Personal Voices: Republicans Don't Really Care about Improving Race Relations

I'm a blond-haired, blue-eyed, middle-class, middle-aged white guy who has lived most of his life in Dallas, Texas -- probably the country's bastion of old-school racism.

Because of my whitebread appearance, many white Republicans have felt comfortable enough around me during various times in my adult life to let their guard down and express their true feelings on matters of race.

Big mistake. This article is part of my payback for having to endure all those sickening comments. It's part of my payback for Republicans refusing to heed my responses that I don't appreciate their racist comments and them acting like there's something wrong with me because I don't play along.

Trent Lott is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to racism in the Republican Party.

I can't count the number of times some Anglo conservative has used the N-word in reference to African-Americans in front of me, even toward those they root for, such as Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith.

I can't count the number of racial "jokes" or references some white City Council member, police officer, businessman or other establishment figure -- whom I know to be a Republican -- has told to my face. A popular "joke" during this time of year by such racist Republicans is, "What are you doing for Martin Luther 'Coon' Day?" Or they will snicker, "Have you learned anything during 'Black Ass' History Month?"

I've sat at high school football games in Republican-dominated towns as Anglo adults in the stands taunted the lone black player on the opposing team using the N-word. I've attended all-white meetings -- as a reporter, not a participant -- at which elitist Republicans have discussed getting around the Voting Rights Act by lobbying for requirements that voters have to own property. I didn't need someone to spell out what they were talking about -- they wanted some way to keep blacks from voting.

In the 1920s, Dallas had more Ku Klux Klan members per capita than any other large U.S. city. The city had an actual "segregation of the races" clause written into its charter as late as 1968. Peter Gent, a former Cowboy player and author of classics like "North Dallas Forty," says he was shocked to arrive from the Midwest in the mid-1960s to witness such blatant Jim Crow segregation. The team's black players had to drive an extra hour from their segregated South Dallas neighborhoods to reach practice in North Dallas. Through lawsuits, protests, and other measures, the blatant racist policies are gone, but they have been replaced with subtle, back-door racism that persists in still all-white country clubs and subdivisions in the suburbs.

Sure, the white racists around here used to be mostly Democrats, who hated Lincoln-style Republicans who forced Reconstruction on them after the Civil War. But most of those have left the Democratic Party for the friendlier-for-them confines of the Republican Party, where they don't have to rub elbows with African-Americans at the multicultural Democratic functions that contrast with Republican events like black and white keys on a piano.

Name a white public figure who espouses racist views, and the vast majority of the time he or she is affiliated with the Republican Party. David Duke, the former Klansman and Louisiana state representative, chaired the Republican Parish Executive Committee of the largest Republican parish in Louisiana as late as 2000, when he skipped the country and eventually was convicted of fraud and tax evasion. Many Republicans are associated with the openly racist Council for Conservative Citizens, including outgoing Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, who has spoken before the segregationist group, and Republican National Committee leader Buddy Witherspoon, who has resisted calls that he resign his CCC membership.

As the site, points out, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a Republican, launched his career as a GOP operative in 1964 by harassing black voters. Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft opposed racial integration and the appointment of African Americans to offices as Missouri governor and attorney general and has uttered pro-Confederate views.

The Republican Party in general launched a strategy during the late 1960s to capture the southern racist vote by opposing affirmative action, supporting the rights of states like South Carolina to fly the Confederate flag in front of public buildings, and similar positions. Dubya Bush himself spoke before the segregationist Bob Jones University in South Carolina, genuflected before the Confederate flag, and helped implement the racist Willie Horton ad during the 1988 presidential campaign of Bush Sr., who approved the racist ad after lobbying by his son. Both Bushes have appointed many racists -- both subtle and overt -- to high offices, who now work to further erode civil rights.

White House strategist Karl Rove also aided with the Horton ad and oversaw the racist 2000 South Carolina smear campaign against Sen. John McCain, which alluded to McCain's "black child," his adopted daughter from Bangladesh. While in Congress from 1979 until 1989, Dick Cheney opposed measures strengthening laws against housing discrimination and collecting hate-crime data. Cheney supported apartheid in the racist South African regime, even as it crumbled. Republican politicians in Georgia and South Carolina, such as Sonny Perdue, the new Republican governor of Georgia, were elected in 2002 on platforms that included "restoring pride" in the Confederate flag.

Who can forget the Florida 2000 recount battle, when white supremacists rallied for Republicans who embraced their support? What about Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and former Bush state campaign co-chair, Secretary of State (now Congresswoman) Katherine Harris' openly racist system of purges before the 2000 election that took the names of mostly African-American voters off the rolls?

What about the police roadblocks near black precincts on election days? And how about the Republican warnings in communities across the country about impending black voter fraud that usually occur a few days before an election, not to mention misleading fliers circulated by Republican operatives in African-American neighborhoods telling them of different days to vote or wrongly trying to intimidate them against voting by warning that their criminal backgrounds and parking tickets will be checked?

Republicans still think highly enough of Lott to make him chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, despite his public banishment as Senate Majority Leader and a racist record that includes far more than a few errant comments. As our last elected president, Bill Clinton, recently said, "[Lott] just embarrassed [Republican leaders] by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day."

And as Jack Hughes of writes, the majority of Republican senators who elected Lott as their leader "must either share his views [which were so often repeated that nobody could plead ignorance of Lott's sympathies], or were at the very least 'comfortable' with a leader that held those beliefs."

Indeed, many senators, such as new Majority Leader Bill Frist and Don Nickles, the first Senate Republican to call for Lott's resignation as majority leader, have civil rights voting records nearly identical to Lott's, according to the NAACP. One of the worst is Jefferson Sessions of Alabama.

Sessions has called a black assistant U.S. attorney "boy" and a white civil rights attorney a "disgrace to his race." As a prosecutor, Sessions pursued civil rights workers on phony voter fraud charges. As Alabama attorney general, he again pursued allegations of voter fraud in African-American communities, looked the other way in Anglo communities, and refused to aggressively investigate burnings and bombings of black churches. He also said he thought KKK members were "OK" until he heard some might have smoked marijuana and charged the NAACP with being "un-American" and "Communist-inspired."

Despite this record, Bush and other Republicans have campaigned for Sessions.

Frist has his own racial skeletons. He was a member of the all-white Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville, Tenn., before running for the Senate in 1994. Some believe the National Republican Senatorial Committee headed by Frist was behind the intimidation of minority voters in recent years.

Then there is Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia, who as governor of that state, issued a proclamation recognizing "Confederate History and Heritage Month." Allen, the new National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, also displays a Confederate flag in his living room, according to a recent New York Times column.

Moving over to the U.S. House, there is Cass Ballenger. The white Republican from North Carolina recently told the Charlotte Observer that he had "segregationist" feelings and called former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, an African-American Democrat from Georgia, a "bitch." In an ensuing radio interview, Ballenger, the Deputy Majority Whip and a member of the House Republican Steering Committee (who has a black lawn jockey in his yard that an aide recently painted white), refused to apologize to McKinney, calling her divisive, pushy, and "less than patriotic."

"One must wonder whether [Ballenger] would have made the same statement about a white congressman he considered to be pushy or divisive," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women. "I think not. His statements demonstrated beliefs about race and gender that do not belong in the U.S. Congress."

Rep. Tom Craddick, the new Texas House Republican leader, was one of a small group to vote against establishing a Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday in 1987. He repeated his opposition to the holiday in a 1991 vote that clarified the day. Unlike Lott, Craddick has yet to publicly apologize for those votes.

In Rochester, N.Y., Monroe County Executive Jack Doyle, a white Republican, recently derided Mayor William Johnson Jr., a black Democrat. "If there was a mayor that looked like me, it would be a whole different landscape," Doyle told a local reporter.

A recent article by USA Today cited several other examples of recent insensitive remarks made by Republican public officials and none by Democratic officials, because reporters could not find any -- believe me, they would have included some by Democrats if they found them. Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Fritz Hollings of South Carolina have made some racist remarks in the past, but not recently enough to be included in the article.

A 2001 Gallup Poll found that 60 percent of white respondents believed that black Americans were not treated the same as whites in this country. That rocketed to 91 percent among African-American respondents. Some 47 percent of black respondents said they experienced discrimination in stores, by the police, and in other situations in the previous month.

I've long wondered how many people there are who secretly harbor racist views that they would denounce in public. I recently contacted the authors of 20 postings to white supremacist Web sites, asking if I could quote them using their real names. Only three replied granting permission to use their names.

Jessica Coleman of Texas claimed her grandfather was "a powerful knight [of the KKK] in South Carolina," and she thought all blacks should be shipped "back to Africa and all of the wetbacks back to Mexico." Tom of New Jersey, who would not give his last name, wrote about a high school field trip to Philadelphia, which sickened him so much to see blacks that he "wanted to take out a machine gun and shoot everyone of them." Are these people really just aberrations to be ignored again until the next major race-related blow-up in our country? Or do they represent the suppressed voices inside the average white Republican -- and, yes, some Democrats -- who don't dare let such thoughts reach the surface?

That's why I call Republicans like Bush and Cheney and William Bennett closet racists; they publicly embrace Martin Luther King Jr. as they call for a colorblind society, yet live in their mostly-white neighborhoods and practice racism when it suits their political agenda. They like to point out that lynching black people is wrong as they oppose proposals that would do more to bring about real equality, and conduct racist campaigns -- as Bush did against McCain in South Carolina in 2000 -- to gain political victory.

The subtle and overt racism of the Republican Party is a stench they have to live with. To eradicate that smell, they must admit that racism in their party goes far beyond Lott and make at least as much progress on advancing race relations as the Democratic Party has.

As the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday approaches, these subtle racist Republicans will talk as if they had supported King's vision of a colorblind society and African-American rights all along, when their records and actions speak otherwise. That's just more of the Republican con job. Don't buy it.

Jackson Thoreau is co-author of "We Will Not Get Over It: Restoring a Legitimate White House." The e-book can now be downloaded at Fight the Right. Email Thoreau at


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