Cynthia McKinney: Exploiting and Expanding the Racial Divide
By Peter Lemiska
Growing up in a small New Jersey town in the 1950s, racism was unknown to me. We had, as I recall, one black classmate. In those days, we would have used the term Negro, if we made any reference at all to her race. But no one paid much attention to her skin color, and we all got along fine.
My first real exposure to racism was in basic training in 1970. There were two recruits who appeared no different from the rest of us, but seemed to take an instant dislike to each other. One was black, the other white, and their underlying hostility soon became apparent when, during their first altercation one called the other “white boy.” The response was immediate and expected, as the words “black boy” rang out in the barracks. That’s when I came to accept a couple of fairly obvious facts about racism. I saw first-hand that people could be hostile to others simply because of the color of their skin. I also saw that racial attacks fuel more bigotry, and most importantly, it’s not a one-way street..
Since then, I’ve gotten around a little, and have come to understand that racism in America is not uncommon - that is, if you define it as personal prejudice against another race. That’s because none of the civil rights legislation passed over the years can change the bias and racial animosity that bigots learn from their parents and peers.
But as for the segregation and discrimination associated with racism, that’s another matter.
The tumultuous path to black equality began on September 22, 1862, when President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Later in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution outlawed slavery, and in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment gave blacks the right to vote.
But that was not nearly enough, because blacks were still victimized by segregationist and discriminatory policies.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. That was followed in 1961 with President Kennedy’s executive order establishing the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and the concept of affirmative action. Then, more than 40 years ago, President Johnson signed the sweeping Civil Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting, education, and in public facilities.
Today, African-Americans no longer suffer the social or economic disadvantages they endured in the past. Long gone are the “whites only” signs. Black homeownership is at an all-time high, and minorities are integrated throughout every level of society and government. Many, in fact would argue that, because of affirmative action and quotas, minorities today enjoy an advantage over whites in the workforce.
Nonetheless, personal racial prejudices continue to exist in this country.
And though bigotry is learned, usually from parents, it is reinforced and inflamed every time the headlines report another allegation of racism, real or perceived.
The incident at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday involving Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney was, in the whole scheme of things, insignificant.
According to published reports, she bypassed a security checkpoint en route to a meeting, and ignored requests to stop by a Capitol Hill Police Officer, who did not recognize her. Since the congresswoman was not wearing her appropriate identification, he detained her by grabbing her arm, and she responded by striking him in the chest. Several witnesses have corroborated the incident as reported, and a grand jury is now considering assault charges against McKinney.
Based on the reported facts, and previous similar incidents involving the congresswoman, it is clear that this was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a case of racial profiling. That officer was simply doing his job which, incidentally, is to secure the U.S. Capitol and its office buildings. In this situation, any professional officer would have taken the exact same course of action. And they would have followed the same procedures if it had involved a white congressman.
On the contrary, this altercation stemmed directly from McKinney’s unwieldy ego, the oversized chip on her shoulder, and her refusal to submit to routine screening, especially by a white police officer. And it is because of that chip that trouble seems to follow the congresswoman wherever she goes.
In an effort to gain support, she later held a press conference attended by prominent activists Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte. It was interesting to watch these three liberal luminaries decry the discriminatory environment in this country, while ignoring the many opportunities that led to their wealth and enormous success in politics, film, and music. The performance of these three, no doubt, drew support from other like-minded racial antagonists, but in the long run, scurrilous accusations aimed at exploiting the racial divide only serve to expand it.
But more and more people, including responsible blacks, now realize that the 1960s are long past. The barriers to equality have been eliminated, and minorities can no longer blame racism for every obstacle they encounter.
Isolated injustices based on real bigotry must not be ignored, but those who exploit racism through false allegations only succeed in inflaming racial tensions. Fair-minded people know the difference.
Peter Lemiska is a freelance writer and former Senior Special Agent of the U.S. Secret Service. He has a BA degree in psychology.