W.E.B. DuBois reminded us in his dictum that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” something that is not lost on the memory of a lot of people, but not for those who are living in their own version of George Orwell’s “Sugarcandy Mountain,” depicted in “Animal Farm” as a place with no problems and an abundance of every necessity.
But the rest of us who are not in denial understand and know all too well that racism is the child of America’s birth defect — slavery — and continues to be a major issue in an ever-evolving union seeking to be viewed as colorblind in light of the election of the first African American president.
That is why news of Republican Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry owning an exclusive family ranch in Texas named “Niggerhead” deeply troubles many people. It is a slap in the face of the many honest and diligent people — White and Black alike — who have dedicated their lives to creating racial harmony and fighting to ensure social and economic parity.
After the Washington Post broke the story about how Perry in his early political days took lawmakers and other leaders to the ranch, the Republican candidate offered a very late apology for a word that is innately offensive to African Americans, and a throwback to the dark days. The right wing attack machine, in typical fashion, began attacking the Post reporter, claiming she has a history of writing racially charged stories.
But that’s beside the issue because the ranch exposed to the nation is now part of Perry evolving biography on the national stage and he can’t run away from that. Just as presidential candidate Mit Romney can’t run away from the health care law he created in Massachusetts — that in many ways resembles President Obama’s landmark health law — Perry cannot run away from the “Niggerhead” ranch he’s been enjoying all these years without the scrutiny of the public. It is important to know who else visited that ranch. Maybe as the story continues to unfold, some lawmakers and past guests to the ranch will come forward and confess and tell more about the exclusive hideout with a name that smells of the stench of racism.
While Perry quickly came out and condemned the past name of the ranch, stating that it’s been painted over, his problem is he never came forward to admit it previously, Maybe we may get a race speech from Perry just as candidate Obama was forced to do at the National Constitution Center during the 2008 campaign at the height of the Jeremiah Wright scandal.
Perry cannot deny his past. He has bragged about his upbringing in an exclusive White environment in the South and how that has influenced his strong conservative values.
But to be the president of the United States in 2012, one has to offer more than an exclusive White Southern upbringing. The Southern strategy worked before but America is increasingly becoming more diverse. This is an age where the Southern strategy cannot thrive the way it used to.
That explains why the Republican Party is fretting over the ranch scandal because it is a sordid reminder of conservative stalwarts who unashamedly in the past used racism and the Southern strategy as a trump card for national office.
Though I have no reason to believe that Perry is a racist, he must come clean and admit whatever is in his past and move on. Just as candidate Obama admitted in 2008 in his race speech that his White grandmother had fear of Black men, this is Perry’s moment of truth to not only explain the ranch, but also the latest story about his support of Confederate symbols in the past.
In fact, Texas right now under Perry is considering whether to allow speciality license plates featuring the Confederate flag. The Associated Press reported that the plates have been requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a nonprofit organization Perry has supported over the years.
The man seeking the highest office in the land must offer more to the nation than symbols of slavery like Confederate flag license plates. While the politics of the Confederate flag will help Perry get some votes in the deep South, it still makes him appear like a candidate who belongs to the Old South. In essence, the more silent he is on an issue that has been the defining point of America’s struggle for civil and human rights, the more he belongs to the past.
And how can a nation that prides itself as a paragon of the ideals of justice seek to elect a man president who’s allegedly shown tolerance for racially hurtful symbols?
The idea that America has come a long way is bastardized by Perry’s reluctance to tackle this issue head on. And doing so is not just issuing a one-line statement to the media about a ranch that he’s been visiting and hosting guests at.
The Perry campaign tried to diffuse the story by stating that Perry hired more African Americans in Texas government than any other governor. But what does that have to do with owning the “Niggerhead” ranch or getting ready to possibly create specially made license plates showing the Confederate flag?
The Christianity in Perry — he has branded himself the evangelical candidate in the race by organizing a 30,00 strong prayer rally before he announced his candidacy — biblically requires him to defend the poor, the weak and the oppressed.
And in doing so he must identify with the issues that affect the vulnerable and oppressed communities. Structural inequality is still an ever present problem that must not be swept under the rug. There comes a time when you have to stand face-to-face with the truth.
Herman Cain, the lone African American Republican presidential candidate in the race, condemned Perry, calling him “insensitive” when news of the ranch reached him. But Cain, after receiving a verbal whopping from conservative media leader Rush Limbaugh, quickly dismissed the issue, stating he was fine with Perry’s one-line apology statement.
That raises questions about the sincerity of Cain’s original statements and whether he was just politicking the issue, after a week of calling most African Americans “brainwashed” for being loyal to the Democratic Party. Rick Perry should do us all a favor by coming clean on the ranch and the Confederate flag license plate proposal issues. He should man up and step to the podium and give this issues the time and attention they deserve, as would be required of anyone who wants to be the next leader of the free world. It just makes sense.
Chronicle senior editor Bankole Thompson’s latest book on religion and politics is titled “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” with an epilogue written by Robert S. Weiner, former White House spokesperson under President Bill Clinton. The book, whose foreword is written by Bishop P.A. Brooks, guest chaplain of the 102nd Congress, will be launched Nov. 12, 10 a.m., at the Wayne State University Spencer M. Partrich Law School Auditorium. Thompson is a member of the “Obama Watch” roundtable program, Sunday evenings, 9-10 p.m. on WLIB-1190AM-New York which is simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.