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Racism as political strategy too long tolerated

The events of the last several days make it quite clear that we take democracy for granted at our peril.

As I watched the violence and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol January 6, I couldn’t help but remember that what happened at the Capitol has been a long time coming.

In 1958, George C. Wallace after losing the nomination for governor of Alabama, said that he would “never be out-niggered again.” In his inaugural address as governor of Alabama on January 14, 1963 he said, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”

How is this relevant to the events of January 6? It was a hallmark event in the beginning of what has become known as the Republican Southern Strategy, the strategy used for over 50 years to wrest political control of the South away from Democrats. Further, by playing on fear, anger and racism, the strategy has worked for the Republican Party not only in the South, but around rural and suburban America.

Just look at the locations of the majority of President Trump’s campaign stops. All that one has to do is listen to people’s comments about the possible location of low-income housing in their communities, how they define “good schools,” and the opposition expressed to moving children from urban to suburban and rural schools. When people use the words “freedom of choice,” often what they are really asking is to maintain the economic and racial segregation they sought by moving out of urban areas.

What enables the Southern Strategy to work nationwide has two faces: acts of omission and acts of commission. What has been devastatingly clear has been the silence of so many at the outrageous acts of President Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency: his derision of Mexican immigrants; his derogatory mimicking of a special needs reporter; his pride and misogyny in talking about groping the genitals of women; his equation of racists torch carriers and protesters in Charlottesville; his caging and “losing” more than 600 immigrant children; and most recently his refusal to accept the outcome of the presidential election, despite state and federal courts finding no evidence of irregularity or fraud.

Leaders ignoring these actions is akin to leaders who ignore bullying. Ignoring bullying has led to school shootings and the suicide of students.

Where have Republican leaders been in condemning the president’s racism, misogyny, his thousands of lies and irresponsible acts? Silence is an act of complicity.

Acts of commission include voter suppression. Since the Shelby v. Holder decision by the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerating the Voting Rights Act of 1965, three states have led the way with polling site closures — Texas closed 750 polling sites, Arizona 320, and Georgia 214. Isn’t it interesting that the majority of these closures have been in areas with significant low-income and minority populations?

The foundation of democracy rests on the bedrock of access to opportunity. Many communities actively prevent it. Acts of omission while less obvious are as damaging as acts of commission.

• To what extent are we using false flags like acreage requirements for a house to keep communities from diversifying available housing?

• To what extent are some communities more than willing to recruit running backs of color while maintaining virtually all-white cheerleading squads and student bodies?

• To what extent are some colleges more than willing to have all-white senior leadership teams while, to prove their commitment to diversity, having a person of color in charge of diversity or equity?

• To what extent are some colleges more than willing to benefit from the services of the community in which they reside, yet have minimal presence of students from their communities?

• To what extent do influential service clubs and business organizations, such as chambers of commerce, Rotary and Kiwanis, have leadership and membership reflecting their communities?

Democracy only survives when there is conscious and continuing effort to assure access to opportunity and candid confrontation of acts of commission and omission.

Nick Fischer is a former superintendent of New London schools. He lives in that city.

 

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