The week before the election, I wrote a column calling for white Republicans to reject the racist "southern strategy" of national politicians pandering for the bigoted vote (and, thus, spreading bigotry when it should be disappearing). As I'd hoped, the southern strategy was upended election night--nationally anyway.
Sadly, its demise wasn't at the hands of the people who had been promoting this nasty political strategy over the years (or their media surrogates like FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart). The rest of the country--a wonderful coalition of blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, young voters and a bunch of fed-up white women--stood together to turn back a party that lost its way some years ago, and that couldn't bring itself to face that it had become a haven for a shrinking base of "angry white guys," as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said during the Republican Convention this year.
The rest of the country forced a bizarre last stand on conservative white America, which had stood aside and accepted a racist campaign against the president and then apparently went into the evening thinking they were going to win in a landslide, regardless of clear data indicating otherwise.
Four years ago, we heard lots of talk of whether America was "post-racial" after bi-racial Barack Obama was elected, but the ugly bigotry--from the blatant resurgence of the N-word in public to slightly more subtle lies about him weakening welfare work rules pushed by Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and conservative media--really rose to the top while he was the president. We saw an ugly obstructionist movement rise up against Obama like we've never seen. Even though the president is fiscally moderate and adopted many Republican ideas, the party seemed more bent on putting him in his place than actually helping the country, or veterans, or auto companies, or small businesses.
Why? We can only guess considering how white the GOP has defiantly remained and how diverse and united the rest of the nation has become around it.
Leading up to the election, I hoped this would be the last one with one lily-white party, bankrolled by the privileged, lying to poor whites to get them to vote against their own economic interests. And as the results came in election night, it actually started to feel like the real America had stood up and, with any luck, forced the current Republican leadership to see what it had done to itself and the nation by making deals with unsavory people with hateful ideas.
Then, just as President Obama was about to come out Tuesday night and give his acceptance speech, I saw a tweet from one of our interns about a disturbance at Ole Miss. I quickly did a Twitter search and, just as he started speaking, read tweets from black students saying white students were "rioting" at Ole Miss in response to his re-election.
God has a wicked sense of humor, I thought, to make a group of Ole Miss students lose their minds again over a powerful black man "beating" them. Or perhaps a greater power wanted us to finally confront these issues head on. Later, I heard about white adults and teens--not just in the South, although Mississippi and Alabama had the most--tweeting openly about the president as a n*gger, a monkey and even talking about his assassination. And now, it seems, some residents of southern states want to secede. (I suggest they all read the Mississippi Articles of Secession to remember what secession was about the first time, too.)
Becoming a post-racial society won't be easy, nor is achieving and maintaining freedom and equality for all Americans. Just like it was in the 1960s and the 1860s before that, it is going to be messy. We are going to see and hear things that shock us because many people are desperate to feel superior to others and really want a major political party and powerful people to tell them its OK.
Remember: Those Ole Miss students who shouted racial epithets and "The South Shall Rise Again" didn't just have a few beers and become raving lunatic racists willing to put their entire education, and futures, on the line to have some fun. They were taught to think this way. They were raised to believe they are superior, somehow, to Barack Obama. (Those words make me laugh a little even as I type them).
In recent months, these young people heard the GOP, dishonest conservative media, and friends and family and maybe some frat brothers, go around lying repeatedly about the president. He's Kenyan, he wasn't born in America, he's Muslim, he's not a Christian, he's a socialist, he's a communist, he ended the National Day of Prayer, he's a sleeper agent, he's doing the bidding of a daddy he met once ... all lies foisted on the nation by powerful folks who sow division and distrust in pursuit of the almighty buck.
Here's the thing: Hate never ends well. We are damn lucky that no student got hurt or even killed that night at Ole Miss. Right now in our state--with an economy reliant on federal resources--the Ku Klux Klan is resurging even as some so-called "values voters" are signing secession petitions. Why? Because supposedly smart people have egged them on for years now from the desks at FOX News to Tea Party rallies attended by our own governor. Make no mistake: What happened in front of residence halls at Ole Miss is a societal problem, and everyone who spread false rumors about the president owns a little piece of responsibility for it.
Fortunately, this entire arc of ugly is good for us all, ultimately. First, the Republican Party is now openly talking about how to fix its "demographic" problem. (Hint: Lip service won't work, nor will promoting a hatred of government or calling everything in sight "socialism." That's just dumb).
Second, racism and bigotry never go away because people decide to ignore it. Many people brand intelligent race discussions "racist" because they don't want to face the past. Somehow, they think talking honestly about our history, and our problems that resulted from it, makes us look bad. In fact, it is denial and refusal to talk about it that makes us look like we're living in the 19th century. Denial is never impressive.
Meantime, our state is on the bottom economically. Many residents still vote against policies that would help change that because someone powerful convinces them that it is "the other" trying to take their money. This division, cynically created by people who believe they benefit from it, keep the hate and distrust in place--not to mention a bad economy and world reputation.
Oh, and it drives our smart young people to move to more tolerant places.
While the national GOP is debating how to stop being racist, here in Mississippi people of all races must figure out that we sink or swim together, even as there are people who bank on us never being willing to heal our divides--and profit from it.
I just have one thing to say to that: Screw 'em. We can be better than this.
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