I am not a racist. I feel compelled to open that way because I am about to be critical of the Obama Administration and of Attorney General Eric Holder’s handling of the New Black Panther case. I know that, in so doing, I am likely to be accused of being racist.
So let me begin by saying I am not a racist. I am an American citizen, and I have a legitimate grievance. Unfortunately, because it involves the American Original Sin – race – I am almost certain to be labeled (or libeled) for doing so.
But the fact is, the Attorney General made a statement in response to a question at a hearing that floored me. There is no doubt that the questioner was trying to provoke and agitate the Attorney General. The hearing was stacked, and the question was loaded.
But the response is still worth analyzing for it revealed something that startled me.
During the hearing, Attorney General Holder was being questioned (or, more accurately, lectured to) by Congressman Culberson from Texas. The Congressman summed up his questions with the statement “There’s clearly overwhelming evidence that your Department of Justice refuses to protect the rights of anybody other than African-Americans to vote. There’s a double standard here.” It is an argumentative statement – no question.
And the Attorney General took the bait and gave a telling answer: “When you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, to compare what people subjected to that with what happened in Philadelphia, which was inappropriate … to describe it in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line for my people.”
Let me say that, in the main, I agree with his point – there is remarkably little to compare between the intimidation and abuse in the 1960s and what we saw in Philadelphia (more on that later). But it was the end of his statement that startles me: “my people.”
I am an Italian-German American – white, in the accepted lexicon; am I not one of his people? More importantly, didn’t the protestors in the south and the heroes of the civil rights movement (including many whites, such as Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, martyred for the cause along with James Chaney) make those sacrifices for all of us? After all, America is a better place for all of us, as a result.
I know that AG Holder was not thinking about all that when he said it, but the statement is astounding. If you don’t agree, imagine instead it had been John Ashcroft saying how much “his people” had done to liberate “those people” with their blood on Civil War battlefields? My guess is there would be some outcry from the left. Who are we kidding? Andrew Sullivan would still be screaming down 5th avenue.
Which brings me back to the underlying controversy. The fact the intimidators were African American is irrelevant to the question whether their conduct was unlawful and whether they should have been prosecuted. Or, at least, it should be.
But look at the word the Attorney General uses to describe two men shouting intimidating words while carrying a weapon openly at the entrance of a polling place: “inappropriate.”
Now ask yourself this question: let’s say that it had been two members of the Aryan Nation, complete with shaved heads, holding clubs while shouting “you are about to be ruled by a white man?” Or if they claimed – falsely – to be “security?”
Do you think the current AG would perhaps have a stronger word than “inappropriate” to describe it?
I started this by saying I am not a racist – and I am not. I do not judge people by their skin color, and I make a point of treating everyone I meet the same way – naked distrust until you prove otherwise (sarcasm people).
But I was taught many, many life lessons by a man named Stan Hamilton. And one of the most valuable I learned was that we ALL view the world through the prism of our mind.
Stan was an “old” Black Panther party member in those turbulent 1960s until he met Martin Luther King, Jr. and found a better way. When I was 13, he set up the human conundrums: “Scotty, we are ALL racists in recovery. We ALL see the world with prejudiced eyes – it’s the people who understand this who can overcome it.”
Stan wasn’t saying every white person has a sheet suit in the closet, and every black person hated “whitey;” he was saying that we are all prone to identify with “our people.” But he also made it abundantly clear – you have to work to overcome this human failing.
I don’t think that the Attorney General dislikes white people or wants to see them disenfranchised. But I do think that, after being exposed to so many stories of violent and even murderous attempts to disenfranchise African American voters, that he did not see what is striking in the video to any honest mind.
Those men were intimidating people. It was a slam dunk case. And he punted it because it looked penny-ante compared to other historical abuses one and two generations ago.
But the law must cover us all equally and almost as importantly – we must all have confidence that it does so. And if the Attorney General is honest with himself he will admit that he blew the call, fix it, pay the political price and move on.
I started this by saying that I am not a racist. Let me end by emphatically saying that neither is Eric Holder. But he did – unacceptably – let race factor in his decision. It’s as plain as his answer.
(The video interview with Eric Holder, on Rock The Capital, talking about race relations was recorded last summer.)
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