The unrelenting power of the “Southern Strategy” is arguably the single biggest impediment to America’s survival as a democracy. The ability to push fear of “other” is easy to disseminate and even easier to absorb for an American populace looking for simple explanations to explain life’s complications. In the meantime, our democracy suffers a slow painful death by a thousand hateful words from a power elite that, with few exceptions, thrives on the fear of “other” at our collective expense.
President-elect Donald Trump’s assent to power is just the latest example of a strategy so inculcated in American discourse that many voted for a man who made misogyny, racism and xenophobia his central campaign platform. It’s the tried and true method of electoral politics practically guaranteeing a win in certain regions of the country.
The pesticide of rational thought and common sense does little to repel this cultural pest, so deeply ingrained in the soil of Americana. Voters continually excuse such behavior for what they perceive as the greater good, only to awaken the next election cycle, and realize we’re having the same debates over the same issues that putting the “other” in their place was supposed to solve. The flames of racial, ethnic, gender and religious intolerance are the gifts that keep on giving. At some point, an elected leader/s will indeed act on their rhetoric ruining our democratic institutions. You need look no further than North Carolina.
My knowledge of American history tells me I shouldn’t be surprised, that so many accept, with little consequence, the pernicious nature of discriminatory electoral politics. Yet, no matter how hard I try to bury that pain, it rises. The American people continually get trapped in the tidal wave of racist politics passing as truth.
Seldom has the target of the hateful message benefited. American race-based politics has its roots back in the 17th century. It was the intentional creation of wealthy landowners, who imposed a social hierarchy, separating folks along racial lines with the end goal to deepen their own pockets, by false claims such as Black inferiority. This racial distinction has caused significant harm to everyone, including what we call today, working class and poor Whites. Racism is an insidious disease, devious in its ability to infect and resist antibiotics. Four hundred years later we continue to suffer the racism pandemic at the expense of us all, many truly believing they have some inherent immunity that renders them superior to others.
I feel blessed I see America through a more hopeful prism thanks to a gift presented to me at birth; my father’s decision to join the United States Air Force. Dad’s third duty assignment took us to Madrid, Spain when I was just five-years-old. I soaked up Spanish culture like a sponge. You can read more of my story in 7-10 Split: My Journey As America's Whitest Black Kid.
Our living in Madrid coincided with deep unrest back home. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. A bomb exploded at a church in Birmingham, AL killing four precious little girls. The ghastly murders of three civil rights workers for daring to register voters. The brutal attack by law enforcement and White supremacists against civil rights marchers, known as Bloody Sunday, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The Voting and Civil Rights Act became law. I Have A Dream was heard by tens of thousands from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The 1964 Democratic National Convention was held in my hometown of Atlantic City, NJ. Yet, I was oblivious to it all, youth certainly being a factor, but distance proved the greater impediment to my growth.
I remain uncertain to this day, if my youth, and living abroad at such a deeply troubling time would have altered my perspective on race in America. I’m fairly certain, my lack of fear of “other” emanated from the streets of Madrid.
Most Madrileños we encountered loved Americans, regardless of skin color, and we reciprocated in kind. Even Mom, who didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, loved Madrid. Spain represented a certain freedom that I didn’t realize at the time was absent back home.
At age 8, our family left Spain. Unfortunately, American exceptionalism didn’t, and still doesn’t extend to race, a fact I quickly picked up on the moment our plane touched down on American soil. I didn’t know what to make of this strange land separated very clearly along color and ethnic lines.
We spent the next four years tucked away in Maine’s northeast corner about as far away from the civil rights struggle as one could possibly be and still live in America.
When President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the Armed Forces in 1948, that order triggered the greatest social experiment in American history. It would be a full decade or more before full integration was achieved. We “military brats” for better, or, worse, were quietly thrust into our own struggles. Us military kids came of age in circumstances our parents didn’t understand.
Unlike the typical American community divided by race thanks to redlining and other nefarious practices meant to keep Blacks and Whites apart, military installations from the 1960s onward practiced no such segregation.
We all shared neighborhoods, schools, and doctors. We shopped at the same stores and swam in the same swimming pools. Our parents were friends. While our integration certainly came with growing pains, my experiences in Spain, and the myriad stateside locales where our family served, allowed me to penetrate the labyrinth of societal distortion, and self-serving hierarchy passed down centuries earlier.
It was obvious to me, even as a young teenager, the beneficiaries of racial politics was not, and is not, the White working class Trump so artfully manipulated. I’m not naïve, White America comes with a certain privilege and benefit of the doubt, but economically and culturally, they too suffer, and not because of “other.”
The “gift of being a brat” has provided me perspective and a deep yearning to eliminate xenophobic-based politics. I don’t have a visceral fear of “other.” Our democracy would be a true democracy if the southern strategy met an abrupt death. For now, I would consider it a great victory for all America to simply have an honest heartfelt talk, absent rhetoric, manipulation and blind allegiance.
You can read get your copy of my life story 7-10 Split: My Journey As America’s Whitest Black Kid at your favorite eBook retailer CLICK HERE or michaelgordonbennett.com.