It is one thing to be racist and quite another to be a lazy racist. The latter is how I characterize Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern (R) who took to the floor of the state House of Representatives to oppose affirmative action, and in the process traded on the most tired stereotype of African-Americans that is found in the racists’ playbook. Her reasoning behind her stand that affirmative action should end is because Blacks’ hardships are because we don’t work as hard as whites. At least David Duke and other white politicians were more creative and sophisticated in their zeal to erode gains made by Blacks. Kern’s rhetoric is what we consistently hear from conservatives whose attacks on public policy aimed at leveling the playing field is coded to avoid being cast as racist but imbued with the resentment and hatred of white supremacists.
Rep. Kern wallows in the worse type of stereotyping by suggesting that African-Americans are generally unwilling to do what is necessary to be successful in life and instead wait for government handouts. The charge that Blacks are lazy carries a sting because of the historical exploitation of Black labor and the nation’s unwillingness to truthfully reconcile the critical contributions of African-Americans to the accumulation of white wealth in America. And how, in the process, many whites, including heirs who benefited not from great wealth but relative advantage, got a 400-year head start in securing their economic and social standing. While the likes of Kern point to affirmative action as “reverse discrimination,” they conveniently forget that despite the passage of the Reconstruction constitutional amendments, the 13th, 14th and 15th, it was not until 1964 when Congress passed and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act that equal protection under the law meant something more than words. One year later the Voting Rights Act would finally enforce the 15th amendment and end the disfranchisement of millions of Blacks. Meanwhile, Blacks worked for low-wages, were relegated to the worst housing in the most depressed neighborhoods, prevented access to good schools and served without hesitation in the military to defend a country that did not recognize our citizenship in return.
Sally Kern is the worst type of bigot because she is cloaked with an aura of respectability and has standing because she is an elected official. To hear this nonsense from a television or radio talking head is one thing, but coming from the mouth of a state legislator should concern us all. It is this type of attitude that facilitates racism because it stirs the pot and gives bigots the opportunity to claim lies as credible simply because they were uttered by someone who has some degree of public approval. Affirmative action has been unfairly maligned because of a concerted effort, often enabled by the media, to cast the policy as “quotas,” “racial preferences,” or “reverse discrimination,” despite the dearth of Blacks across a wide cross-section of professional occupations. If Blacks were truly “gaming” the system, our numbers would far outweigh our current presence in the workforce and the few instances when courts have invalidated affirmative action policies over the existence of unlawful quotas would be tenfold. Meanwhile, Kern’s characterization of Blacks as lazy flies in the face of the desperation Black Americans who are unable to secure work feel daily as they struggle to make ends meet.
I have no patience for the utter stupidity of people like Rep. Kern who make a practice of sowing seeds of hate and distrust, and attempt to hide behind their official position to distract from their real agenda. It seems that in this year in which we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we are being bombarded by the legacy of white supremacy whether it is in the form of the absurdity of Rep. Kern’s statement, the insulting identification of our community as “the Blacks” by billionaire mouthpiece Donald Trump in a pathetic attempt to establish some bizarre plantation-like kinship with Black people, or the pseudo-intellectual and demeaning gibberish of former Congressman and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in associating the nation’s first Black President with food stamps. At least Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi had the good sense to spare us from an embarrassing presidential run marked by his selective amnesia of the climate of Jim Crow that surrounded his upbringing in Dixie.
Sally Kern should be embarrassed, but sadly I suspect she is proud, and ignorantly so.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.