I don’t care what anybody says, Sen. Trent Lott is my hero.
I’m serious as a heart attack. See, it’s guys like Lott who make it easy for guys like me to make the case that racism is just as strong now as it ever was, and not just in the backwoods where guys named Bubba and Cletus run around in camouflage pants practicing white supremacy drills. Nope, the modern-day embodiment of racism is sitting right there in Congress wearing a suit and tie, preparing to become Senate majority leader, which just happens to be the most powerful position in the Senate.
A couple weeks ago, when the senator from Mississippi first openly longed for the good ol’ days when African-Americans were blacks and blacks were Negroes and Negroes were coloreds and coloreds were niggras and everybody knew their place, it was hard to decide whether to waste my time bothering to write about the issue. After all, there was a fairly decent chance the story would have faded from view come time for publication. Most media didn’t give the matter that much play initially, possibly guessing it wasn’t that big of a deal. It seemed like Lott might very easily have been let off the hook.
But through the week Lott was forced to issue one public apology and then another and then two more, and there may be more to come. The Congressional Black Caucus was out in front of growing calls for the man to resign his Senate leadership post. I seriously doubt Lott will do that unless the heat gets cranked up to surface-of-the-sun levels, and I definitely don’t see President Bush asking him to step down — at least not publicly — though he did say that Lott’s comments “do not reflect the spirit of our country.” Lott most likely will get off the hook, but not without considerably more of a firestorm than he ever counted on.
Just to recap, Lott must have figured it was OK to let his guard down just a bit at the 100th birthday celebration of his fellow Southern white supremacist, South Carolina’s Sen. Strom Thurmond. Figuring he was among fellow travelers — or maybe figuring that nobody would pay that much attention — Lott said, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.”
For those familiar with their history, there shouldn’t be any confusion that “all these problems” means “all these problems” with those pesky little Negroes and those damned civil rights. In 1948, as governor of South Carolina, Thurmond ran for the presidency as a third-party Dixiecrat and won 39 electoral votes from Southern states. The platform was simple: Keep black America beneath the foot of white America. Specifically, Thurmond said, “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches. We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.”
Eight years after losing that race, Thurmond entered the Senate and didn’t miss a step in opposing integration as strongly and as vocally as he could. Thurmond opposed the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education school desegregation decision, and he filibustered against civil rights legislation with a speech that went on for almost 24 hours.
Last week, Lott issued a written apology that said, “A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”
Poor choice of words? Please. Those words were clear as a bell. The only reason the man doesn’t wear a hood on the Senate floor is because it would clash with the rest of his outfit. Lott meant exactly what he said, even if certain Democratic leaders such as Tom Daschle — and certain house Negroes like Oklahoma’s retiring Republican Rep. J.C. Watts — are trying to convince us that ol’ Massuh Lott jes weren’t hisself dat day.
And yes, I remember what I said in my column chastising Harry Belafonte for referring to Secretary of State Colin Powell as a house Negro. That was because Belafonte’s comments were off the mark, not because there’s no such thing as a house Negro. Any Negro/black person/African-American who would try to apologize for somebody like Lott is, plain and simple, a house Negro who, as Malcolm X once said, “loves his massuh more than he loves himself.”
So should Lott resign as majority leader — or even from the Senate entirely as former Detroit News editorial page editor Tom Bray among others has suggested? To be honest, I don’t think it would make much difference. First of all, just because Lott got caught doesn’t mean he’s alone. Secondly, like Strom Thurmond, Lott is an elected official. That means the folks who vote in his state want him there. And don’t think that after 14 years in office they don’t know what the man stands for. If he goes, Mississippi voters will crank out another one just like him.
The times they ain’t a changin’ as much as you might think.
Post-traumatic slavery syndrome?
The term popped up the other day on a CNN show, and seems to be gaining currency. When I was first heard about PTSS, I figured it couldn’t be serious.
The term isn’t exactly new. Doing some checking, I found it surfaced a couple years ago in the book Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African Americans, co-written by highly respected black psychiatrist Alvin Pouissaint and journalist Amy Alexander. Apparently, the book tries to analyze why the suicide rate among black youth has increased 114 percent over the past 20 years.
According to Pouissaint and Alexander, these suicides may be a delayed reaction to slavery — which ended 137 years ago. Just the term “post-traumatic slavery syndrome” is embarrassing. The increase in black youth suicide is serious and troubling, but to pin it to a traumatic event that these kids — and their parents and maybe even grandparents — were never exposed to stretches the victim argument way beyond all recognizable boundaries. How are we to believe that all that pain leapfrogged the generations most directly in the way of the lash to land solidly on the backs of those who only know slavery through movies and books?
Yes, we need to find out why these kids are killing themselves. It doesn’t help the search for the true cause by blaming a ghost.Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org