Kathleen Parker, whose column often graces the pages of The Post and Courier, is one of my favorite writers. We don't always agree, but she's funny, insightful, frank and fair in her observations.
I was delighted to find her latest column on "taking the race card out of the deck" next to my latest column on voter suppression. Lest someone think that her column was a counterpoint to mine - for voter suppression is a function not only of race but also of partisan political gamesmanship - I'd also like to say a bit about the "race card."
Ms. Parker cites and condemns the inflammatory and loony racial rants of a black Alabama state representative - as well she should - for he's on par with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity when it comes to baseless and ignorant rhetorical garbage.
She then, however, paints Attorney General Eric Holder with the same brush for saying at the 2014 National Action Network Convention that he and President Obama have faced "unwarranted, ugly and divisive adversity" and asking, "What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?"
Ms. Parker noted that elected officials are routinely criticized by their political opponents, that not all of those who criticize the president and attorney general do so because of their race and that not all white people are racists - and she's right. What's problematic, however, is that her column gives hopefully unintended "cover" to those who accuse anyone who says that racism still exists in America of being a racist and playing the "race card." That deserves a couple of comments.
All elected officials are indeed criticized by those who disagree with them. When traveling to Washington, D.C., I still call the city's airport "Washington National" and not "Reagan National," because I consider Ronald Reagan to be one of America's worst presidents. No one, however, questioned President Reagan's citizenship or questions Canadian-born potential presidential candidate Ted Cruz' citizenship.
Those who condemn President Obama for issuing 168 executive orders thus far - the fewest since President James Garfield - never mention President Reagan's 381 executive orders. Those who condemn Michele Obama for promoting children's health didn't condemn Nancy Reagan's philanthropic pursuits.
Those differences go beyond the level and nature of expressed dislike for any other president. Coupled with those in Congress who "talk down" to the attorney general and are incensed when he responds in kind - or "gets uppity," as I interpret their outraged reactions - suggests that race, as Ms. Parker said, does motivate some critics of the president and attorney general.
I agree with Ms. Parker that not all white people are racists, but the difference in our respective perceptions and our national decline from civility to partisan rancor affirm the need for frank and mutually respectful dialogue about race in America.
That dialogue should encompass not only the "race card," but what's posited in "Dog Whistle Politics," a recent book by Ian Haney Lopez. Mr. Lopez describes how George Wallace went from political moderate to segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate when he discovered that overtly racial rhetoric was not as effective beyond the south as using "dog whistle" rhetoric - code words like "individual and state's rights" that pandered to racial fears in decent people.
Mr. Lopez describes how that strategy transformed Barry Goldwater - who helped establish the Arizona NAACP - into a staunch conservative presidential candidate who carried the South in 1964 and how some candidates since then have learned to speak not in overtly racist terms - which turns decent people off - but about "welfare queens," "law and order," "thugs" and "voter fraud" - phrases that appeal to people's fear of "different others" getting ahead of them.
That dialogue could help to get our nation back on track and drive racism cloaked in coded language out of the political mainstream and back to the fringes of society, for the nature of the "race card" is debatable, but the reality of the "dog whistle" damages and divides our nation, and hinders the quality of life of those who hear it, respond politically and endanger their own well-being to keep others "in their place."
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the AME Church and first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.
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