The Problem of the Color Line, Not Politics Continues to Keep the Nation Veering Off Course

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An unarmed black teen, stalked by an armed wanna-be policeman in a Florida gated community where the teen was visiting his father, is shot to death in a struggle.  Not guilty of second degree  murder or manslaughter, the jury decides.

State legislators throughout the South pass laws designed to deny the right to vote to large segments of its citizenry, most of whom are African Americans.  The Supreme Court nods its approval in a 5-4 decision.

A dysfunctional House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans,  perfunctorily shows disrespect and disdain for the nation’s first African American president in myriad ways, including a refusal to support any presidential proposal – even those it previously had advocated – only because the president introduced it.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that slowly eased black America into the mainstream, Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency led many to believe that equality for all finally had arrived.  Surely Obama’s success meant that any U.S. citizen now could strive to be whatever he or she wanted to be. But a series of troubling headlines-in-the-news yanked that notion out of our heads, and we’re bombarded publicly by hate-filled words and images of the way we once were.

A desperate white minority again is determined to stand in the door, to deny human dignity to compatriots of a different color, even if it means trampling the Christian doctrine that it purports to follow. Its efforts, of course, will fail for the same reason they failed 50 years ago.  Martin Luther King reminded us then that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  and that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

In December 1955, I marveled at the courage of thousands of poor and working class blacks in Montgomery, Ala., as they broke the back of bigotry in that city’s public transportation system with a seminal bus boycott.  Now confronted with a similar oppressive force also fueled by hatred, double standards and divisiveness, the same wheels of resistance have been set in motion.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has festered in the souls of black folk and fair-minded whites for more than a year.  When a member of the jury that freed George Zimmerman told the media that she believed Martin started the fight and thus was responsible for his own death, it was clear that the lad never had a chance in the jury room either.

Though blind from birth, singer Stevie Wonder, saw the inconsistency and injustice in that jury’s verdict and took aim at the source of the problem:  Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, which set a killer of a young black free, but jailed Marissa Alexander, an African American mom, for 20 years for firing a warning shot in the air to keep an allegedly abusive husband at bay.

Wonder, whose 1973 message song “Living in the City,” was No. 1 on the R& B Chart, has vowed not to perform in Florida as long as that law exists. Wonder said, “As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.”  Wonder  understandably is in sync with those of the Montgomery boycotters who risked their careers – indeed their lives to fight injustice.

JayZ, Madonna, Usher, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart  and Harry Belafonte are among other entertainers who reportedly plan to join Wonder’s boycott.   However, JayZ  kept his commitment to perform with Justin Timberlake in Miami recently.  In their last song, a duet, they dedicated a variation of “Forever Young”  to Martin.             JayZ  said he didn’t sleep for two days after the jury’s verdict.  JayZ said, “If you just ask yourself, ‘Didn’t Trayvon have the right to stand his ground?’ He was being chased and fought back.  He may have won, that doesn’t mean he’s a criminal. He won.  If you try to attack me and I defend myself, how can I be in the wrong?”

Last Thursday, State Senator Geraldine Thompson (Orlando), urged Gov. Rick Scott and other GOP lawmakers to call a special session of the Florida Legislature to reconsider the Stand Your Ground law, which allows Floridians to use deadly force if they think they are being threatened with death or bodily injury.  She said that if black organizations and entertainers (and others who support them) boycott Florida businesses because of the law, low- income service workers and other constituents would suffer.

Another example of evil in the hearts of Republican lawmakers has emerged in the voter suppression laws recently enacted in several states.   Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) urged the Justice Department to review her state’s new voter identification law, calling it one of “the most restrictive in the country.”  North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R)  recently signed a bill that would require voters to show government identification when voting, shorten early-voting days, cut off same-day registration and end a program to preregister teens who would be eligible to vote by Election Day.

“I am deeply concerned that (the bill) will restrict the ability of minorities, seniors, students, the disabled, and low and middle incomes citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Hagan said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Twelve states, including Virginia and Texas, now require voters to show some form of photo identification.  Thirteen other states are pursuing similar legislation.  Some states pursuing new photo identification requirements had been legally bound to apply for federal preclearance prior to enacting any new election laws, but a recent Supreme Court ruling nullified the requirement.

Last Week,  the Justice Department sued Texas  over its new voter ID law in a move that signaled the administration’s plans to take legal action against voter ID laws in other states, including North Carolina. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.  “We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement. This represents the department’s latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last.”

But the most insidious examples of evil lurking in the hearts of GOP lawmakers has been displayed almost routinely  since Obama took office.   It was as if the long-held Congressional adage of showing respect to the office of the president, despite political differences, became heresy once Obama took the oath.  Top GOP lawmakers at every level of government publicly competed to see who could make the most insulting comment, commit the most disrespectful act or show the greatest disdain for the nation’s highest official and the leader of the free world.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer gave it her best shot.  With cameras rolling, she wagged her finger in Obama’s face and tongue-lashed him, shortly after he de-boarded Air Force One during a visit to that state.  Besides an inability to preside effectively over a Republican-controlled House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) surely gained another  level of infamy by becoming the only Speaker to deny a President’s request to address Congress.  And, of course,  the South Carolina constituents of Joe Wilson  had to be pleased when he yelled   “You lie!” during the President’s address to a joint session of Congress in September 2009.

In several protests in Washington, D.C.  in the past several years, Tea Party supporters displayed signs as nasty and threatening as those carried by southern racists 50 years ago during the Bull Connor and George Wallace days of death and defiance.  Samples:  The American Tax Payer are the Jews for Obama’s ovens.  —-   Obama nomics – Monkey see, Monkey spend.  —- The Zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.

But more than anything else,  House Republicans’ decision to reject Obamacare  40  times in House votes makes it clear that their opposition to a law that was passed by both houses, signed by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court has nothing to do with political differences.   It is  their way of discrediting a landmark achievement by Obama, whose Affordable Care Act will make  it possible for about 30 million more Americans to  have access to health care.  And it is one more way to show their determination to de-legitimize the presidency of a man ruthlessly despised and demonized by many of their constituents.

The mere existence of an African American President is tantamount to the progress that this nation has made in relations.  But sadly, the level of venom sprayed Obama’s way tells us, too, that there’s much more to be done.  More than 50 years ago, African Americans in the South experienced firsthand hatred and brutality from whites run amuck.  They murdered innocent blacks and some whites, while hiding behind unjust laws and lawless acts of terrorism.  On the eve of a celebration of Saturday’s march on Washington,  the Afro-American, a black newspaper ran a special issue, which documented more than 100 years of white violence against blacks in the South, with stories and photos .

I’ve always understood that the doors that made it possible for me to become journalist weren’t opened because white American had a change of heart.  They were opened because of the courageous acts of others.  They were opened because in 1955 Rosa Parks decided she was too tired to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus and because black folks in cities throughout the country rebelled when Martin Luther King, was murdered in Memphis in 1968 . We became sick and tired of the abuse, decided we weren’t going to take it anymore and the country took notice.

The Republican Party’s move to the far right has awakened us once again, leaving us no choice but to protest, march, boycott and do whatever it takes to keep our rights as citizens of the country that we helped build.  Unquestionably, the Republican Party has been hijacked by the far right and extremists, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, have emerged as its guiding voice.  Their messages are steeped in divisiveness, with no room for compromise or camaraderie.  and they are well- paid to tell their listeners what they want to hear.   Ah, the listeners, consisting mainly of evangelical Christians, who seem to have abandoned the faith that they profess.   There, lies the problem,  then and now.

I had hoped that the change that was brought about 50 years ago would have paved the way for true brotherhood among the races.  I’d hope that Christian leaders – white ministers, priests and pastors – throughout the country would remind their congregations – as often as necessary – that racial segregation and hatred of any man or woman is sinful. But that hasn’t happen.

For  the past few years I’m still waiting for leaders of the Christian right to remind their followers publicly that even attempts to deny the right to vote to those eligible by surreptitious means is morally wrong.  I have hoped to hear some prominent figure on the far right say that we should all strive to treat each other with respect and fairness, including those among us who have no religious ties.  This country will solve its problems only if we work together and we will do that only when our leaders focus more on improving the lives of all its citizens, not just a few.

 

 

 

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