The Cold Hard Truth

By J.L. Chestnut, Jr.

Vol. 11, No. 4, 1989, pp. 32, 31

On a morning in the midst of the Bill Lucas furor, I completed an informal poll in the skyscraper building which houses both local governments here in the Motor City. A small army is employed there. Presumably these people know Lucas best. I asked a sampling of municipal and county employees in the City-County building the following simple, two-part question: "Should the U.S. Senate confirm Bill Lucas and why or why not?"

The Lucas affair is over now. But the questions are still relevant.

Detroit is 70 percent black and not many whites are employed in the building. The white employees, however, gave answers and explanations not unlike their black counterparts. Lucas, to say the least, is not popular in Detroit.

Well, how did he get himself elected sheriff and then county executive?

By being black, opportunistic and hard working. His opposition was always token and having Mayor Coleman Young and the black urban political machine behind him didn't hurt. Incidentally, Young grew up in Selma. His dear aunt lives there now and is a grand lady. The mayor wears wide, red suspenders and is a character.

But, back to Lucas.

An interesting number of whites in the western section of Wayne County have consistently voted for Lucas. They even stayed with him in his disastrous run for Governor last year. Those white voters are appreciative Lucas didn't forget his promise to make suburban parks safer.

Predictably, when Lucas switched to the Republican Party and ran for governor, white Republicans deserted him by the thousands and voted for a Democrat. At the other end of the spectrum, Lucas received less than 10 percent of the black vote.

Lucas is the accurate embodiment of many so-called educated blacks. He is selfish, opportunistic and so used to "brown nosing" whites for personal gain he couldn't even break from that mold before the Judiciary Committee though the President had understandably given him latitude to appear independent and dedicated to civil rights. Lucas slavishly mouthed support for the most outlandish, rightwing nonsense of his sponsors.

The incredulous nomination of this likable, well-meaning, but unqualified and malleable black man is one for the books even in surreal Washington. For years, Republicans have accused blacks of putting forward "unqualified" blacks. The Republicans then give Lucas to the nation. Washington is upside down.

A shallow-minded Dixiecrat, Strom Thurmond, called liberal Joe Biden a racist for opposing black Lucas. Thurmond made his political career baiting black people. That is about all he had going in South Carolina politics.

Following Thurmond's logic, Jesse Jackson and Ben Hooks are racists for opposing Lucas, and Thurmond and his Republican crowd ain't because they supported him.

In white Washington, Selma and virtually everywhere a "qualified" black is little more than a stoolie who fronts and defends for white politicians. It is difficult to teach black children the importance of real qualifications when every day they see black dunces elevated for simply selling out their own.

At every level of government, white politicians put forth black "leaders" of their choosing. Their reasons are identical to Bush's rationale for putting forth Lucas. The process has been in vogue since 1965 when blacks were first empowered to vote.

The difference now is an increasing number of blacks who will publicly deal with black hustlers, black opportunists and black pimps in the effective way whites dispatch ethnic traitors.

There are growing signs of that development even in Selma and Dallas County. Dr. King would be pleased.

After Detroit, the Crescent City...

In this joyous land of rich gumbo, spicy cajun seafood, boiled crawfish, jazz, Mardi Gras and incessant partying there is developing a new and active racism. How sad.

When I lived in New Orleans 35 years ago, local racism was more akin to Northern than Southern foolishness. Everything changes, I suppose.

White newspapers, white columnists, white editorials, white leaders and even the so-called liberals say many local whites have "recoiled in horror and fear" that blacks have dominated City Hall for a decade. It is the old backlash argument again. The city is as prosperous as ever.

By hysterically screaming everyday about this "backlash" (one radio station went into various white neighborhoods and took a poll "on the depth of the backlash") white leaders are really saying to blacks, if you push too hard for equality and parity we will hate you.

I rejected that backlash crap more than forty years ago. Yesterday I said so and even more in New Orleans.

I told a successful black New Orleans politician that whites remaining in the public schools in my hometown of Selma say frequently, in so many words, they will leave the system if they cannot have their way on everything important. But, to their credit, they haven't. They deserve more credit than some blacks.

The politician asked rhetorically if ever there would be a time when race is not a problem. I said race is not a problem; racism is. He said my "unnerving type of leadership is to blame." I asked, "Blame for what?"

He claimed that I had been preaching for years that white people hate black people. He said I make emotional speeches that "Whites hate blacks for trying to get out of their place as cooks, butlers, gardeners and servants." He also claimed I imply whites would only love blacks if they remained in these positions.

I accused my friend of suffering from the usual self-serving delusions of black politicians.

I don't profess to know or care who hates whom. I do ask blacks to objectively examine the facts of our existence. White Christians do not, in the main, worship with black Christians. Schools, neighborhoods and almost everything else--North and South--were or are segregated by race. All this racial segregation hardly equates with respect or love.

There is no institution in America, including the federal government, which treats blacks and whites with parity and equality. The law, justice and even the market place have different "measuring rods." When we ask for parity, we are told it takes time.

How much time?

In an old film clip shown on TV the other night, the late James Baldwin said, "I am almost 60 years old and will not live another 60 years. You have used my great-grandparents' time, my grandparents' time, my parents' and my children's time. How much time do you need to perfect your humanity and leave mine alone? I am fresh out of time?"

My response to the New Orleans politician echoed Baldwin. But, the black politician did not believe. He cannot afford to believe. It is not truth he seeks. It is truth he must avoid. Convenience and acceptance are the cornerstones of his life. The world is saturated with his kind.

There is no backlash in New Orleans. It is the same old frontlash. In 1989, it is simply more difficult to be hypocritical about one's racism.

So, a new racial word is invented--"backlash."

Peace.

J. L. Chestnut is an Alabama trial lawyer and writer.

Our columnist has been touring America.--Ed.