Republicans want us to believe racism's all in the past

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Frank Lipscomb

Black History Month offered an opportunity to obsess about race without guilt. During the current Women's History Month, I'm tempted to skip the subject, but the topic is too serious.

Many white Americans already are convinced the problem of anti-black racism is a relic, including the Condi Rice-type black Americans. The Republican Party encourages this belief because it opposes, on principle, the kinds of compensatory programs needed to mitigate the consequences of racism.

The Democratic Party became an ally of civil rights during the 1960s, but has been in slow retreat ever since.

Here is a brief civics lesson for public school children in Chicago and some college students, especially the ones at Lewis University in Romeoville:

Lyndon Johnson's 1964 election was the last time the Democrats carried the southern Democratic white vote. Since 1964, 11 Democratic southern states turned Republican and became the main base of the Republican Party. The main reason? Because part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also authorized the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to withhold federal grants from school districts that failed to integrate their schools. No longer could school boards hide behind "token" desegregation and endless visits to the federal courts. The effects were quick and dramatic. In one year more black children were admitted to formerly all white schools than in the entire decade after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Johnson himself said, "There goes the Democratic Party" after he signed the historic 1965 Civil Rights Act.

The "retreat" picked up steam during the 2004 campaign when the Democratic presidential candidate seemed allergic to any direct reference to black folks, the party's most loyal and faithful voting bloc. The party's platform also omitted issues crucial to most African American voters, such as mass incarceration, soaring rates of unemployment, lack of medical insurance and care, crumbling schools, growing homelessness, all of which received scant attention in campaign rhetoric.

This lack of attention to racial issues is not just a problem affecting the nation's two major political parties. Race has faded into the background as an issue for most Americans, including progressive liberal whites. Contrary to what we see on major TV and in the press, black "faces" in high paying positions, like the basketball and football millionaires, black secretarys of state, blacks winning "Oscars" in Hollywood, the Williams sisters in tennis and Tiger Woods in golf, the masses (millions) of African Americans are faring badly.

A recent analysis?""State of the Dream 2005" by United For A Fair Economy?"reveals the depth of the economic crisis in black America. Ultimately, all Americans are paying for the continuing waste of human resources that we blithely countenance, not just in diminished economic growth, but also in increasing civic enmity. But a denial so pervades our culture, most of us are barely aware of the varied manifestations of slavery's crippling legacy. One current story in the news offers a fine example of this denial process.

In January, of this year, Mississippi authorities arrested Edgar Ray Killen for orchestrating the 1964 abduction and murder of three voting rights volunteers, one of the most infamous terrorist episodes in the volatile civil rights struggle four decades ago. Killen, a 79-year-old preacher and former head of the KKK, was formally charged with the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

The public mood surrounding this retroactive police action has been downright triumphant. And while I, too, cheer justice's belated arrival, I fear this rush for self-congratulation has a downside. It serves to strengthen Americans' reluctance to confront our racist present. In current media accounts, Killen's hometown of Philadelphia, Miss., was identified as an odious symbol of racism for black Americans. But most of those accounts failed to note that the infamous town was also the launching point for the 1980 campaign of presidential aspirant Ronald Reagan.

The now idolized Reagan launched his campaign in a rousing speech, touting "states' rights," a term that had been a southern euphemism for white supremacy since the days of the Civil War. His advocacy of states' rights from a podium in Philadelphia, Miss. sent a powerful message to white southerners.

This symbolic gesture of solidarity with segregationists was part of the GOP's "southern strategy," a plan initiated by Richard Nixon in 1968 to attract southern whites by appealing to their segregationist sentiments and racial biases. As stated earlier, the school issue, combined with the alleged Killen murders and the racist spirit they symbolized helped transform segregationist "Dixiecrats" into Republicans.

History teaches that some blacks have always helped racist whites to destroy other blacks. And some don't have to be paid. That is why slavery must be taught correctly to all races in schools and colleges. In a society dependent for so long on racial slavery and color hierarchy, racist attitudes have become so deeply embedded, they are easily ignored?"even during Black and Women's History months.

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