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Harvest of Thorns: We Won't Be Rid of Racism Until Elected Leaders Stop Using It

Let there be no doubt: The individual responsible for murdering a church pastor and eight parishioners in Charleston, S.C., is a white supremacist.

Stating that fact does not politicize the horror, nor does it diminish our sense of mourning for the people who were lost. To the contrary, getting justice for the victims demands that we state the facts as plainly as possible.

The shooter claims ideological kinship to the Council of Conservative Citizens, which finds its roots in the old White Citizens Councils that fought school integration in the 1950s and 60s.

The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors the CCC and hundreds of other hate groups in the United States, 50 of them in Florida.

These organizations are “camouflaged in society and rooted deep into the system,” as one skinhead-offshoot organization bragged in print.

For racist killers like Dylann Roof who fit the “lone wolf” profile, all it takes is a few clicks on the Internet to connect to other haters. 

But there’s a larger, more insidious actor at work in America. The political rhetoric we use in this country not only gives cover to racism, it fosters it.

An NRA board member from Houston, for example, has gone so far as to blame the Rev. Clementa Pinckney for his own murder. Apparently, Pickney, who was a state lawmaker, opposed concealed-carry legislation that would have helped fulfill the NRA’s wet dream of arming everyone.

When politicians on the right use the tragedy in Charleston to advocate arming everyone as a solution to gun violence, they play into the hands of domestic terror groups. Hate groups, including anti-government militias, profess and preach that government will confiscate their weapons.

Gun-rights talk has long been paired with “law and order” conservatism, which in turn, has long been part and parcel of race-based politics — a way to blame black people for all of America’s ills — ever since conservatives discovered that they could no longer use the “n” word. Second Amendment rhetoric, then, becomes the ultimate dog-whistle for people who are itching to use their firearms.

Just three days before the horror in Charleston, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece titled “The Growing Right Wing Terror Threat.” The authors’ conclusion is terrifying: Hate groups, including anti-government militias, are a much larger threat to our national security than Muslim terrorists.

It’s not just rhetoric about the Second Amendment that sets hate-group members salivating for violence. Any number of thinly veiled references to racial disharmony will do.

Raising the elusive specter of “voter fraud,” for example, is subterfuge for passing legislation aimed squarely at suppressing the African-American vote in Florida and other states. Talking about voter fraud is, for extreme right-wing pundits like Limbaugh or Coulter, a goldmine. 

Also, in Florida, was the recent homage to Ronald Reagan’s racist campaign buzzwords, “welfare queens.” Just last week, the Republican-dominated Florida House of Representatives refused to expand healthcare for 800,000 uninsured Floridians, many of them working people.

During the Special Session of the Florida Legislature, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli repeated the phrasing first attributed to his Republican colleague from Sanford, Rep. Jason Brodeur: Expanding healthcare using Medicaid dollars, they said, would create a “permanent dependency” for “able-bodied, childless adults.” Translation: People who can’t afford health care must be the same kind of slackers Ronald Reagan warned us about.

It’s long past time for the GOP to bury Nixon’s and Atwater’s Southern Strategy once and for all. It’s time for them to stop using racial divisiveness as a motivator to get racist, white, working-class men to the polls.

No more thinly veiled references to welfare recipients (who are, incidentally, mostly white); no more “states’ rights.” That means you, Governor Bush and Senator Rubio, with all your talk about trusting the people of South Carolina to make the right decision regarding the flag — talk that gives aid and comfort to haters like Roof. Take note of your fellow GOP leader, Mitt Romney, who says, simply, that the Confederate flag must come down.

No more politics of personal resentment, grounded in the shortsighted fear that someone might get something that I might not get.

No more Willie Hortons: televised images of the black, convicted, furloughed murderer were aired during the 1988 presidential campaign on behalf of George H. W. Bush, reinforcing the stereotypes that instantly associate blackness with crime in racist voters.

Recently, during the Jacksonville mayoral campaign, Alvin Brown supporters accused Lenny Curry campaigners of “Willie-Horton-style” tactics, when the latter pictured Brown in a mailer in a manner that linked him with crime and rape. Curry is white; Brown is black.

Racism is the thorny weed that threatens to choke out all that is good in America. But it’s not enough to pull it out at its roots. Our leaders have to stop spewing its vile seed.

We reap what we sow.

Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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