Filmmaker Ken Burns stated it properly while commenting on his 1990 PBS series “The Civil War.” He said that no matter all the other factors, racism remained like a deadly snake curled up under the table.
A few years ago, the Rev. Billy Graham was asked if he could fix one national problem, what would it be? “Racism,” he immediately said.
The old snake abides with teeth that puncture, a whiplike tail that cuts like a scalpel, a muscular body for immobilization and, worst of all, a vapory venom that causes delusion as it slowly poisons.
The candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama has done U.S. politics a grand service. He has brought our embedded racism out of the closet.
As the great Justice Louis Brandeis once so wisely stated, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
Oh, momma, have we got a lot of disinfecting to do.
Reminders of Nevada as Mississippi dropped around me like artillery shells last week. We rank 45th in the country for fostering technology and science ahead of — surprise — five Southern states, including Ole Miss, at bottom as usual.
And what’s our response? Gov. Jim the Dim is slashing education budgets like Johnny Depp.
It won’t be long before somebody sues over the starvation of our school system and we end up like other Southern states with a federal judge running it. (A federal judge has run this area’s water system since 1944, so we’re used to it.)
A year or so back, a visiting lecturer at UNR told a group of doctoral candidates that she was amazed that Nevada hadn’t been hit with such litigation already, given our stinginess.
One in five West Virginia voters admitted that race played a role in how they voted in the May Democratic primary. John Edwards, a white southern male who had already dropped out, still garnered 7 percent. A news network interviewed some female voters. One said she would not vote for Obama because he’s a Muslim. Another said his middle name is Hussein, right? A third simply said that he’s black.
Having worked for high profile African-American candidates in the past, I know that in reviewing any poll, a black office seeker must allow at least five points for respondents who won’t admit their prejudice. Looks like it’s gotten worse.
About 15 years ago, I filled in for a couple of days as morning newsman on a local oldies station. Things were going swimmingly until I played my interview with the Rev. Jesse Jackson about a civil rights bill pending in Congress. Listeners bouncing to the Motown sound suddenly turned ugly when that black guy’s voice was allowed on their radio station. I was not offered the permanent job by a manager who curtly informed me that the station catered to a “white bread” audience. (Barbwire 11-7-99)
Fast forward to the present. A few weeks ago, I sent out an e-mail notice about the Reno-Sparks NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet. It generated this exchange:
“I will go when Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson apologize to the Duke Lacrosse players in public. Hypocrites, both of them, shame on you,” wrote some yahoo.
“The definition of bigotry and prejudice is when you paint everyone with a broad brush,” I responded.
“What does this Reno event have to do with your hatred for two black preachers if not the obvious of guilt by association or, worse, melanin? Thanks for keeping the NAACP in business. Be well. Raise hell.”
Here is his unedited reply: “do not e mail me again or it will be reported as harassment. a copy of this will be sent to the appropriate people with in the naacp and authorities. how dare you call me a racist. your actions creates them. be well, go to hell”
Talk about moral obtuseness. He actually threatened to turn me in to the NAACP.
Just when you think it can’t get worse, in came a phone message from a well-known local media personality. Here it is verbatim: “You know what, every time I turn around·and send·I hear another whimpering, whining black person. I didn’t say nigger, I said black person.
“Now, you know, somewhere, being a victim has got to cease. Stand up, grow a big pair of cojones like the black congressman, er, the black, uh, uh lieutenant governor of Illinois, a conservative by the way, he doesn’t follow your ilk, he stands on his two feet — they’re black and he is somebody.
“Quit using the race card to get promotions and jobs and housing, fudisherary (sic) and in school.
“Where is it written that a education is a guarantee for anybody?
“If you work hard and play by the rules, you get ahead, not playing the victim. Quit playing the race card.
“But you of the N double-A LCP, that’s the liberal colored peoples’ organization — and I might add, Barack Obama — you know what, you people are losers. You’re going to continue to lose. Quit playing the victim and become the victor,” he screamed and hung up, leaving no number.
A calm and literate response that this poor man needed to see was presented by Bill Moyers on Friday night, but few northern Nevada viewers were allowed to see it. Ironically, KNPB TV-5 bumped Bill Moyers’ Journal to 2 a.m., replacing it with an American Masters retrospective on civil rights giant Pete Seeger.
Moyers discussed America’s inherent racism with two historians and promoted a TV show that I hope KNPB will air. “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North,” premieres nationwide on Tuesday.
First-time filmmaker Katrina Browne therein makes a troubling discovery: Her New England ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history.
Moyers followed a segment of the film with a repressed chapter of Americana: how millions of southern black men were re-enslaved from the 1880s until after World War II.
Too bad so few residents of Mississippi West were allowed to see it.
Correction from last week (thanks to local lawyer Neil Grad): The Nevada usury law was repealed in 1981.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and a member of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.