Friday, September 25, 2009

Why I'm Grateful for Joe Wilson and the Fury of Racists

By Keli Goff

I'm not sure when it first hit me, that the future of our country, particularly when it comes to race relations, is really looking up. Perhaps it was when a member of the Boston Police Department referred to Professor Henry Louis Gates as a "banana-eating jungle monkey." Perhaps it was when an angry town hall protester ripped up a poster of Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks -- while others in the crowd applauded. Or perhaps it was when Congressman David Scott was greeted with a swastika spray painted outside of his office and hate mail calling him the N-word all in the same week. Or perhaps it was when Congressman Joe Wilson demonstrated such a lack of respect for our president when he shouted "You Lie," at him during a presidential address.

You've probably assumed that I am being sarcastic in my premise that these incidents are proof that our country is on the verge of significant racial progress but I'm not. During a recent conversation with my mother she expressed fear that Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be right, that the current vitriol being exhibited at town halls and elsewhere is not only uncivil, but down right scary and could soon boil over into violence. We then began to reminisce about the Civil Rights Movement, which my mother lived through, a time when racist rhetoric turned deadly. That's when it hit me: People turn angry when they feel that they are losing ground.

Racist domestic terrorists did not bomb the church that killed four little Black girls in Birmingham, Alabama because they knew those little girls would never attend high school with their children, but because they knew that one day they would. The Ku Klux Klan murdered three civil rights workers, not because they were confident that Blacks would never get the right to vote, but because they were terrified that they would -- and were on the verge of doing so. (It is worth noting that this year the town in which the workers were murdered elected its first Black mayor.)

There are plenty of Americans -- good, fair-minded people -- who do not support the President's proposed health care reform, at least not yet. I consider myself among them. But there are others, who as former President Carter asserted, are simply unhappy that a Black man is president.

And that gives me hope.

Because the reason some people's racism has been brought to the fore is because the America they thought they knew and loved is becoming a different one before their very eyes; an America in which a Black man can get elected president and a Latina can become a Supreme Court Justice. But most of all an America in which their very own children applaud both. This is what really has racists in a tizzy. Every study shows that most of their children do not share and will not pass on, their legacy of intolerance and hate, but instead may end up dating or marrying an Obama or Sotomayor of their own one day.

You know what else gives me hope? The fact that even in a state like South Carolina where the Confederate battle flag still flies near the entrance to the capitol, citizens have seen fit to punish Congressman Wilson in the polls for the lack of respect he showed our president, who as we all know, is Black. If that's not proof of progress then I don't know what is. So let the racists wail. Let freedom ring and let progress come.

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