Race: On civil discourse and decorum

(NNPA)— read with breathtaking bafflement an editorial by Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post dated Sept. 20, 2009 entitled “Playing the Racial Deck.”

In sum, Ms. Parker asserts that while Congressman Joe Wilson’s exclamation, “you lie” to President Obama was a “rude display,” the comment was not necessarily racist.

With all due respect, is she serious? In short, I agree with Rev. Al Sharpton when he said, “One cannot play the race card if every card in the American deck is racial.”


A review of world history reminds us that civilization is barbarianism all grown up. From the earliest civilizations of humans began on the continent of Africa to more recent nations, have respected differing opinions by codification of social mores and rules of decorum. With centuries of civility behind us, the un-civility of Rep. Joe Wilson is averse to the American way of amicability, and not a good look for our nation as the “civil police” of the planet. As a relative “baby” of the world family, the United States of America at 230-something years old has established, for the most part, civil codes of behavior. Of course, I am aware of the rape, pillage and plunder of Native Americans, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the American Civil War, and the racial apartheid system that followed are uncivilized behavior at its worst. Yet, America has always at least sought to honor—albeit by hypocrisy—through civil discourse.

For example, the American transference of leadership without bloodshed is commendable. The discouragement of personal attacks in writing with the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution is a good thing. Thus, the American agreement to disagree with temperance is our nation’s contribution to world civilization.

Not to do so is inherently un-American. I understand that policy protest is healthy for our democratic republic. However, Mr. Wilson traveled way across the line. That is why the argument of his comments not being race-oriented falls short of believability. In her historical journalistic sojourn, Ms. Parker admits that the congressman: 1) Is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans; 2) Referred to the revelation of Sen. Strom Thurman’s African-American daughter out of wedlock as a “smear” on the senator’s legacy; and 3) his opposition to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol.

She also admits South Carolina’s support of the racially disenfranchising policy known as the Southern Strategy that baited southern Whites to vote against politicians who supported racially inclusive legislation. To view such public positions as anything but racist is at least naïve. Perhaps Ms. Parker cannot view such anti-Americanism with objectivity. By the way, it is illegal to fly the swastika flag is Germany. So should be the case relative to the Confederate flag.

After all, the Confederate flag symbolized slavery, succession, sedition and racial segregation. Many southerners view the Confederate flag as a symbol of their ancestors’ valor. I, too, am from a former Confederate state, Virginia. Truth is the Confederate flag was not publicly displayed until after the Brown v. Board Supreme Court ruling in 1954. Why? The “symbols of vanquished nations” must be surrendered after losing a war. After 1954, White southerners, sympathetic to the traitorous Confederacy, used the flag to represent their racial hatred and opposition to racial desegregation of public facilities.

There is a direct historical connection to Wilson’s racially rude outburst and a sign I saw at one of the Tea Party gatherings. A woman held a sign reading, “We want our country back.” We? She was White, and definitely not Cherokee, Blackfoot or Apache. The glaring historical reality is that some people in this nation have never—and may never—accept that the United States of America is the embodiment of the Latin phrase, I pluribus Unum (out of many, one). Wilson and his Confederate supporters should come across the American bridge and get over it!

(Gary L. Flowers is executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum.)


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