Saturday, May 1, 2021

Pity the Fool

The backdrop of President Biden's first joint address to the nation (not exactly a State of the Union address, but almost) was such a beautiful sight. I tuned in a little late to see the preliminaries (bath time), but just in time to catch a great moment when the President looked back while being cheered on by Madame Vice President and Madame Speaker. When the camera cut away to the First Lady, I caught a glimpse of our Second Gentleman and it dawned on me that we haven't quite settled on an appropriate title for him (SGOTUS looks like the name of an infection). No matter, we have time...

I know that there are some who will say that for all of the symbolism and novelty of the moment, therein lies part of our problem. Superficial displays of progress. Two women standing behind the old white guy, whom we settled on because from a diverse field of candidates that checked every other box...but we won't let that spoil the moment. As I posted on my FB page, I'm just happy that my blood pressure is normal again.

I am happy to be fully vaccinated, that things will begin to slowly open, and that my Kid is back in school four days a week! I am relieved that I can ignore the news for days and not miss any catastrophic, apocalyptic pronouncements. Joseph R. Biden spoke calmly, slowly, and reassuringly, something that hasn't happened in years. He expressed optimism and hope, sentiments that have been shared from that same spot by different men, but those statements hit differently after a year of pandemic and four years of calamity and mayhem.

Then along came Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)... 

Let me say this in all sincerity, I well understood the job he came to do and knowing that by some not-so-convenient coincidence he drew the short straw, I gave him my full attention. I listened. I had an open mind, hoping to hear something conciliatory and positive. And I did hear a few things from Sen. Scott that were pleasant surprises. His opening sentence, for example, was a sideswipe that President Biden seems like a nice man. Not nearly as bad as some of Biden's signature gaffes about articulate and clean and 'just as smart' Black people, so I see what you did there...well played sir.

I kept on listening and felt that Scott's recognition of single mothers was a welcome and refreshing change from the typical rhetoric that blames women for the disintegration of the traditional family. I heard Scott's pain about having dealt with racism as well as ridicule for his political beliefs. I felt that quiver in his voice because it has to be tough being caught between that proverbial rock and a hard place. I heard you, Senator. 

Then the record scratched and you began reading from the teleprompter the remarks that some intern in your office from Furman University wrote about America not being a racist country. Then you launched into full on televangelist mode and I wondered when you were going to implore us to send in our love donation to receive a few drops of holy water. I see you Peter Popoff.

Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) was interviewed after Scott's response and she suggested that what we heard was the message from the Republican Party, not necessarily Scott's personal sentiments. They are working together on some bipartisan police reform legislation, which he did not mention, so she expressed disappointment in that omission. Had he spent more time emphasizing how the two parties could work together, perhaps we wouldn't be talking about how delusional he sounded in defending the indefensible.

Such as his support of the last President. I haven't forgiven Scott for endorsing the game show con man for another term, even after months spent downplaying a global pandemic. Thousands of people died, so the political revisionism of that chaos, recast as bold, decisive, and competent leadership is beyond offensive. It is unconscionable to defend a man whose arrogance in ignoring the advice of public health experts, compounded by his disavowal of face masks and insistence on hosting massive super spreader campaign events, stoked the partisan misconception that COVID is overblown. Tell that to the families of the more than 9,000 victims from South Carolina, Senator. Explain how Trump would have facilitated the vaccine rollout more efficiently had he won the election, instead of whining and sowing the seeds of discord that resulted in the Capitol Insurrection on January 6. How does it feel to know THAT MOFO SENT A MOB OF PROTESTORS TO KILL YOU, BRO! Don't you get that those folks weren't going to recognize you from your convention speech as one of the good Blacks and spare your life? 

You think this guy with the Confederate flag was just going to shake your hand??? 

I could stop writing at this point because that image alone should be enough to debunk the foolishness. The very notion that you are working on police reform legislation having been stopped multiple times yourself, suggests that you know something from personal experience that your colleagues don't. The very fact that you only became the first Black Senator from the old South via a gubernatorial appointment first, then have had to toe the line in order to stay there, because as the senior Sen. Lindsey Graham reminded us, the pathway to success in South Carolina politics is to be a conservative. No independent outside-of-the-box thinking, lest you offend any Daughters of the Confederacy.

But you didn't blink or send any subliminal signals to us that we were supposed to be hearing something else other than what we heard you say. I was waiting for you to reassure us that your public ideology is a necessary stance that you must take in order to fight for our causes from the inside. I was waiting for you to make the case why more Black people should consider supporting the GOP, because there may be some market-based solutions for community empowerment and improvement such as opportunity zones and entrepreneurship. I was hoping that you would send a message to the young people who are angry and distraught by images on television that suggest their lives don't matter by encouraging them to stay in school and to ignore the taunts that label intelligence and achievement as anti-black. I was hoping that you would clap-back on the notion that your family history is exaggerated by emphasizing how its improbability is the entire point--Black resilience is Black excellence.

I was rooting for you Senator. So I guess this meme seems most appropriate right now:

Because here we are, in the aftermath of an address where you could have claimed the mantle of a great man like Robert Smalls, a hero from your state, but you didn't. You could have reminded us that the GOP was once home to great Black leaders like the late Senator Edward Brooke (MA) and Secretary Colin Powell, but you chose not to. You stood there and told those disgruntled Trump voters and Blue Lives Matter folks and religious fundamentalists what they wanted to hear, which is that they are really good, misunderstood people. You even tossed out a few of their favorite gripes, citing cancel culture and virtue signaling to ensure that they knew you were really winking at them.

Certainly not at us. No, for as I have said time and time again, damn near 30 years: if only the GOP made sincere efforts to cultivate Black voters. If only they spoke to our concerns about and experiences with systematic inequality instead of giving themselves credit for adhering to one line in one speech at a rally none of them would have bothered to attend if it were held today. If only they weren't content to ignore how race impacts our lives from the cradle to the grave: where we are born, how we live and get to make a living, to what kills us. No, you keep reminding us that you were the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass 150 years ago, but whose party was that on January 6 at the Capitol?

Senator Scott, as much as I would love to tout the inspiration of your personal story, as proud as I would love to be of your success (because I've watched you and you are gifted), all of that admiration curdles the instant you volunteer to help rewrite the sins of the past. Was it not racism that restricted your ancestors to sharecropping? I get that the silver lining is to extol Black landownership, but years later when your mother could only claim a right to five of 900 previously owned acres, you determined that legislation was needed to protect heir property from developers. You keep trying to have it both ways, on the one hand telling Confederate flag wavers that you don't believe there is racism in their hearts; while on the other, condemning those who used that same flag as the emblem of their hatred in Charlottesville and in your hometown of Charleston

Do you get why we're so frustrated? Centuries of being relegated to second-class citizenship and being treated as less than human, but none of that is systematic racism, just a lot of individual bad actors and multiple generations of us not saying 'pretty please' when making reasonable demands for dignity? You want to be a man who got things done, and you have an impressive record of incremental accomplishment. So do most other Black leaders, because the truth, Sen. Scott, is that lie they want us to believe is what you are up against. The lie that you told with a straight face as if you had been practicing for that moment all of your life.

Your hero Booker T. Washington took a similar approach, and in spite of my ideological differences with him as a civil rights leader, it is undeniable that he was a great man. He even got to advise an American President in an era when that was unheard of, but not without considerable backlash. And there are no monuments built to honor Washington that receive the same kind of protection or veneration as those dedicated to the Confederacy. There is a statue on the campus of Tuskegee University, the school he founded in 1881; however, the high school in your home state that was named for him closed in 1974 (a casualty of belated school desegregation). The only physical remnant of its existence is the auditorium that still stands on the campus of the University of South Carolina. But I bet the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center, located at the same university, is a state-of-the-art facility.

Senator Scott, even with you on the inside, seated at the head of the table as the guest of honor, will we still be getting the scraps? You've been given the responsibility to do what your colleagues have no will or courage to address--how many of them can attest to interactions with police that range from trivial to deeply humiliating to excessive to fatal? If left up to them, Derek Chauvin would have been given a Medal of Freedom by the former President in exchange for our votes in Georgia being discarded, where it is now illegal to offer a voter a bottle of water.

(In case you were wondering, Vice President Harris can take some of this smoke too. Because no Ma'am, scroll back up to the second paragraph. I braved a pandemic and watched that insurrection live on television. You can GTFOHWTBS!)

There will be no more equivocation, no more incrementalism, no more accommodationism. We don't want anymore murals, no more hashtags, no more memorial events set up to honor those gone too soon. We don't want white cops replaced with more Black cops because that hasn't meant a noticeable improvement in policing. Body cameras haven't been as much of a deterrent as cell phone video. No more multi-million dollar settlements intended to quell the outrage of seeing Black blood smeared on the streets because it is insulting to know that money could have been a community investment on the front end. So Senator, if your proposals for reform include more of the same, then it will confirm our other suspicion about your rebuttal.

And that is NOT who you are, Senator Scott. You are not some lawn ornament installed outside of the club where they won't even let you enter through the front door because your boots are too muddy. You are not out here doing all of the work while they drink their vintage whiskey and lament the bygone days.

No sir. For what you have accomplished, you deserve more respect. You should not be the punchline to a bad joke that has been told for too long and that has never been funny. If Rep. Bass calls you an honorable man, and Rep. Clyburn offers similar sentiments, then prove them right. Because Black people aren't using you to prove anything, but we are depending on you to represent more than superficial progress.

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