"Well-Connected Racists Keep Friends in High Places"

by Diane Roberts, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times (Jan. 17, 1999) D1; 5.

The story has been obscured by the enveloping fog of the impeachment trial, but the facts are worth repeating. House Judiciary committee member Bob Barr and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott appeared at events sponsored by a white supremacist group. The Council of Conservative Citizens believes that blacks are genetically predisposed to law-breaking and unbridled sexuality, that "the culture and way of life of whites," is superior, and that race-mixing is destroying America.

In December, the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., reported that Barr had been the keynote speaker at Council of Conservative Citizens meeting last June, and that Lott gave a speech to 400 CCC supporters in 1992, in which he praised the group as standing "for the right principles and the right philosophy."

The CCC is not a sweaty cell of working-class Klansmen, plotting a cross-burning on the black banker�s lawn. Its members are a thoroughly middle-class, educated bunch. The Southern Law Center also revealed that the CCC�s membership includes a sitting governor, several former members of Congress and a prominent Florida State University psychologist who believes that blacks are genetically inferior to whites.

Both Barr and Lott have tried to downplay their ties to the CCC: Barr claims he rejects its racist and anti-immigrant views and insists he didn�t realize that it was not "a very pristine, conservative, grass-roots organization." However, in a detailed piece by Jason Zengerle in the Jan. 4 New Republic, CCC chief executive officer Gordon Lee Baum says Barr was aware of what the group is about. They sent him their literature, including a brochure with an endorsement of the group by former governor of Georgia Lester Maddox, an unreconstructed segregationist most famous for brandishing a pick handle to deny service to blacks in his Atlanta restaurant.

Lott�s denials are as careful as Barr�s. He told the Washington Post on Dec. 16 that he "renounces" the CCC and has "no firsthand knowledge" of their views. But CCC officials, including CCC president Tom Dover, claim Lott is a paid-up member of the group. Lott�s spokesman, John Czwartacki, says the senator "does not consider himself a member."

Even if Barr and Lott are given the benefit of the doubt, even if they can be forgiven their inattention to the ideology of people whose hospitality they accepted, their very presence at key CCC events gilds ugly racism with the patina of power from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. Other top-drawer politicians such as Gov. Kirk Fordice of Mississippi, and former Rep. Webb Franklin of Mississippi and John Rarick of Louisiana openly endorse the CCC.

Similarly, Florida State University Psychology Professor Glayde Whitney provides the Council of Conservative Citizens with quasi-scientific cover. Whitney, a former president of the Behavior Genetics Association, is well-respected for his research on the genetics of taste. But his articles and reviews in American Renaissance, a sort of house journal for the CCC and its fellow travelers, go very much against the grain of mainstream science.

According to the American Renaissance Web page, Whitney addressed the 1998 conference in Washington, D.C., arguing that, far from being an oppressed minority, blacks are "primitives" whose behavior in America "is like that of a conquering tribe" displaying their dominance by raping white women. In a more scholarly piece in the March 1997 American Renaissance, "Diversity in the Human Genome," Whitney asserts that race is purely a biological phenomenon, not a social construction (an idea he calls "fashionable nonsense"). He claims that scientific evidence shows blacks are inferior to whites in intelligence.

Most biologists reject such determinism. Joseph Travis, professor of biology at Florida State, says "most variations in genes have nothing to do with the category we call race. Race in humans is a misnomer. It's just a word to describe humans based on the simplest criteria."

Yet despite the science that shows race to be a social and not a biological category, and despite what appears, at least, to be the growing multiculturalism of America, the angry white men who have convinced themselves they are an embattled minority keep prophesying doom to civilization if "pure European Americans" become "polluted" by the blood of people of color.

Miscegenation, or, as the old white supremacists used to call it "mongrelization," has always been a combustible topic in America. The DNA-tested proof that Thomas Jefferson had at least one child by his young slave Sally Hemings, the efforts of the NAACP to remove from the Alabama state Constitution the last surviving prohibition on marriages between blacks and whites and the declaration by former Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist David Duke that he will run for the seat being vacated by Rep. Robert Livingston of Louisiana have pushed the politics of Jim Crow back onto the national agenda.

Indeed, the Council of Conservative Citizens is nothing more than the gussied-up grandchild of the old White Citizens Councils; interracial relationships have always been their special bete noir. Described by historian Neil McMillen as a "movement of white-collar or country club Klans," the councils were founded in 1954 in reaction to the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision. Robert Patterson, a charter member of the old Citizens Council, is a stalwart of the new-look CCC and a frequent contributor to its newsletter. He recently called for the repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Other prominent members of the CCC claim feminism is unnatural, Abraham Lincoln was both homosexual and insane, and that America was founded to be and should remain "a white man�s country."

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center says the re-emergence of anti-miscegenation rhetoric shows we are in a period of regression: "America is a more segregated society than we were 10 or 15 years ago. It used to be that only groups like the Klan spoke of affirmative action as bad policy. Now that�s practically a mainstream opinion."

Universities are popularly thought of as bastions of progressivism, even political correctness. But this is no longer true, according to Potok, "at least not in the sciences." Barry Mehler, director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism at Ferris University in Michigan, concurs. "Liberal hegemony in academia was the blink of an eye."

According to Mehler, the academy in America has a long tradition of scientific racism, at least since "the 1830s when Samuel Morton at Harvard began measuring black people's skulls, concluded they were smaller than whites, and so pronounced blacks stupid as a race."

C. Peter Ripley, editor of The Black Abolitionist Papers and a historian of race in America, points out that as soon as the progressive intelligentsia mounted a critique of slavery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the conservative intelligentsia countered with a pseudo-science of black inferiority: "The assumption of racial inferiority is almost as old as America itself."

Glayde Whitney, who did not return phone calls or answer e-mail messages for this piece, complains in American Renaissance that academia's censorious "ideologues of egalitarianism" try to "block research" and "even discussion" of the genetics of race and the "truth" of Caucasian superiority. Mehler counters: "Censorship? Work like this is pouring out of the academy. The Bell Curve, J. Philippe Rushton's book Race, Evolution and Behavior - the stuff is everywhere."

At some level this is all about sex: interracial sex. The ideology of slavery rested on early characterizations of blacks as more physical, more passionate and therefore less rational, less spiritual, than whites. As early as 1681, Maryland passed a law prohibiting white women from marrying black men, since the only reason for such a thing would be "for the satisfaction of their lascivious and lustful desires." In the 19th century, the myth of black promiscuity held that black women didn't mind being sexually exploited by white men (maybe Sally Hemings was madly in love with Thomas Jefferson) and that black men had but one desire: to rape white women. This fear led to the foundation of the first Ku Klux Klan1in 1866 and bans on intermarriage like the one still operative in the Alabama Constitution.

The terror of race-mixing is an irrational thing that doesn�t recognize itself as irrational but as God-ordained or whatever," says Amilcar Shabazz, coordinator of the African American Studies program at the University of Alabama. He says issues of racial purity get into "fundamental taboos."

C. Peter Ripley agrees, saying that dire warnings of the end of Western civilization appear from the right "every time there has been a real impulse toward integration and egalitarianism. These arguments are simply riffs off the most rigorous defenses of slavery."

Many in Alabama wonder if the state will leave the 1901 Constitution and its admittedly-unenforceable intermarriage prohibition intact. South Carolinians voted in November to remove a similar ban from their constitution, leaving Alabama the last state with such a law. State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, who has pledged to try to repeal the ban, argues that it gives Alabama "a bad image, and we've already got a bad image for how we treat black people."

But the new governor of Alabama, Democrat Don Siegelman, has indicated that he has little interest in pursuing the issue, preferring to concentrate on changing the Constitution to accommodate his education lottery. Professor Shabazz admits to some nervousness that voters would actually support a repeal. "Miscegenation is dynamite," he says. Certainly the Council of Conservative Citizens can be counted on to defend a law it sees as upholding both a divine and a biological hierarchy.

Several black members of the Alabama Legislature have vowed to force the issue. Meanwhile, Bob Barr and Trent Lott keep having to explain their ties to the CCC. Gordon Lee Baum told a New York Times columnist that Lott's determination to distance himself from the group is a "mistake" that will hurt him politically in Mississippi. And David Duke is traveling the country, raising money for his congressional campaign. He's selling copies of his new book, My Awakening - an autobiography with an admiring foreword by Glayde Whitney.

Some political observers think that Duke has a chance of winning this time. Barry Mehler of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism warns, "Right now we still have a political consensus to work with that's anti-racist. But not for long."