When Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, was a U.S. senator from Texas, he told well-known PBS journalist Bill Moyers, then a young member of his senate staff:
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Johnson was describing the politics of race, which he clearly recognized and used to his own advantage throughout his career.
But this is the same President Lyndon Baines Johnson who fought for and achieved passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made racial discrimination illegal in employment, education and access to public places such as schools, buses, parks and so forth.
The fact that President Donald J. Trump has employed the politics of race throughout his career is no secret.
Five black men, identified in news reports of the 1989 case as the Central Park Five, were charged with committing the heinous assault and rape of a white woman who was jogging in New York’s Central Park. Trump took out a full-page ad in four New York newspapers calling for them to be executed.
All of the men were acquitted after DNA evidence confirmed that a man who confessed in 2002 had actually committed the crimes. Even so, Trump has recently doubled down on his position about the men’s guilt after a recent Netflix series brought the incident back into the spotlight.
Recent Twitter attacks by the president on U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, who chairs the Oversight Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, continues the president’s pattern of attacking people on the basis of race.
What is particularly ironic about Trump saying that Cummings represents a congressional district that is so rodent-infested that “no human would want to live there,” is that Trump’s own father, Fred C. Trump, was arrested in Baltimore in 1976 for violating the Fair Housing Act by not keeping the low-income housing he owned up to standard.
Now Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly owns dozens of similarly substandard properties around Baltimore, and has been cited for hundreds of code violations, earning him the label of “slumlord.”
I can remember when Republican politician Newt Gingrich, radio personality Rush Limbaugh and others began to use the term “political correctness” as their dog-whistle – the coded message they were sending to their racially entitled followers – to keep their politics of race under the radar.
They then began invoking the term “playing the race card” when minorities – particularly African Americans – pointed legitimately to instances where racial discrimination was at play.
Race has been identified as the motive in the shooting deaths over the weekend of 20 individuals in El Paso, Texas, after a manifesto written by the suspect came to light.
Such instances of racially-precipitated violence, hostility or confrontations, frequently documented on social media with private recording devices, must be called out and condemned for what they are.
Bullies thrive off the silence of ordinary people and those who call themselves leaders and regard silence as consent, agreement or cowardice.
Individuals, community leaders, business leaders, religious leaders and political leaders alike need to stand up and condemn these kinds of behaviors if we want to truly be the nation that respects the rights of all individuals that we claim to be.