Civil Rights Movement Needs Consistency

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On March 4, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) told Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow he believes race relations are “much, much better than they’ve ever been in my lifetime.” Within seconds of saying this, however, Byrd proceeded to label lower-class Caucasians as “white niggers.”

To have the former majority leader of the U.S. Senate – a man called the dean of the Senate’s Democratic caucus – use such a term raises concern on many levels. In addition to a powerful politician using a universally reviled epithet against African-Americans to slur whites as well, it is troubling that the level of outrage from the civil rights establishment barely rose above a murmur.

It appears Byrd’s liberal credentials earned him a pass from blistering demands for his resignation, sit-ins in his offices and requests for a meeting with Al Sharpton.

It’s becoming apparent the civil rights community has become a wholly owned subsidiary of liberalism. This merger seems to give liberals the ability to say things and behave in ways that would never be allowed by others. Take, for example, three instances from last month:

* California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, a liberal, used the “n-word” in a speech to black union officials. Representative Maxine Waters – who formerly headed the Congressional Black Caucus – virtually became his apologist, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “I’ve never seen anybody so down and so hurt by his own action. He faced up to the fact that he had done something wrong.”

* Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe used the term “colored people” in a speech to state party leaders. While not officially a slur, the term is no longer politically correct. Maynard Jackson, the former Atlanta mayor and civil rights activist whom McAuliffe beat for the DNC position, however, said McAuliffe’s use of it was a non-issue.

* Bill Clinton played a round of golf at the private Indian Creek Country Club near Miami. Several prominent members recently resigned from Indian Creek in protest of perceived prejudice against Jews and African-Americans.

These all may be much ado about nothing, but this generosity was absent in 1995 when Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey said “Barney Fag” in a comment about openly homosexual Representative Barney Frank. At the time, the New York Times speculated that “Congress itself has fallen under the sway of people who believe in a politics of destruction fueled by the language of hatred.” So far, the Times has not editorialized on Byrd.

Ironically, it is Dick Armey who most recently has tried to bridge the divide between conservatives and the civil rights establishment. It is still unclear if the civil rights leadership is willing to meet him half way. Armey wrote to NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to stop a trend Armey calls “Racial McCarthyism or reverse race-baiting.” Armey wrote: “[I]t has become an all too common practice to spread unfounded, racially charged falsehoods against Republicans for political advantage. Deliberate or not, if left unchallenged, this practice will continue to divide our nation, polarize our political parties and do untold harm in the lives of real people who are unjustly accused of conspiracy against the civil rights of African-Americans.” The two had their first meeting on March 8.

Civil rights leaders strain their credibility by criticizing only one side of the political spectrum. Recent revelations that almost 75 percent of Jesse Jackson’s 2000 travel expenses – $450,000 – were paid by the Democratic National Committee is just one indicator of how indebted the civil rights establishment has become to liberal interests. But to, speaking figuratively, lay the corpse of Texas dragging death murder victim James Byrd at the feet of George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign (as the NAACP did) without taking former Senate Democratic Leader Robert Byrd to task for his comments is a clear double standard.

If civil rights leaders cannot set a clear and consistent standard as to what constitutes racism, they’ll lose whatever moral authority they still retain after years of hijinks and headline-hunting by the likes of Jackson and Sharpton.

The civil rights movement has taught America that racism is a moral evil, best fought not with guns or even laws but by shaming racists into improving their morals and civilizing their behavior. Simply put, civil rights groups need moral authority to be effective. So, if civil rights groups choose to squander their moral authority, they might as well close their doors, because they’ll never again be effective. And we’ll all be the poorer for it.


(David Almasi is the director of the African-American leadership network Project 21. He can be contacted at [email protected].)

Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

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