Sunday, January 18, 2009

of pride and prejudice

this weekend marks the martin luther king jr. holiday and the run-up to the inauguration of our nation's 44th president. the media has focused attention on the racial makeup of the president-elect, and the historic nature of this event in light of the painful past of racial divisions. i join with many americans in hoping that this auspicious event is, indeed, both a milestone and a turning point in our history.

the media attention has drawn focus on the racial pride of the african-american community, and rightly so. i can only imagine how this event resonates in the breasts of those who have suffered the blatant ignominy of our nations past. the euphoria of the black community is understandable, and i share, to a degree, in that euphoria.

residing as i do in a small rural southern town at the heart of bush-mccain country, i have ample opportunity to see the obverse side of pride, the prejudice, that seethes only slightly below the surface. this prejudice is nothing new, it has been exploited by the republican party since the embrace of the civil rights movement by the democrats.

prior to the democratic embrace of civil rights, the post-reconstruction south was solidly democratic and the democratic party (of slavery, secession, and states-rights) was the white peoples party. prior to a court ruling in 1947, the democratic primary in south carolina was open to whites only, and the winner of democratic primary was often unopposed in the general election. the solid south began to fracture somewhat when strom thurmond ran for president as a third-party states rights democrat (dixiecrat) in the 1948 election. the prior year's court ruling was one of the precipitants of his campaign. (states-rights was an easily recognized code word for the racial segregation that permeated society, especially in the south.)

when the democratic party embraced the civil rights act of 1964, white southerners flocked to the republican party in droves. they were not, they would say, abandoning their party, it was their party who had abandoned them. they were right of course. but the republican party, in welcoming this new blood in the south, abandoned the party of lincoln and theodore roosevelt.

the intervening years have seen the republican party rush headlong into the snowy drifts of self-righteousness. the marriage of political expediency and the power lust of fundamentalist christianity produced the unholy alliance that wrecked both church and state. in today's rural white south, to be a christian assumes being conservative and republican. while many in our nation celebrate with pride the most historic election in the history of the republic, rural southern whites stew in the bitter sauce of prejudice.

let them stew. i celebrate with my fellow americans the promise of a restored nation. it is not a promise that will be realized in a day or a year or even eight years, i know, but let me stand while i may with those bursting with pride in the face of prejudice.

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