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Jobs, race and Cain

What if not condemning racism when it raises its ugly head is actually diverting and delaying the jobs discussion?
 Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)

…While in the past, unacceptable language used by Minister Louis Farrakhan was overwhelmingly condemned by a House resolution, Republicans voted down a similar resolution that would have condemned Texas Gov. Rick Perry for taking his friends to hunt at a place with a racially offensive name (Niggerhead).

Republicans protect their own from charges of racism and the press doesn’t vigorously pursue the issue because Herman Cain says, “It’s time to move on,” and if he, as an African American, isn’t upset, why should others be perturbed. And Democrats don’t want to discuss it because it’s a distraction from their jobs message.

But what if not condemning racism when it raises its ugly head is actually diverting and delaying the jobs discussion? What if Herman Cain’s presence in the race is actually camouflaging the fact that President Obama’s jobs plan (and virtually anything else he proposes) is actually being blocked, not just by conservatives, but by white conservative Republicans determined to use any means necessary, including race – as both Republicans and Democrats have done in the past – to defeat America’s first African American President? If Herman Cain was not in the race, could the press really ignore Gov. Perry’s hunting site with no apology for its name or use?

Why is the word so offensive? Historically, the use of the “N” word by whites often preceded an act of violence by the perpetrator(s) (e.g., hanging) or by the victim responding. Viola Liuzzo and Rev. James Reeb were called N-word lovers before they were murdered. Most recently James Anderson was murdered in Mississippi and the young white perpetrator reportedly said, “I ran that n****r over.”

If the American people were to conclude that white Republicans – not just conservative Republicans – were actively working to defeat Barack Obama because of his race, they would overwhelmingly reject the Republican Party, its candidates and proposals, and understand more clearly a Republican strategy of blockage and obstinacy.

The heart and soul of “conservatism” is the South. When race was rampant, it was the solid Democratic South. In today’s “post-racial” society it’s the solid Republican South – minus the African and Hispanic American congressional districts. But why would the poorest, least educated, most ill-housed and most unhealthy region of the country be solidly conservative? Conserving such poverty seems unnatural. So what are the people of the South conserving?

Clearly, historically, the rich – be they slave-owners or possessors’ of other wealth or power – were conserving their privilege.  They used the fear of blacks to manipulate whites and blacks politically to keep them separated, and from rebelling and joining forces to fight their mutual state of unemployment, poverty, lack of health care, housing and education.

Poor whites were not told the truth about the Civil War - that they were fighting to protect the slave-owners’ economic self-interest.  Instead they were told they were fighting for states’ rights. Rather than join the civil rights movement for social, economic and political equality for all in the ’60s, poor whites were told to stay away because African Americans were being manipulated by “communists” and “socialists” like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and now Obama.

So when the first 15 Presidents avoided resolving the race issue the result was an explosion, the American Civil War. And when white politicians know the American weakness on race, and exploit it politically, we can never really get to the jobs discussion.

Dealing with and getting beyond “Niggerhead” may actually be the key to addressing the needs of the American people and unlocking a real discussion on jobs.

(Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. is a Democratic Party Congressman from Illinois.)

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