Column: So Long, Jesse


California has followed Massachusetts in allowing for marriage equality outright, America is poised to elect its first black president, and it’s tremendously tempting to use these touchstones to declare an end to America’s era of bigotry, to point to these attitudes and events and say, “See, we’ve come so far,” and pat ourselves heartily on the back. Long live the newly tolerant America!

Unfortunately, that’s premature. People may not talk about “Negroes” moving in on “their” jobs, as Helms did, but they do talk a great deal in campaigns about valuing the votes of “people who work for a living,” the sneer that accompanies such implicit comparisons needing no translation. People may not use homophobic slurs in mixed company, but they do talk about not wanting certain “lifestyles” shoved down their throats and paint visions for parents of their children living with gay teachers and day care workers, the same old bogeymen from 30 years back.

The Democratic Party may be nominating a black man for the presidency, but the Republican Party is running one who voted against designating a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., who told a woman and her fiance that he disapproved of their “position.” The kind of racism and homophobia Helms practiced in politics hasn’t gone away. It has simply moved underground, buried under polite words that nevertheless suggest others should ask pardon for living.


3 thoughts on “Column: So Long, Jesse

  1. Jesse, we were told again and again, was “against civil rights.”
    David Duke will be forever remembered as a racist. Jesse Helms was memorialized as being “against civil rights.” Those of us who remember him, know that, too, is code. Jesse was a racist. But that’s a word we dare not attach to public officials today, only to marginal figures like David Duke.
    Jesse was an unrepentant racist. But what upsets people, is to say that George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people.

  2. To me, it is important that during the Rev. Wright flap, that Obama tried to elevate the discussion to one of what remains to be done and the influence of past ghosts on our present actions.
    Unfortunately, Obama couldn’t get traction with that.

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