Democratic Underground

The End of an Evil Era?
August 23, 2001
by William Rivers Pitt

"As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash." - Harper Lee, from 'To Kill A Mockingbird'"

A Republican state representative from North Carolina this week took a moment to do something we have all done at one time or another. Rep. Don Davis sat down at his computer and forwarded an email he found to be worthy of dissemination to all of his Congressional colleagues.

The substance of the message: "Two things made this country great: White men & Christianity. Every problem that has arrisen (sic) can be directly traced back to our departure from God's Law and the disenfranchisement of White men."

Davis received this from a website entitled 'God's Order Affirmed in Love.' It comes as no surprise that Mr. Davis forwarded a message with religious overtones. Mr. Davis made his name in North Carolina politics by sponsoring a bill mandating the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools.

One is forced to wonder in what kind of school Mr. Davis received his education. Were there no teachers to tell him of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Crazy Horse, Eldridge Cleaver, or Langston Hughes?

It is terribly sad to contemplate an education in which only the accomplishments of White men are eulogized. The gaps there are vast, to say the very least.

Mr. Davis gleans his understanding of the world from Christianity. It was that same Christianity that once was foisted upon slaves newly stolen from their homeland not so long ago. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven" was a marvelous tool for controlling slaves. It gave them something to look forward to after a life of toil, and layered a veneer of holiness over a repugnant institution. The Christian White men who stood over these slaves with whip in hand were pleased to be doing the work of the Lord.

From Mr. Davis' perspective, at some point between then and now, White men became disenfranchised, and the Law of God was laid waste. America became a poisoned well after White men bearing the Cross no longer held absolute control of the nation. At what point the White man actually lost his grip upon power is not something Mr. Davis chose to explain.

When asked to elaborate upon his reasons for sending this message to every member of the North Carolina state legislature, Davis replied, "There's a lot of it that's truth, the way I see it. Who came to this country first - the white man, didn't he? That's who made this country great."

Mr. Davis only has half the story, a problem to be addressed by whatever school saw fit to grant him a diploma. The greatness of this country was and is founded upon a long, blood-soaked history of genocide perpetrated by the White man upon a diverse array of peoples.

The White man's arrival on these shores precipitated a decimation of the native population. 95% of indigenous Americans ceased to exist in an eyeblink. The bones of untold millions of human beings fertilize the soil from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. This was one genocide.

Africans were brought here in chains by the millions as chattel slaves, no better than cattle, so they might have the privilege of making this country great for the White Man. 20 million of them died on the Middle Passage across the sea, and were tossed overboard like ballast. There is no accounting for the number of Africans who lived and died with the White man's bullwhip cracking in their ears. This was another genocide.

Today, we have roads that stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. We have fertile fields of wheat and corn that run in rows beyond vision. We have cities that scrape the sky, and technology that borrows whole pages from God's cookbook. Mr. Davis, in viewing these marvels, has been able to forget the carnage that allowed such things to exist here.

Mr. Davis believes in the same breed of Christianity that merited the sword's edge for Muslims during the Crusades. It is the same breed of Christianity that can justify the crucifixion of a gay man in Wyoming. It is a Gospel of hate and fear that Jesus Christ Himself would completely fail to recognize.

Perhaps his Ten Commandments read differently from mine: "Thou shalt not kill, unless in the process of making a country great for White Christians."

Those among you who cling to a naiveté about this nation may well be appalled that such a man holds office in America. That shock is misplaced. Mr. Davis is not an anomaly. He is, in fact, the inheritor of a bleak political legacy established in modern-day North Carolina by Jesse Helms, Republican U.S. Senator from the same state Mr. Davis calls home.

Senator Helms began his service to White Christianity in the Senate in 1972. In his time, Helms mastered the art of political race-baiting. When his seat was challenged only a few years ago by a Black man, Helms fired out a commercial that would have made the creator of the Willie Horton ad blush. It worked.

Jesse Helms will announce today that he does not intend to seek a sixth term in the Senate. Helms is 80 years old, and has recently been bedeviled by a variety of health problems. His departure opens up the prospect of a vigorous dogfight for his seat. There is no clear front-runner in that race as of yet, though several big names on both sides of the aisle are making noise.

Whomever runs for the Republicans will face a decision. For nearly 30 years, Helms held power by hurling the same brand of rhetorical broadsides encapsulated by Don Davis' email. They were always quite effective.

The Republican nominee for Helms' seat must decide whether or not to use the racist legacy of Jesse Helms to their political advantage. The question will come up sooner or later - is it possible to win in North Carolina without inflaming the souls of White Christians with the claim that they have been disenfranchised by the descendants of former slaves?

However it plays out, the stain of Jesse Helms will be upon us forever. His retirement from the Senate may remove a clear and present insult to all that is decent, and may strengthen, if only a little bit, that basic idea of human equality that lies within the beating heart of the American Dream.

We can never escape his legacy, however. His children still walk the land, and still hold office, and still believe as he does. Mr. Davis is only one example.

There are many who believe race relations in this country have improved. The fact that Jesse Helms was allowed to serve unmolested for almost thirty years in the Senate gives lie to that statement. Jim Crow is gone, but his politics are alive and well.

Howard Kurtz, media reporter for the Washington Post, had this to say about the departure of Jesse Helms: "In a chamber increasingly filled with ambitious millionaires, prodigious fundraisers and professional gasbags, Jesse Helms was something different: a man who stood for something."

Let us, White Christian and otherwise, take a moment to pray that men who stand for what Helms stood for are relegated someday to the dustbin of history, where they belong.

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