Making a Difference

April 27, 2010 at 1:07 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Political cartoonist-author, Ted Rall wrote a critique of the Tea Bagger movement in which he wonders why African-Americans would vote Republican. In fact, he goes so far as to compare it to Jews voting for the Nazi party. How can I disagree? Although the GOP was largely founded in the 1850’s upon the idea of abolition of slavery, after Lincoln’s murder in 1865 they rapidly threw concern for the former slaves overboard and morphed into the party of big-business. 150 years later they have more in common with the car than with the Great Emancipator.

Certainly anyone other than a rich, white, middle-aged, heterosexual, fundamentalist Christian, male who votes Republican is likely suffering from a form of self-loathing (and the remaining Republican voters loath other humans). So, they either go Republican from self-hatred, a kind of long-range ethnic suicide, or they are trying to “fit-in,” to gain admittance to that good old boys club of wealth & power.

Whenever I see the spectacle of a black Republican, my mind goes back to memories of when I was 15 years-old and helping bale hay on a farm owned by the father of one of the girls in my school class. The rural town outside Dayton where I grew up was all-white, so being around a member of any minority was extremely rare. There was a crew of about a dozen of us baling hay that hot summer. And all of us were white except an older black man (That is, he seemed old at the time. He was probably in his mid-40’s) called “Cousin Jim.”

Jim was not really a cousin of anyone at the farm, he was a hired-hand who had been with them a long time. He was wiry and worked like a pack mule. He did not talk a lot (none of us did, it was too hot & dry for much talking). But what surprised me was when he did speak it was usually some unsolicited put-down of his own race:
“Most n—–s don’t want to work!”
“You can’t get them lazy n—–s off their behinds and get ’em to do an honest day’s work!”
“They oughta ship all them lazy n—–s back to Africa if they don’t wanna work!”

Some of the others on the work crew seemed delighted with Cousin Jim. They would cackle as he entertained them with his comments. I was repulsed by him. I judged him as an “Uncle Tom” who debased himself to curry favor and avoid conflict and I openly said-so. Of course, I was younger, smarter, and less forgiving back then. Now I know much more about how hard it can be to swim against the tide or risk your job and sometimes your life by being different in the wrong-way.

Having been born in 1958, I voted for the first time in 1976, registering as Republican because my parents & grandparents were Republican even though they were all blue-collar workers. My family had voted for Nixon against John Kennedy and Goldwater against Johnson. The tale is told that, during the Great Depression, my maternal grandfather was enraged to learn that my grandmother had (gasp!) voted for FDR. My parents were disgusted when I voted for Jimmy Carter. But through the years, even though I called myself a Republican I almost always wound-up voting for the Democratic candidates.

At dinner one night during the 1984 election, my brother-in-law finally asked my assembled family the logical question, "Why would any working person vote Republican?" then he explained in detail the differences in the way the parties treated the common American. He showed us that nearly everything that made-up the special “American way of life,” like great wages, civil rights, owning your home, had all been supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. He made so much sense that by the early 1990’s nearly my entire family had switched to voting for Democrats or Independents. And almost without fail, during every election season someone in the family still brings up that question of his and reaffirms that he was correct. It just goes to show that, sometimes, one person speaking-up can make a difference.

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