Racial Baggage - Opening a Suitcase
I've been circling the race-relations dragon for weeks now, trying to find a vulnerable angle from which to take a stab, but it's such a complex beast that it simply cannot be fought as a single entity. Maybe slicing off individual pieces will be more fruitful. As Eugene Robinson recently wrote in his Washington Post Op-Ed “A Specious Argument”
If we put our racial baggage on the table and talk about it, we'll begin to take care of a lot of unfinished business.
So I want to talk about David Duke, and the message that was given when Louisiana voted to support him in the late 1980s through the 1990s.
Just to get it out of the way: of course everybody did not vote for him – any more than all Americans voted for George W. Bush in the last election(s).
Would-be office-holders make policy statements on any number of issues, and people support or reject candidates based on how strongly they feel about either individual planks or entire platforms. So while everyone in America is not Christian - nor even religious - America today is viewed globally as a Christian country. George Bush was portrayed as having strong “moral convictions”, while people voting against him were /are portrayed as lacking in those values. Even though many people voted for him in support of individual planks, the global view is of the wider platform.
Similarly, the votes cast in both local and state elections for David Duke set up one of the ongoing perceptions of Louisiana and New Orleans – because of his broader underlying theme of racism and neo-nazism. From Wikipedia.com:
Duke is a strong supporter of the white-nationalist movement in America. He is widely regarded as a white supremacist by a number of organizations…
Indeed. As writers Gary Fine and Patricia Turner, in an Op-Ed for the Christian Science monitor, wrote:
News reports of New Orleans convention center evacuees claiming that whites were removed ahead of blacks from that noxious environment certainly seemed plausible to black Louisianans who need only recall the popularity of David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. In the late 1980s and throughout the '90s, he garnered significant support in his runs for public office.
I even visited Duke’s homepage today, to see if maybe my own memory and perception were off. They’re not. He could not be a more overt white supremacist; if anything, he’s grown even nuttier.
People of all colors remember the support shown in various elections for this man, and while the past cannot be changed, it’s not hard to understand why, in very recent memory, blacks in New Orleans would distrust whites. Short of placing a visible mark on those individuals, it's impossible to know who did, or did not, vote to support Duke's widely-known racism.
What would the message be if voters elected Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan? And what would be the perception of whites living in the city/district/state affected?