Politicians Fraternize With White Supremacists
USA Today - Opinion
March 2, 1999
the impeachment drama finally over, Americans have a chance to
reflect on the nature of modern-day morality. But the sexual inquiries
that have dogged Republicans and Democrats alike shouldn't be
the only issue on our minds.
media didn't invent the Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky matters,
but the constant drumbeat of media coverage kept the stories alive.
then, has another story died so quickly: the ties of key politicians
to white supremacist organizations?
many Americans know that Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., Sen. Jesse Helms,
R-N.C., and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., have ties
to a segregationist organization called the Council of Conservative
Citizens. All three of these leaders are Republicans, but the
head of the organization claims that 34 Democratic members of
the Mississippi legislature belong to the CCC.
Helms and Lott - all of whom have delivered speeches to this stunningly
racist organization - have disavowed any support for the group.
Maybe. But Lott's links in particular go back a decade or more,
and include speaking engagements and meeting with the group's
officials in Washington. There has been a small flurry of stories
and opinion articles, but the political fallout pales in comparison
to that of the Washington sex scandals.
easy escape from moral accountability was one of many things that
popped into my mind one recent Monday morning.
the first day of a three-week tour to promote my new book on America's
racial future. I was on my way to give a speech at the Medill
School of Journalism, and I needed to go to Newark Airport. The
cabby who picked me up not only refused to take me there, but
also called me a "mother-(expletive) cheap nigger'' when I refused
to pay the $2.60 on the meter for the honor of being driven four
blocks from my house.
I felt an odd sense of privilege when this incident happened.
I'm the kind of person who knew to get his license number and
write a letter to the Taxi and Limousine Commission. I was thankful
that, unlike some African-Americans, I hadn't heard this kind
of slur from a neighbor, co-worker or assailant, nor had race
curtailed my education or career.
week, America's eyes were on the trial in Jasper, Texas, where
alleged white supremacists dragged a black man to death behind
for every racial incident, there are far more black families left
out of America's prosperity, something the Rev. Jesse Jackson
seeks to address through a "fourth phase" civil rights movement.
incidents like my taxi confrontation and big tragedies like the
death in Jasper are, of course, caused by specific individuals.
But I believe the actions of some prominent Americans let others
think that blatant racism is still acceptable.
who aimed to impeach the president avowed that political leaders
set the moral tone for the country. If so, those leaders entangled
with groups like the CCC have a lot of explaining to do. It is
not enough for them to quickly disavow a group this hateful. The
CCC, which is anti-immigrant and anti-integration, states (as
might be expected) that whites are superior to blacks.
the position I found most interesting was its fear that the white
race in America was becoming extinct. Its chief columnist, H.
Millard, calls interracial relationships "genocide via the bedroom
chamber" for white Americans, and he compares this to the Holocaust.
reality of the matter is that America is becoming far more racially
mixed. In 50 years, this country will be less than half white.
Some of these Americans will be racially mixed, but most of them
will be black, Latino, Asian or Native American. The idea of a
"majority-minority'' America is the nightmare of groups like the
CCC that envision this future America as a "slimy brown mass of
group's arguments aren't subtle, and its leaders claim their group
isn't small. The CCC boasts 15,000 members; Mississippi Gov. Kirk
Fordice has spoken to the group. I strongly believe politicians
and leaders who fraternize with white supremacists give permission
for others to act out their racist fantasies.
not only of Jasper, but also about what happened to a couple I
interviewed for my book.
and Jaime Johnson, an interracial couple in Thomasville, Ga.,
buried their dead infant in her family's all-white church cemetery.
The deacons of the church - who were not removed or censured -
asked that the body of this "half-breed" be dug up. The deacons
were able to escape moral accountability in their small town,
just as some Washington leaders are able to escape accountability
in the national arena.
racial disputes are about nothing less than American identity.
we a country that judges people on the content of their character,
or are we willing to agree with those who are claiming the only
true Americans are those with pale skin?
ludicrous that we are still debating these issues at the turn
of the millennium. But the actions of some on Capitol Hill indicate
we have a long way to go before we can comfortably accept America's
increasing diversity. It is critical for us to apply the calls
for moral and political accountability in Washington to issues
of race as well.
Farai Chideya's new book is The Color of Our Future.
1999 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.