BY JERRY STERNBERG
I was shocked and dismayed by the optics when, while watching the Michael Cohen congressional hearing, Mark Meadows, our own 11th District representative, paraded an African-American lady before the assemblage like a life-size cardboard cutout. The woman in question, Lynne Patton, stood silently before the House of Representatives as Meadows asserted, on her behalf, that she was empirical evidence that President Donald Trump could not be a racist, because she worked for him and she wouldn’t work for a racist.
I had an eerie vision of a scene like this taking place 170 years ago, when some unfortunate woman might have been standing in the public market while an auctioneer proclaimed, “Here we have a fine black wench who you can see is young, strong, has good bones and is fecund. She will be a good worker and will produce many valuable offspring.”
When Meadows was challenged over his obviously racist act, he declared in his defense that he couldn’t possibly be a racist because he has nieces and nephews who are people of color. I would remind the congressman that Sen. Strom Thurmond, who had a half-Strom/half-black daughter, was an avowed racist who defended our Jim Crow laws with every fiber of his being.
I go back far enough to remember when it was considered prestigious for certain white men to have their own “personal Negro” who would follow them around and ride with them, doing menial tasks, waiting on them hand and foot and agreeing with everything they said. At one of Trump’s rallies, he stood at the lectern, looking out over a sea of white faces, and said: “Look at my African-American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest?”
I think Trump figured he merited respect because he had his own “personal African-American.”
I’ve admitted in previous columns that I am a recovering racist. I was born here in the South, and though my parents tried to instill in me tolerance and racial understanding, I was also schooled by our culture. I didn’t dare drink out of a black water fountain or sit in the back of the bus. I attended an all-white school, because black children were somehow not as good or as smart as we were, and I never questioned why black people couldn’t eat in a white restaurant. Even the churches were segregated, and some still are, because those dark-skinned folks are considered children of a lesser god.
Many people who have drug and alcohol issues eventually recognize how destructive their problem has become and wish to make a change. To help those folks control their impulses, we have Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs. And although there is a 12-step program called Racists Anonymous, for the most part, we have to rely on our teachers, our parents and our political leaders to serve as examples, inform us and make us aware that racism is toxic, unpatriotic and serves neither ourselves nor our fellow Americans. To combat this evil, all of us — particularly white people — must unceasingly teach that just because many people are different from us, they still want to live and be respected, just the same as we do.
Sadly, however, what we currently have is the exact opposite situation: Some of our leaders have gone so far as to institute a two-step fear-and-hatred program. When our president demeans people from “shithole countries” and characterizes our brown brothers and sisters to the south as rapists, murderers and drug smugglers, we hear his dog whistle loud and clear. He believes that encouraging distrust and abhorrence is better than implementing reasonable border controls and a workable immigration program.
When Rep. Mark Meadows declares that we should send Barack Obama back to Kenya or wherever he came from, and when he blows his own dog whistle with a demeaning, ill-advised appearance at a congressional hearing, he isn’t doing a very good job of convincing us that he’s not a racist.
Congressman, we understand that you were elected from the artfully gerrymandered 11th District, which is more than 90 percent white. We understand that you have little fear of backlash from your minority constituency.
We also understand that you were elected to represent all of the people in your district, no matter their race or ethnicity.
I could take a page out of your own playbook and suggest that you be sent back to Kenya or Verdun or wherever it is that you came from, but I would rather see you rethink your current attitude, truly embrace people different from yourself (not just your nieces and nephews), and show your love for your dear friend Rep. Elijah Cummings by becoming an articulate spokesman for racial acceptance and diversity — not only in the 11th District but in our entire Great America.
Asheville native Jerry Sternberg, a longtime observer of the local scene, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.