that so many experienced and the stereotypes that are widely believed today. I am not suggesting that strongly Republican towns may not exhibit many of the same behaviors; unfortunately, I believe that racism can be a human condition that crosses broad party lines. However, it does concern me that the stereotypes lead one to believe otherwise and effectively isolate Democratic strongholds from the legitimate challenges that lead to growth and needed change. I ask:

  • How did the Republican Party become the party of segregation when the exact opposite is true?
  • Why is it that when someone that is Black and identifies with the Republican Party they are considered an “Uncle Tom?” This was reiterated in a speech by Kweisi Mfume reported in the Washington Times on July 13, 2004 when he said, “And like ventriloquist’s dummies (black conservatives), they sit there in a puppet masters voice, but we can see whose lips are moving, and we can hear his (the white man, Republicans or anyone with differing views) money talk?

I resent the implication that everyone with the same color skin should come to the same conclusion about all matters related to politics; the very implication is grounded in a pervasive racism that I reject. My resentment is fueled by my observations, both personal and through historical review; for both show me that the Republican Party is more likely to support positive gains black Americans, as individuals and as members of a community.

Like many Americans, I believed the stereotypes about the Republican Party (bad) versus the Democratic Party (good) up until the time when we finally had a Democrat in office after 12 years of Republican leadership. I approached the 1992 election with much anticipation, hoping for “change” that would magically come with Democratic leadership and celebrating the earlier success that Jesse Jackson had as he battled in 1984 and 1988 for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. Despite my own background of discrimination at the hands of dedicated Democrats, I had been sucked in by the prevailing stereotype. It was only in my disappointment in the policies and politics that followed that I began to examine the roots of this stereotype and consider how far the expressed values of the Democratic Party were from the essential values I had seen expressed in my home, my extended family, and my community.

I had first watched Jesse Jackson on the campaign trail in 1984 when made a speech at the University of Pittsburgh and, like others in the audience, I felt pride in the idea that a black man was running for the office of the President of the United States of America. I remember late actor Ester Rolle (of ‘Good Times’ fame) in attendance and seeing the tears running down her face because she was as proud as I was. But I don’t remember what Jesse Jackson said, because at that point, I really did not care. My only interest was in seeing a black man in a prominent role. I continue to believe that the right man (or woman) in the right position of prominence would be a good thing, but my support at that time was based on a blind adherence to race, not on an assessment of the value of what Jackson was saying or on the perceived viability of his policies. In retrospect, I understand that my support was as inappropriately based on race as was the bias I experienced as a child. Neither attitude is worthy of American ideals.

Jesse Jackson has been the so-called leader or the black movement since I can remember; however, according to his own claims, he has not accomplished anything. One of his biggest “claims to fame” was that he was a part of Martin Luther King’s Civil Right’s movement. However, since then, he has joined other self appointed black leaders - from Kweisi Mfume to Julian Bond to Al Sharpton – not in accomplishing goals for black Americans or anyone else - but in fighting for supremacy amongst themselves.

Worse, many in the black community and among liberal Democrats proudly joked that Bill Clinton was “the first black President.” The only reason this clearly white, Southern Democrat is perceived that way, even as a joke, is because he spends marginal amounts of time in black communities and because he cheats on his wife. Is the black community so weak that we respond to such trivial pandering? Can we be so nonchalant about the basic morals that have been the foundation of family and community for generations that we dismiss as entertaining the insult to our integrity, our families, and our wives that is inherent in this charge? The “joke” sickens me, especially considering that our liberal friends will accuse a black athlete, entertainer, politician, or professional of “acting white” or say that he is an “Uncle Tom” if he is faithful, respectful, and ethical.

The message of all of the “black leaders” who have become accepted by the media and by the Democrats has become irrelevant because it so thoroughly lacks substance… and they all essentially say the same thing: that the “white man” and especially “Conservative Republicans” hold us down as a (Black) people. There is never any substance to match this claim, nor any assessment of whether it is wise to position as entire race in this “victimized” role. My observation, having evolved over time from support to frustration, is that these so called leaders do not create a forum for the legitimate debate that might lead to genuine change because they profit from the status quo, using the “race card” indiscriminately in circumstances that vary from extorting money from corporations to the new charge that we on the right side of the political aisle are trying to “suppress their vote.”

This most recent charge – that black voters have somehow been disenfranchised - most outrages me because it positions “black folk” as inept victims, which is not a position from which to express power, confidence, or to own improvements or change. I’ve voted in different precinct with different voting machines and I have yet to determine how some are alleged to know the race of the individual casting the ballot. While this is only the most recent of such outrageously disempowering charges, it is significant in that it must be one of the most ludicrous and yet one of the ones most likely to be repeated by liberals and Democrats.

Over time, I have become very disenchanted with the views of the left and I challenge the supporters within that movement to demonstrate examples of legislation that have actually helped the Black community in ways that have not simultaneously kept us segregated from mainstream economic opportunities. I know that many leaders mean well with some elements of their rhetoric; however, legislatively, it is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who have enacted the only legislation that lead to significant changes. Clearly, the biggest legislative accomplishment in the past two generations was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which occurred only because the Republican Party made it happen. Case history shows that the Republican Party has not in recently history been nearly as divided as the Democrats by the civil rights issue and in this case, only one Republican senator participated in the filibuster against the bill. This is consistent with Republican history, which shows that since 1933, Republicans had a more positive record on civil rights than Democrats. In the twenty-six major civil rights votes since 1933, a majority of Democrats opposed civil rights legislation in over 80% of the votes. By contrast, the Republican majority favored civil rights in over 96% of the votes. (See “Major features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: a case history,” in the Congressional Link through The Dirksen Congressional Center).

Of course, “Civil Rights” and “Equal Employment Opportunity,” which was afforded through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are very important, but quite different from Affirmative Action, which has primarily occurred since that time and to the detriment of black Americans. More next time on why Affirmative Action is just another way telling blacks that we are just not capable of getting ahead on our own.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Raised a Democrat household

In the mid 1970's, I played “Pop Warner” football and I could not understand why I could not get the same playing time as my little friends. I complained to my mother, telling her how unfair it was that I was not starting defensive end when I was just as good as a friend of mine. I was very upset and as a result, I wanted to quit. My mother would not have any of it. First, she would not permit me then or throughout my formative years to quit anything that I started. Second, my mother emphasized to me that I was black--in a predominately white neighborhood full of Democrats and union workers from the steel industry --and in such an environment to be equal was not good enough. She told me instead that I had to be noticeably better than any white person if I wanted to succeed in sports or, for that matter, most anything in life. As unfair as this seemed, it was the truth at the time; however, what became a key lesson for me is that my mother never told me that I could not accomplish my goal of starting and, despite recognizing some harsh barriers, never set any limits on any of my dreams or desired accomplishments. Instead, she emphasized in this and other situations that I could be whatever I wanted to be as long as I was willing to work hard enough to be better than any of my competitors. Now that I am 39 years old, I've come to realize that life is often not fair, but this lesson has served me well, for it taught me not to be limited by racism, by other's perceptions, or by any "fair" or "unfair" barrier, for my experience with success in this country has taught me that anything is possible if you have a commitment to succeed.

Today, we are debating which political party represents the people and their aspirations and which party will create a government in which the largest numbers of people can success. In my opinion, they both represent the people and various aspirations; the real question to consider is the nature of those competing aspirations, for generations of government interventions have led many toward an approach that is far different from that which my mother espoused for me.

The Democratic Party represents people who want the big hand of government to decide what is "fair" and "unfair" with handouts and set asides such as affirmative action. These are seen as necessary and opponents of such programs are labeled “racists,” a title intended both for its shock value and for the inherently indefensible nature of a charge that assumes knowledge about one’s thought process. Unfortunately, much ignored is the clear message that this approach sends: that people of certain races are unable to accomplish their goals without government handouts. As one who has experienced the challenges that racism presents and yet found success despite hurdles, I deeply resent the Democratic Party’s message, which tells various ethnic minority groups that without the intervention of a “generous” government, we are not smart enough to make the grade in schools, in high tech jobs, or any job that requires merit. Had my mother had the power or the desire to take this approach when I felt that I was unfairly utilized on the ball field, I might have had an opportunity to play more ball that season. However, I would have lost a valuable lesson that had led me to great success in life: the motivation to compete and to prove without a doubt that I was the best. In my case, this competitive motivation led to great success as I competed in high school, far exceeding the abilities of the friend against whom I had felt unfairly treated, and then was highly recruited for top college teams, playing successfully throughout my college career. More importantly, it led to success in other elements of life, where I have learned to be the best and refused to be limited by other's perceptions, whether they are race-based or based on other perceived limitations. The Democratic party's approach denies generations of Black Americans this important lesson, for though their motivations are likely generous - to help the "less fortunate" - it is my experience that they are motivated in a "generous racism" in which handouts mask the belief that some racial groups are inferior and would be unable to make it without such assistance.

On the other hand, the Republican Party practices a philosophy that more precisely mirrors the approach that my mother successfully took. It is the party that encourages the American people to work, dream and soar as high as their dreams permit them without being hampered by government restrictions and regulations and without the handouts that undermine confidence and ultimately lead to generations who have seen declining educational performance, declining job success, and rising social problems. It is no coincidence that Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society,” with its programs of social handouts directed at Black Americans, coincided directly with a decrease in the progress that had been made by the same “disadvantaged” group up to that point in the 20th Century. Government handouts lead to government dependence and worse, a perception that such dependence is required due to unequal abilities. I prefer an approach that challenges all Americans, regardless of race, to succeed and believe that this approach also allows government to focus attention on its appropriate role, that of national defense.

However, though I believe that the Republican Party better practices a philosophy that allows all Americans to succeed, I do not ignore the importance of addressing the evil of racism, which continues to affect America in negative ways. My own personal experiences are such that this is inherently part of my approach, my values, and my priorities. In this area as well, I am a proud Black Conservative Republican, for both personal experience and a review of history shows me that, despite media influences that would have us believe the opposite, the Republican party has a greater practical commitment to ending racism and a more viable perspective about how it should be accomplished. More next time... when I examine, “White Democrats Don’t Let Their Kids Play with N-----s.”