September 14, 2009

I realize I’m days and days behind, but since I have only the vaguest notion who Kanye West is I figured I was okay sharing the letter my father just sent to the editor of the Charleston Post Courier about Representative Joe Wilson.

To the Editor:

If Joe Wilson’s outburst were unusual for South Carolina, that would be nice. Unfortunately, our state’s senators and congressmen have given the nation many similar unforgettable moments.

When a black minister rose to give the invocation at the Democratic National Convention in 1936, for example, Senator Cotton Ed Smith made a headline-grabbing show of stomping right out, followed close behind by Charleston Mayor and future South Carolina Senator Burnet Maybank.

A few decades earlier, when President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House in 1901, Senator Ben Tillman said, “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that n—– will necessitate our killing a thousand n—— in the South before they will learn their place again.” Of course, Pitchfork Ben used the full n—– word.

Further back still, when Senator Charles Sumner made an anti-slavery speech in 1856, two of our courageous congressmen locked him in the Senate chamber and beat him unconscious–one brave Carolinian wielded the cane while the other guarded the door to make sure no one could come to help the victim.

Joe (“I will not be muzzled”) Wilson may have no manners, but he does fit in with centuries of South Carolina tradition.

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12 Responses to I realize I’m days and days behind, but since I have only

  1. JudithinNYC says:

    Once again I have to say that I am in love with your dad, even if his gang had a dorky name.

  2. Todd says:

    I am not sure if you watched it, but about a month ago Jon Stewart had a piece on the wierd stuff that comes out of SC. It featured their govenor, several other political figures, and finshed with a guy who had been arrested TWICE for attempting to have sex with a horse.

  3. Jeff says:

    Hear, Hear! I’m currently in Massachusetts, and every person at my office is fanatically anti-Obama and thinks Joe Wilson is some kind of hero. Ironically, as the sole Carolinian, I’m the only person who seems to realize that he’s an uncouth, ignorant blowhard.

  4. JudithinNYC, he’ll be delighted to hear that.

    Todd, I did indeed see the Jon Stewart thing. But you’re mistaken on one point: he was arrested for actually having sex with the horse. If they arrested everybody in South Carolina who tried to have sex with a horse there would be no state government left.

    Jeff: I’m so sorry. You should make sure that you’re on the death panel when they come up.

  5. cataline says:

    As long as you’re looking for interesting SC politicians, why stop with the current generation? In addition to those Faustus’s father noted, there’s my favorite from the glory days of antebellum SC, James Henry Hammond, who first dallied with his fellow SC College student Thomas Withers and later went on to dally with four of his nieces. which did his political career no good. And of course Hammond also had the obligatory slave mistress, whom he subsequently abandoned for her twelve-year old daughter.
    As someone once said, you just can’t make this stuff up.

  6. TED says:

    Your father does an excellent job of putting Mr. Wilson’s actions in a racist context, where they belong, without belaboring the point.

    I share your ignorance of Kanye West. I would have to guess that she is Kanye East’s hydrophobic, less attractive sister, but I am too lazy to find out.

  7. anon says:

    Or, maybe Joe just thinks Obama’s lying, and race does not play into that.

  8. initials says:

    On a side-note, this is the second time Kanye has used a music awards ceremony as a venue to freak out about a “song of the year” winner… The first instance was a few years ago, when, interestingly, one of his songs lost to that “redneck woman” confection. Granted, Kanye is kind of an arrogant ass, but his music was WAY better, so people just assumed it was a fluke (see the South Park episode for a laugh).

    This year, he excoriated that teenaged hack Taylor Swift, in her bad video which reminded me of nothing so much as a cross between a Lindsay Lohan dance vid (cut so often you can’t see she isn’t hot on the floor) and The Princes Bride… He stated, quite correctly, that “All the Single Ladies” had it all over that midwestern-princess-dream-crap. So, the funny thing is, Kanye is like a foul-mouthed version of your Dad, calling out for racial justice, except in his case nobody cares, ’cause the music industry is a little… Umm… Well, the word “whorish” comes to mind.

    To sum it up, Kanye’s trying to pull out his race injustice card and spew it all over the faces of the country music industry in the the same classless way that good ‘ol Joe did in Congress over Obama’s speech. Two sides of the same coin, kind of, except Kanye may have a point, and Joe doesn’t, though both of them expressed themselves inappropriately. For the record, your Dad did express himself eloquently, and made a good point, without pissing anyone off, I’d imagine.

    I love it when comedy ensues from the juxtaposition of two eerily similar “through the looking-glass” type situations, especially when you’ve thrown your Dad on top for spice.

  9. Karen says:

    Sorry, Faustus, but your dad’s letter condescends to the President much worse than that outburst did.

    When people cry racism, it emasculates Obama, as if he’s a poor colored boy who can’t defend himself; it robs him of his human dignity and reduces him to merely a victim of his color.

    And it’s ridiculous. Wilson’s outburst had nothing to do with race, and it cheapens political dialouge when any one who dares disagree ideologically with a black man is a labeled a racist.

    It’s not the 60s anymore, and a proud, powerful black man like Obama does not need your father’s mealy-mouthed whining at the meanie Republicans. It makes him look weak, and you can bet he resents all these aging, white liberals crying over it and distracting from the actual issues.

    Obama can handle things just fine, thanks, his comments on Jimmy Carter’s similar claims of racism reflect it.

  10. cataline: OMG, Hammond was completely unknown to me! Thank you!

    TED: I think there may be a musical in this.

    initials: Now I can’t get the idea of a Lindsay Lohan dance video and The Princess Bride out of my head. Damn you.

    Karen: I agree that boiling the issue of Wilson’s heckling (or any issue) down to race and race alone is simplistic and condescending. But attitude toward race isn’t a binary function. It’s not the case that an act can be either “racist” or “not racist” but nothing else.

    I think Obama’s race was only one of many things that motivated Wilson’s outburst; I also think to say that race was not part of the equation is as simplistic and condescending as saying that it was the only part of the equation. Given Wilson’s segregationist bona fides (membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, employment in the early 60s by Strom Thurmond), I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that he probably has a fairly unenlightened attitude when it comes to issues of race and that that attitude played a part in what happened.

    Also, please don’t ever speak or write about my father in terms like “mealy-mouthed whining” again. I’ve posted about him and his work often enough—here, for example—and, while I understand that this post and the discussion in the comments upset you (and how and why), as the recipient of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice Award and the ABA’s Pro Bono Publico Award (to name two awards among dozens), as the architect of much of our civil rights legislation, and as a man who’s devoted the last fifty years of his life to fighting for the disenfranchised, he deserves more respect than you’ve shown him.

  11. Karen says:

    I give credit to your father’s great work for the disenfranchised, but those days are long past, and it is not in any way helpful to Obama to have the spectre of racism brought up and flung in his face everytime a debate gets heated. It impedes our forward motion as a nation in the process of transcending race.

    I’m of a political family, including many passionate activists of the mid-century, but I’ve found their attitudes almost as offensive I’ve found that of white supremacists. As with Pres. Carter’s comments–there’s this need to speak for Obama, as if he can’t do it himself, as if he’s not capable. It’s 2009, a black man is the president of the US, and he has his own voice. He doesn’t need a white man to talk for him anymore. You can bet for an individualist like Obama, accusations of racism like this are embarrassing and counterproductive to his message.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s spokesman publicly disagreed with former President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday over Carter’s contention that some conservative opposition to Obama is based on race.

    “The president does not think it is based on the color of his skin,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters”

    And Michael Steele: “President Carter is flat out wrong. This isn’t about race. It is about policy.”

  12. Wait, now I’m confused (genuinely, not rhetorically). Are we talking about Republican opposition to Obama in general, or Joe Wilson’s uncivility? Because I agree that the former is about politics—not policy, pace Michael Steele—rather than race.

    I don’t agree, though, that the days of black disenfranchisement are long past. The case my dad has been working on most recently is about a steel plant in Huger (pronounced YOU-gee), South Carolina, where white supervisors and employees regularly broadcast monkey noises over the loudspeakers along with recordings of “Dixie” and “High Cotton,” regularly referred to black employees (on and off the loudspeaker) as “niggers,” “dumb-ass niggers,” and “yard apes,” and on at least one occasion showed black employees a noose and told them it was for them, and where the plant’s gift shop sold items on which the company logo was emblazoned next to the Confederate flag. In addition to the hostile work environment there were also material issues: supervisors promoted white employees over black employees almost without exception, even when the employees promoted were manifestly less qualified than the employees passed over. How can it can be condescending to suggest that President Obama’s race may have played a part in the insulting manner in which the representative of that state voiced his opinion?

    I do agree, however, that the far more important question here is how the Republicans got so fucking insane and what we can do about it.


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