“I am a republican. A black, dyed in the wool republican. And I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.” – Frederick Douglass
There was a lot of news this week about Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, and the horribly racist thoughts he expressed to his girlfriend privately. Apparently people around him were well aware of his racist thoughts, but they never said a word because his public deeds hid them so well.
This surprised a lot of Americans, who wondered why, if he was so racist privately, his friends are only now going public about it. This private racist/public philanthropist persona didn’t surprise me at all. It also doesn’t surprise me that he has given a lot of money to liberal causes and politicians. I have seen this persona before.
It’s time the lies end. Racism isn’t rooted where the American public believes it is rooted.
We know that Abraham Lincoln (Republican president) emancipated the slaves, and that Frederick Douglass and other prominent black men were among the first strong Republicans. We also know that even Malcolm X ultimately became a Republican, and that Alveda King, the niece of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., is an outspoken conservative activist. But let’s go deeper.
When my husband was in the Missouri Legislature, he used to go to committee dinners with lobbyists who were trying to woo his committee to vote a certain way. The practice is easy to criticize, but the more intimate dinner setting did, at times, prompt light-bulb moments that arose from conversations shared over food and wine, away from the Capitol, when more authentic personalities emerged.
One particular committee dinner I attended with my husband was most certainly a light-bulb moment, but not for the reasons you might think.
My husband served on the labor committee, and that night we were all at dinner. It was a particularly partisan committee, so my husband’s Republican committee members bowed out, leaving us the sole Republicans in the room, and very junior members of the crowd at that. Our presence was generally either missed or disdained by the small gathering of Democrats who held firm locks on all of the power in state government.
The entire committee was white, and there were no black or other minority members present that night. That week, there was a major storm brewing between labor and business in the House of Representatives, and it promised to be epic.
A new, young state representative, my husband had “taken one for the team” in volunteering to serve on the labor committee. He was able to be so bold, as he had won his seat handily and would likely skate into his re-election. He voted “no” mostly, in committee, and on the House floor, but reality is that as a member of the minority party, he had very little power yet.
This particular night, the topic of race was heavy in the conversation because the Democrat members needed the vote of the black caucus to pass their Democrat governor’s top agenda item.
As the hour grew later and the wine flowed, the conversation got louder and bolder. The Democrat labor bosses’ and some of the lobbyists’ conversations turned to how to manipulate the blacks into doing the will of “the party.”
My husband and I sat in shock. It was as though we weren’t even there – or that they got some sort of arrogant thrill out of watching our faces in shock as they talked about people like chattel.
I remember sitting next to my husband, trying to get my head around what was happening.
It began with racist jokes. I have heard racist jokes before, usually told by black friends of mine, much like I enjoy relaying blonde jokes.
But this took a different tone.
The most senior member of the Democratic caucus was there, as was another caucus leader who was not a member of the committee. It is not unusual when lobbyists are buying, that such invitations get extended. The longest serving Democrat was a colorful character, nearly a caricature of the old “Dukes of Hazzard” foil, named “Boss Hogg.” This roly-poly redneck loved to wear cowboy boots and white suits, and he brought his wife that night. He started talking in very vile language about how those “blankety-blank Republicans” were making gains in his part of the state but that they would never take him out. He described how any time they come at him he would just grab all his “n-ggers” and get them to the polls. He repeated how he “turns out his n-ggers” any time he needs them.
A few years later, as federal agents were investigating election irregularities in his county in which voters were bussed to polls and paid with coupons for whiskey, a diversionary fire on one side of town assured that the courthouse file room was successfully burned of all evidence by an arsonist.
Back to my night at dinner …
They were mocking the black caucus most brutally, but they also talked about how to get the Jews and other minority members to work with them.
The conversation that evening then went to racial slurs I have never heard before. There was another Democrat lobbyist sitting to my left whom I kept looking to for translation. In all my life, I had never heard most of the racial slurs used. All the Democrats at the table seemed to know these slurs, and be very familiar with the terms being thrown out like confetti at the tackiest of parties.
This went on for hours, until my husband saw my face and knew I wanted to leave. I could no longer sit and listen to the utility nature of this conversation. I imagined this might be worse than the conversations held around poker tables where they gamble for human slaves around the world still today.
We said goodbye to no one, and used our exit as our protest.
The next day there were whispers of “goody two shoes” and “weak stomachs” for not being able to “handle” a few jokes.
But this went far deeper than that. I remember that night we sat up late trying to process what we had witnessed, and trying to decide if we should tell the black caucus leaders what we knew.
We wanted to, but who were we but junior members of the minority party? In Capitol halls, that means practical invisibility. The senior members of the black caucus were not going to listen to some inexperienced newbie 20-something rep and his wife. We knew that.
The restaurant had been packed that night – it was the nicest, most expensive restaurant in the Capitol City – and we hoped that maybe someone had overheard the conversation, or had possibly even recorded it.
That day when it came time to vote, we were shocked as the Democrat governor’s key agenda item failed even though Democrats held solid majorities. This was unheard of in years past. What had happened was that Republican gains brought the margin of error within the number of black Democrats. The governor lost all of the black Democrats and fell a few votes short. The loss had nothing to do with race and everything to do with race all at the same time.
The white Democrats were furious, cussing profusely about the “f—ing black caucus” for killing what they thought to be a perfectly good bill. For their part, the black Democrats were resolute and calm.
It was only a day or two later when the governor’s bill was brought up again and passed easily on a party-line vote with all of the black Democrats concurring. Black leaders used their new-found leverage to gain some political chits, and only the governor, the black caucus and a few other Democrat leaders and staffers know what those were. This tactic would be repeated for the next few years until Republicans took the majority. For a few years, however, those black politicians, objects of scorn worse than minority party Republicans, would have a good run and several last laughs before the Democrats’ power was assuaged and the Republicans had the majority.
Perhaps one day, the truth about who is truly tolerant will be reflected in the politics of our nation. Until then, we are all slaves to the private lies and public philanthropist/elitist who uses the lies to maintain the power and money he enjoys on the backs of those who believe his lies.
“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Frederick Douglass