(Originally written and published by Bishop O.W. Prince October 2009)
Is Prejudice More Powerful Than Position?
On September 9th, 2009, during a joint session of congress, when President Obama said that the health care plan would not cover illegal immigrants, Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) openly called President Obama a "liar." However, upon closer examination, the Democratic health care plan clearly states in HR.3200: "Sec 246-- NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS." Now because of Joe Wilson's lying outburst, his campaign funds have increased significantly and he has gone from obscure to famous, especially in the State of South Carolina..
Is Racism More Powerful Than Position?!
While the civil rights laws of the 1980s were passed, effectively integrating the races, they never passed in the hearts and intent of many white Americans. As I like to say, "You can not legislate love."
Under U.S. Segregation Laws, African Americans built and were in charge of our own institutions. We ran our own schools, built our own banks, and started our own colleges. Then, during our struggle for freedom and equal rights under the law, the notion of integration was introduced. This idea of integration was clandestine in nature because it carried with it the assumption that black folks wanted and needed to integrate into white churches, white schools, white neighborhoods and white society. It never proposed that whites attend black colleges, join black churches, and move into black neighborhoods, except to move blacks out. The racist assumption was that black folks would step up by integrating into white society and the whites would step down by integrating into black society.
When the Civil Rights Laws were passed, it meant that that those who could afford it and were qualified according to white’s standards were integrated into white society, while the rest stayed behind. But regardless of our sacrifices, economic successes and academic accomplishments - regardless of our elevated socio-economic positions, increased political power and leadership, blacks were never afforded the same level of respect, honor and prestige that we held in the black community.
Regardless of the office, regardless of the position, regardless of the qualifications of the African American, there are still those racist elements in American society that seek, through clandestine and public demonstrations, to diminish the honor and reverence due to any office or position that is held by a Black Man. They send a clear message that regardless of our education, work ethic, public service or attained political office, African Americans are still inferior to the white man and not deserving or entitled to rudimentary human respect or professional courtesy. This was never more evident than on September 9th, 2009, when Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) publicly called The United States
President Barack Obama a "liar."
The highest and arguably the most powerful office in the world, had to endure a heinous and besmirching public insult by one of its own citizens and elected official because there are those who feel that a black man should not be president and they have no intention of respecting or honoring the Office while a black man occupies the White House.
Although Mr. Wilson offered a written statement of apology, the sincerity of his apology must be suspect since he has gained popularity and notoriety because of it. Furthermore, his home state of South Carolina appears to applaud his lack of decorum, professionalism, civility and respect for the office of the President of the United States as well as for his fellow laborer in the joint session of congress. Mr. Wilson has portrayed himself in the media as a passionate fighter for truth whose passions got the better of him on September 9, 2009.
I refuse to buy into the notion that Mr. Joe Wilson's emotions got the better of him during President Obama's speech. On September 9th, I believe that he knew exactly what he was doing and that he behaved as planned. After all, he is a politician and as such, must be aware of protocol and decorum. I don't believe that his emotions got the better of him as he has tried to imply. There was no provocation equal to his response that would justify his outburst. If he was so passionate and concerned about the truth and the welfare of the citizens of the United States, where was his outburst when former President Bush engaged the United States in an unjust war based on unsubstantiated claims of "Weapons of Mass Destruction?" Mr. Wilson didn't call Mr. Bush a liar. Where was Mr. Wilson's uncontrollable passions when the Governor of His home State of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, went AWOL for seven days and lied to his wife and his state about his adulterous whereabouts. Joe Wilson didn't call Governor Sanford a liar.
If Mr. Wilson's indignation was righteous, he should have been uncontrollably incensed at the lives and quality of life lost by our service men and women who volunteered to serve in the armed forces only to be thrust into an unjust war. He should have been publicly outraged at the lack of personal moral integrity of his state's Governor. However, Mr. Wilson's response to these tragedies has been controlled or nonexistent. Now he wishes us to believe that he is so passionate about what he believes that he forgot where he was and to whom it was that he was addressing.
He knew exactly what he was doing because he planned on doing it. I know that this assessment may be difficult for some of our fellow Americans to accept. However, those of us who have been around for 50 years or more and have suffered at the clandestine hands of systemic prejudice and bigotry, can attest to the fact that racism is pervading, persistent and very personal--it often is expressed in ways that are purposely ambiguous so that the intent of the offender may be obscured and plausibly explained away if challenged. However, many of us have learned to look beyond the veil of alleged misspoken slanders and racial slurs and see the hooded devil for who he is. We have had generations of practice at this. For over 400 years, our very survival depended upon our ability to discern an enemy from a friend. Our white counterparts can not boast such a life and death experience. For the most part, by virtue of being born white in America, they enjoyed a privilege and a feeling of entitlement that blacks could only dream of. Therefore, their sense of injustice, racism, and prejudice would not be as developed, acute or accurate as one who has suffered because of these evils.
It is my position that Mr. Joe Wilson should lose his seat in the U.S. House of Representative for his blatant disrespect of the office of the United States of America and of President Barack Obama. He should be forced to apologize publicly in the same venue in which he broadcasted his insults. I believe that Mr. Joe Wilson should be penalized financially and any future pension benefits should be forfeited because he desecrated the joint session of Congress and violated Section 370 of the House Rules Manual explicitly prohibited members from calling the president of the United States Of America a "liar."
In 2002, Senator Trent Lott suggested that the nation would've been better off had Sen. Strom Thurmond won the presidency in 1948 while running on a segregationist platform. Later realizing the racial overtones of his comment, Senator Lott apologized for his statement and eventually resigned his seat as Senate Majority Leader.
In 2004, CBS News Anchor Dan Rather broke a story about how the young George Bush got preferential treatment during the Vietnam War; how he maneuvered his way into the Texas Air National Guard back in the 1960s to avoid service in Vietnam; and how he was able to do it because his father was a big-shot, a United States Congressman from Houston. The story portrayed President Bush as a slacker. Others have said it portrayed him as a "cowardly draft dodger." Nevertheless, after 44 years of service with CBS, Dan Rather was fired.
Others have paid severe penalties and suffered considerable personal losses for making racial comments and slandering the president of the United States of America. Why Should Joe Wilson slide by? Everybody else had to face some significant consequences. Why not him?
How our society, the United States House of Representative and the Obama Administration, treats this obvious racial attack will send a message to every black man, woman, boy and girl in America as well to our posterity about the worth of an African American in the United States even when he is President.
Does position trump prejudice?
I already know the answer.