Thursday, July 17, 2014

Morris Dees: "We Should Call It What It Is"

From time to time, I read or hear about how some White people are perceived by some People of Color as having made a career out of fighting racism, benefiting economically or otherwise from their work which is seen as taking away from Black people who should be getting all the attention related to (and any benefits of) the struggle against White Supremacy. Indeed, Malcolm X once told a young White woman that there was "nothing" she could do to help his cause. But in his famous speech on "The Ballot or the Bullet" in 1964, he also said, "We will work with anybody, anywhere, at any time, who is genuinely interested in tackling the problem head-on." Later, that same year, in a speech at Oxford University in England, he said, "And I, for one, will join in with anyone -- I don’t care what color you are -- as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth."

I've been paying attention to and supporting the work of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, for decades. Today, Dees sent out the following statement related to the continual and continuing attacks on President Barack Obama because of his skin tone. I think it states the case succinctly and I'm re-posting it here.

Morris Dees, Founder of the SPLC, writes:

Right-wing pundits are jumping all over Attorney General Eric Holder for daring to suggest on Sunday that “racial animus” plays a role in the “level of vehemence” that’s been directed at President Obama. They’re denouncing him for “playing the race card” and “stoking racial divisions.”

Who do they think they’re fooling? 

The rhetoric is what’s hateful. Calling people out for it is not.

The racism Holder described has been obvious since the 2008 campaign, when Obama was portrayed as someone who was not a “real American” – a Muslim, a Kenyan, a communist, even a terrorist sympathizer. 

Since then, an entire movement has been built around the thoroughly discredited notion that the president’s birth certificate is a fake. And that’s just the beginning.

Newt Gingrich has called Obama the “food stamp president” and referred to his “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.”

Rush Limbaugh has said Obama – and Oprah Winfrey, too, by the way – have reached the pinnacle of their professions only because they’re Black. He added this week that “so-called conservative media types” praised Holder’s nomination only because he’s Black.

Glenn Beck has said the president, whose mother was White, has a “deep-seated hatred for White people or White culture.”

Conservative hero and former rock star Ted Nugent, who was invited to campaign with the GOP nominee for Texas governor, called the president a “subhuman mongrel.” 

A Confederate flag was waved in front of the White House during last year’s “Million Vet March.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina screamed  “You lie!” during the president’s address to Congress in September 2009. When has that happened to a president before?

All manner of overtly racist posters have been seen at Tea Party rallies, including one depicting the president as a “witch doctor.”  

We’ve repeatedly seen stories about conservative politicians sharing racist jokes about Obama.

And, we’ve seen an explosive growth of radical-right groups, including armed militias, since Obama was elected, and repeated threats that violence is needed to “take our country back” from the “tyranny” of Obama. This is part of a backlash to the growing diversity in our country, as symbolized by the presence of a Black man in the White House.

I grew up in rural Alabama during the Jim Crow years and lived through the civil rights movement, when White supremacists did everything they could, including committing violent atrocities, to turn back the tide of progress. And I’ve stared across the courtroom at some of America’s most vicious hatemongers – men like neo-Nazi  Glenn Frazier Cross, who recently killed three people and once targeted me. I know racism when I see it. 

No one, of course, is suggesting that merely disagreeing with Obama is evidence of racism. That’s clearly not true.

But we have a political party and a right-wing media machine that pander incessantly to the racist reactionaries in our society, often through code words. It's been going on since Nixon implemented his "Southern strategy" of appealing to White resentment in the wake of the civil rights movement.

I wish it weren't so. But it is simply undeniable. We should call it what it is.
NOTE: Morris Dees is the Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and a pit bull lawyer who has fought racism in the U.S. for more than fifty years.

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