Brushing Against Less Visible Dangers

By Armstrong Williams, Syndicated Columnist
Washington Times, Saturday, January 30, 1999, page C3
© Copyright 1999 News World Communications, Inc.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."

In countless specific ways, the problem of racism in America has improved in the 35 years since King made his famous remark. In some other ways, it may have gotten worse.

Consider that racism today is far more subtle than it was in the days when KKK members regularly stomped down streets with sheets over their heads, spewing vitriolic rage. At least you could see that sort of racism coming a mile away. The shape of racism has now been twisted inward. It manifests itself in snide remarks and vague unrest. It is potentially more dangerous because although we brush against it, we can't always see it. Often, we wave at it when we step outside to pick up our morning paper. At dinner parties, we smile at it and it smiles back. All the while it erodes not with a thunderous bang, but with the silent fury of a river current.

Case in point: the Council of Conservative Citizens. On the surface, the group is a community organization with longstanding ties in several Southern states, including Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi. On the surface, council members are real Americans, like the ones at your local barber shop, alike in their fervent belief in the American flag, "freedom under God," and the nation where anyone can become president.

In reality, the Council of Conservative Citizens is essentially an "old boys network" of segregationists, members of the John Birch Society and old George C. Wallace supporters united under the common goal of preserving Anglo-American culture. (Translation: the group feeds off racial angst.)

In the past, the group proved powerful enough to affect legislation, flexing a political network that apparently snakes all the way to the nation's capital. As reported a few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, spoke before them, with Mr. Lott endorsing the Council as a valuable institution. In a bid to establish backpedaling as an Olympic sport, Mr. Lott has since denied any "firsthand knowledge of the group." This was a lie. As it turns out, he has been associated with the organization since its inception. Likewise, Mr. Barr pleaded ignorance.

Yet, minimal research on the council's Web page reveals its overt racism. There, you can read "an open letter to white people," or find out why Martin Luther King was a "depraved miscreant," or why Abraham Lincoln is "surely the most evil American in history," or a host of other diatribes strung together by the common thread of black blood eroding Western Civilization.

It brings me shock and horror to know that Mr. Lott and Mr. Barr gave legitimacy to this racist organization by speaking before them. As members of Congress, they bear a dual responsibility to represent the nation's conscience and to act as respectable faceplates for the Republican Party. Instead, they've suggested the worst kind of stereotype: that lurking beneath the Republican Party is a private identity that harkens back to a time when blacks were valued only as a cheap source of labor.

It is thus not surprising that despite the fact that the opinions of the black populace run parallel to the Republican agenda on several key issues - school prayer, $500-per-child federal tax credits, the "three strikes" law, etc. - only 8.7 percent actually identify themselves as Republicans. As long as the Republican Party maintains its "old country" ties, it will never make inroads in the minority communities that already have difficulty identifying with the Republican leadership. Compounding the problem is that, with the notable exception of Republican National Committee Chair Jim Nicholson, there has been scarcely little condemnation of Mr. Lott and Mr. Barr from their colleagues. The Congressional Black Caucus has remained largely silent and religious organizations have not been shaking their fists in the air.

Someone needs to speak out! We are only a couple of generations removed from a time when blacks were unable to purchase real estate in this country. While such hateful enclaves do maintain the freedom of assembly, we cannot endorse them by speaking for them or writing for their newsletters. Amid all this, Mr. Lott has yet to issue a definitive apology. A spokesman for the senator recently said, "Sen. Lott has made his distance from the point of view of this group clear and isn' t going to comment further." Mr. Barr has been a bit more forthright when he criticized the group for its "repugnant racial issues" and went on to say, "If I had been aware white supremacists' views occupied any place in the council's philosophy, I would have never agreed to speak." In the immortal words of German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "Nothing is more terrible than to see ignorance in action."