Getting caught up in the superficial comments from presidential candidates former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick Santorum only generates news. Getting the gist of another comment from the GOP field should get your attention and generate action.
The sad reality of racism in 21st century America and our collective response to it as both Americans and notably as Black people is that we find ourselves focusing on the fluff and not the substance of the situation too often.
It holds us back and keeps us increasingly disenfranchised – much like Mitt Romney’s belief concerning a growing segment of Americans at a time when we are fighting against prison recidivism and the perils of a community that is becoming a permanent underclass in America.
That underclass is not just about education and economics. It could now include an increased lack of personal involvement in the formation and functionality of the governments that impact our lives.
Once again, we as Black Americans have taken the bait, allowing both our outrage and attention to be focused on the low-hanging fruit of questionable sound-bites and cursory replies to “racist” sentiments. Whether it concerns national organizations and the media attacking presidential candidate Rick Santorum for the “Black people and other people’s money” comment (and subsequent – and unsuccessful – denial of the statement) or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for his “racial coding” comments calling President Obama “the most successful food stamp president in American history”, we play the role of reactionary victims to a perceived scornful sentence or idea. What we have forgotten – again – is that stamping out the impact of racism in America is a proactive movement that requires discernment, not an emotional reaction that prompts flippant replies.
Never mind that the aforementioned candidates (especially Mr. Gingrich) have received a rousing amount of media and blogosphere questioning concerning their comments. As well, although it is easy to be caught up in the perceived “racial coding” and “threats against Black enfranchisement” over the fight of voter ID laws, do not do so. Both issues have simple solutions and, thus, do not need our optimal attention for analysis or action. For Santorum and Gingrich, the solution is simple: Black folks must listen to the sentiment, (that is, we as Republican leaders have to find a better way to get Black Americans back to work than what President Obama and the Democrats have offered Black folks since 2009), not merely the choice of words. Concerning voter ID laws, the solution is also easy to find: provide low-income Americans on assistance a cheap, state-issued ID (if they don’t already have one) that will validate their citizenship for assistance and voting purposes after providing 1-2 other state-issued documents such as a birth certificate or social security card – the same documentation needed for them to get driver’s licenses, enter public schools, and the like.
Determining the most important comment concerning racial disparities from Republican candidates this week should be simple as well. It came from Mitt Romney.
Mr. Romney’s statement – when pressed by Mr. Santorum concerning Santorum’s vote to restore felons’ voting rights after all debts to society for said crimes have been repaid in full – should have easily been the biggest light-bulb moment for urban America as we struggle with the New Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex’s impact on Black families and collectively on African-American empowerment in the 21st century.
When taking into consideration the issues of Black male incarceration in these times and our collective struggle to turn around our communities both pre- and post-incarceration, it should be crystal clear: anyone that suggests that some felons should never be re-instated with their voting rights regardless of how much they have repaid society for their crimes and how long they have lived as viable contributors to American society afterwards can not become president in 21st century America. That individual should not be allowed to influence the minds of legislators and grassroots leaders alike from the ultimate bully pulpit: the White House. It is an alarm that should have sounded in the minds of Black people – and most notably Black conservatives – as we look to close the increasingly-widening gap between Black America and the rest of the 21st century playing field nationally and globally. Potentially locking out more Black people for decades after they have served their repentances will not help the upliftment and reshaping of urban-base America whatsoever.
Romney’s belief that violent felons should not be able to vote again despite fully repaying their debts to society is on the opposite end of the issue from both Rick Santorum (who stood by this proposed legislation) and Newt Gingrich. Food stamp comments make news. Disenfranchisement comments should make us concerned. It is disturbing that while other Republican presidential candidates from Rick Santorum to Congressmen Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann have openly discussed the crisis impacting Black America, Mr. Romney’s most notable position on said crisis has been the proposed disenfranchisement of the victims of the New Jim Crow. Further disturbing is that while some find the position appalling, there is a ground swell of Americans that have already begun to rally behind it as well via the blogosphere and within some political camps.
A perceived promotion of the welfare queen stereotype might be the easier thing to remember – and discuss – from a public forum perspective. However, while no one seems to want to signify the Willie Horton aspect of Romney’s Super PAC attack on Santorum, Black Americans better not ignore it during the rush to chase the ghosts of racism past through phantom sentiments by Gingrich and others. While comments from Santorum and Gingrich did a poor job of speaking to the sentiment of uplifting Black America from the economic doldrums, they did speak to some sort of long-lasting empowerment for Black folks despite what some might call foot-in-mouth syndrome. Romney’s comments – brief as they were and as ignored as they are now – speak directly to the threat of Black disenfranchisement and disempowerment post-New Jim Crow, past the hard work we are investing to overcome the realities of urban America today. It is so easy for us to get our feelings hurt from perceived slights from mere words that trigger emotion reactions. In 2012, we must get more in-tune before a new perception on civil rights can hurt Black Americans more than words ever could.
LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic 365 who can be found every Saturday with Democratic pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 Pacific.) He has been regularly featured on CNN’s “Early Start” weekdays between 5:00 AM – 7:00 AM Eastern as well. His latest podcast “Getting Ready to Get Right” can be found on www.LMGILIVE.com and “McAllister’s Weekend Remix” can be found exclusively on Politic365.