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Opinion | The heavy weight of racist words

Joey Kennedy

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Oops! He did it again. Donald Trump just can’t pass up a chance to demonstrate how racist he is. We’ve known all along that Trump has a history of racism. This racism didn’t just show up when he decided to run for president in 2015.

Remember the Central Park 5, five young Black and Latino men who were charged with raping a woman in Central Park. Trump ran newspaper ads calling for them to get the death penalty. After the five spent some years in prison, they were exonerated when the real rapist confessed and his DNA matched that found at the crime scene.

To this day, Trump maintains that some in the group are guilty, and he refuses to apologize for the ads. Because he’s a racist.

Then there’s the birther movement, where Trump led conspiracy nuts to believe President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Obama was, of course, born in Hawaii. Still, Trump continues to denigrate Obama, and many of his followers still believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Because Trump is a racist.

And, of course, Trump has defended America’s racist heritage, arguing that statues of slave owners and Confederate monuments be preserved and not removed, as is happening more and more. Because Trump is a racist.

Trump isn’t reading the room very well. The majority of Americans, white and Black and brown and everything in between, want the racist monuments and statues removed. They do not want the Confederate battle flag — as much a symbol of hate as the Nazi Swastika — to be displayed.

Trump does, though. Because he’s a racist.

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That’s just a few specific examples. But there are many others, including the language he uses, even today, at his rallies and in day-to-day exchanges with the media. Terms like “thugs” and “bad hombres” are never far from his lips.

Trump has no qualms about using racist language as an appeal to his base who, no doubt, appreciate the permission to show their own inbred racism as well.

Since the novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), he’s added racist code words to his limited vocabulary to bash Asians. Attacks on Asian-Americans have increased says the Anti-Defamation League. U.S. Rep Judy Chu, D-California, said racism and xenophobia “against Asian Americans has surged as the coronavirus sweeps the U.S., with reports of hate crimes averaging approximately 100 per day,” according to Changing America.

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This is not a little problem, especially in Birmingham, which has a small but thriving Asian population working both in research and medicine at UAB, as entrepreneurs and businesspeople, and as students at UAB. Birmingham has two sister cities in both China and Japan.

Still, Trump proudly displays his profound white supremacist character flaws by calling COVID-19 everything from the “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” to the really awful “Kung flu.” The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus denounces this terminology as dangerous to Asian Americans, Changing America reports.

But we don’t have to rely on caucuses and anti-hate organizations to see what’s up. I teach a large percentage of Asian students at UAB. They’ve seen the changes themselves.

“A lot of Asians felt the indirect consequences that were due to Trump’s word choices, especially when he called the coronavirus, ‘Chinese Virus,’” one student told me. “This label caused many non-Asians to see Asians – not just Chinese people – in a negative light, which led to Asians getting harassed, cursed at, and beat up in public places.”

Words have consequences, even the few words that Trump knows.

“Trump deliberately made the problem worse by blatantly attributing the coronavirus to China AND its people — ‘Chinese,’” the UAB student said. “Also, this became a greater issue for me because when Trump uses the word ‘Chinese,’ it doesn’t just affect the Chinese people but also Koreans like me. When the public sees the word ‘Chinese’ being used, they tend to overgeneralize to include other Asians, such as Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipinos, and many more, because from what I have been told by many people in the past, all Asians look alike.”

In my years of teaching at UAB, my students have included Asians from all of these countries, and more. They are fine students and good souls.

“For me, it is truly disheartening to see someone with such great influence to carelessly speak before thinking about how using the word ‘Chinese’ could potentially affect other Asians, as well,” the UAB student said. “It hindered my living conditions because now I am more fearful of other people’s judgments when I am in public. Now, a carefree trip to the supermarket has turned into one where I have to willingly look out for my own safety and withstand potentially opposing perceptions of me, which Trump had a role in causing.”

My student should not have these worries when he goes out into the community. Neither should my African-American students. Nor my Latinx students. Nor any student. Nor any person. But they do.

Any national leader should work to bring us together, not split us into different factions or tribes, creating tensions between each of them.

Trump is definitely not that leader. Instead, he sanctions racism, tries to normalize it, but it’s not working, except within his racist base.

The trend now, since the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd and continued police violence against African-American men and people of color and, yes, even white protesters, is we may have reached a critical mass.

A milquetoast police reform bill like that proposed by overwhelmingly old, white Republicans in the U.S. Senate isn’t going to cut it anymore. The trite phrase “thoughts and prayers” isn’t even a beginning.

People want genuine reform: End the use of choke holds and such police violence, revise completely police department use-of-force policies, do away with no-knock warrants, redirect resources to agencies better equipped to deal with mental health issues that police have to respond to all the time. Demilitarize the police, and hold police officers accountable for their actions.

E.J. Bradford and his family certainly didn’t get justice when the police officer who shot him three times in the back at the Galleria on Thanksgiving night 2018 was never held accountable.

Systemic racism is real, and it permeates many institutions and police departments. When Trump demonizes Asian, Black and Latino people on a regular basis, it’s not going to get better. Those in our population who believe their whiteness alone makes them smarter and better than others are fooling themselves, and, frankly, they’re Donald Trump’s fools, too.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Senate and congressional runoffs next week

Steve Flowers

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Primary runoff elections will be helf on July 14. (Stock photo)

Believe or not, coronavirus notwithstanding, we have three important GOP runoffs next Tuesday.  You will go back to the polls to elect two Congressmen and a United States Senator.  That is assuming that you go vote and are not afraid of germs.

It will be interesting to see how the turnout is on July 14.  Mostly older folks, like me, are the ones that vote in all elections and we have been told for four months not to congregate or get around other people.  There could be some concern among older voters about getting out and going to the polls. Also, most of the poll workers are retired volunteers.

There is an open Congressional Seat in District 2.  Dothan businessman, Jeff Coleman, is the favorite.  He garnered close to 40 percent of the vote against a large field of candidates including former Attorney General Troy King, who finished fourth.  Former Enterprise State Representative, Barry Moore, finished second with 20 percent and will face Coleman in the runoff next week.  This seat is comprised of the Montgomery, Autauga, Elmore River Region area coupled with the Wiregrass.  The seat has been held by Montgomery Republican, Martha Roby, for 10 years.  She chose not to seek reelection.  It is surprising that the two combatants who made the runoff, Jeff Coleman and Barry Moore, hail from the Wiregrass and most of the people are in the River Region.  

Coleman has had a substantial campaign dollar advantage over Moore and the entire field running for this open seat. However, Moore has received a $550,000 gift from an innocuous Washington political action committee that has pummeled Coleman with negative ads. This contribution may make this race close.

The 1st District Mobile/Baldwin area seat is also up for grabs, literally.  This is the seat open by the departure of Bradley Byrne, who opted to run for the U.S. Senate. The two aspirants who wound up in the runoff, are veteran Mobile County Commissioner and businessman Jerry Carl and former Mobile State Senator Bill Hightower.  They finished in a dead heat with Carl getting 39 percent and Hightower 38 percent of the vote on March 3.  This one will be close and interesting.  My guess is that Jerry Carl wins this runoff. He received some late important endorsements in the waning days.

The marquee event will be the GOP runoff for the U.S. Senate between former Senator Jeff Sessions who sat in this seat for 20 years and former Auburn football coach, Tommy Tuberville.  This one will also be close.  The two conservative gentlemen finished in a virtual tie on March 3.

The winner may be the one who took the best advantage of the three-and-a-half-month hiatus.  They each could have and should have simply used the phone to call every single potential Republican voter in the state.

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They could have taken a page from the playbook of the most prolific politician in Alabama history, one George C. Wallace.  He would keep the telephone glued to his ear.  Wallace would constantly call people on the phone 8-10 hours a day.  He would call you at all hours of the day and night.  Tuberville and Sessions should have used this method of campaigning without getting out of quarantine mode.  One-on-one old-fashioned campaigning and asking people for their vote goes a long way in Alabama politics.  It always has and it always will.  Folks like to be asked for their vote.

Tuberville has outworked Sessions in old fashioned one-on-one campaigning.  Although Tuberville is a novice to Alabama geographically and politically, he has traversed the state and met a lot of folks in a grassroots campaign style.  He is a very likeable fellow and sells well personally.  He did well in the rural areas in the first primary.  It helped him immensely, probably more than he realized, with the endorsement and full support of the Alabama Farmers Federation.  

If Tuberville wins, he needs to ask for a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.  We have not had a senator on the Ag Committee since the late Howell Heflin, who was Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  By the way, this seat that Sessions held for 20 years and is running for again and Coach Tuberville is aspiring to, is the seat held by the late Senator Heflin for 18 years.

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This runoff has the potential to have a low turnout due to trepidation from older voters and it will be hot as blazes in mid-July.

Y’all vote. See you next week.

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Opinion | The clumsier, dumber George Wallace: Donald Trump

Josh Moon

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George Wallace acknowledges the cheers of supporters at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Oct. 24, 1968. (CSU Archives/Everett Collection)

Be afraid, white people. The Blacks and Hispanics are coming for you. Coming for your children. Coming for your wives. And now, the police are being prevented from protecting you.  They’re going to take your statues. They’re going to take your jobs. They’re going to take your rights.

This is the message that the Trump re-election campaign will push. 

It is the only message they have left, as their candidate has so royally screwed up everything else he has touched. 

His precious economy is in shambles — a result of his botching the response to the coronavirus pandemic so spectacularly. There is unprecedented civil unrest — a result, in part, of his overbearing and callous attempts at “law and order” while ignoring the pleas of Black Americans seeking equal treatment. And there is a seemingly endless barrage of embarrassing news, mostly stemming from Trump’s Twitter feed and the bumbling group of imbeciles and racists that make up his cabinet and closest advisors. 

So, a culture war is all they have left. And dammit, they plan to play it like a fiddle at a bluegrass festival. 

Trump began his march down this pathway in earnest on Saturday, delivering a disgusting and divisive speech aimed at stoking fear and playing up the Black-v-white culture war. 

On Monday, after a day of golf on Sunday — because even racists rest on the sabbath — he was back at it, attacking, of all people, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. Reviving an old story for no apparent reason, Trump called the noose left in Wallace’s garage stall a “hoax” — an outright lie, since there was, in fact, a noose in the garage stall — and asked if Wallace had apologized. Of course, Wallace has nothing to apologize for, since he didn’t report the noose, didn’t investigate it, didn’t ask the FBI to look into it and generally handled himself with grace and dignity throughout the ordeal. 

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Unlike the president. On any given day. 

But we weren’t finished. By late Monday, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was on the channel your grandparents claim tells them the truth about stuff, and was sending the scared whites into full-on panic. Meadows, without an ounce of shame or the intelligence to know he should have some, exclaimed that Trump is “the only thing that stands between a mob and the American people.” 

(And by “American people,” he means white people.) 

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“First, it’s the statues. Then, it’s the businesses. Then, it’s their homes,” Meadows said. 

It’s like a dumber, clumsier, less articulate George Wallace campaign. 

But then, the entirety of Trump’s presidential run and presidency has essentially been a slightly updated, less polished George Wallace campaign. Leaning on thinly-veiled racism, stoking racial anger, massaging the fear that so many white people have of anyone who looks slightly different. 

Now, they’re going full-Wallace. Because it’s all they have. 

Trump has proven that he doesn’t care about anything or anyone, and will put his interests above the American people and the security of the country. Hell, he sold out American soldiers without batting an eye. 

So, he will burn this place to the ground, if he must. And 30 percent of the country, at least, will follow along. Happily holding tiki torches and chanting that the Jews won’t replace them, like the very fine people they are. 

That hateful rhetoric and the regression it represents — after all this country has gone through, after all the growth and all the progress — is what we should all fear the most.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | A search for the American conscience

Our response to the immediate crisis will surely determine our long-term destiny, and the collective conscience of “we the people” can be the moral force that brings about needed change.

Bill Britt

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U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights with a quill pen. (Stock photo)

A seemingly unstoppable virus, a sputtering economy and a cry for equal justice for Black citizens are trying the very soul of our nation. We stand at a time when the very conscience of our county and state is being tested in ways perhaps unimaginable just a few months ago.

Is there an American conscience?

Our government, our institutions and even who we are as a people are in question, and as with life in general, there are no easy answers.

Nearly 130,000 in the U.S. have lost their lives to COVID-19. In Alabama, almost 1,000 souls, and yet some of our citizens don’t even believe the virus exists, and if it does, some think it is not as bad as health professionals say.

Hospitals are being pushed to the brink, both physically and financially. While unemployment numbers are improving, there is a yet a steep hill to climb before fiscal solvency is restored to all Alabamians.

There are arguments over masks, fights over monuments and some are corrosively dismissive of the social injustice that disproportionately targets Black citizens.

The winds of change are blowing seeds of renewal; will they find a fallow ground or fall among the weeds and rocks?

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Many of our citizens want the nation to remain in the past, a past that, for the most part, never existed. Others desire that the country move forward and fulfill its greatest promises.

Can a house divided stand?

This national crisis of moral conscience is where the dividing line is drawn.

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.”

In this rendering, it is as if an unseen umpire sits somewhere in our minds and judges our actions.

But if the conscience is formed from birth and as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests, “is like an empty box that can be filled with any type of moral content,” then our learning and understanding is the umpire and not some innate righteous force.

Is this why seemingly reasonable people see things so differently?

Take, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement. According to a recent CBS/YouGov poll, a majority of the American public, including more than half of white Americans, say they agree with the Black Lives Matter movement’s ideas.

The June CBS/YouGov survey also found a partisan divide exists on the issue with most Democrats and Independents supportive while a “large majority of Republicans say they disagree with the ideas expressed by the Black Lives Matter” and most Republicans also oppose the protests—though “one-quarter of Republicans join that majority of Democrats in supporting them.”

The poll is neither startling nor unimaginable and only confirms a divided nation.

The same schism can be found when individuals are polled about the new coronavirus and monuments.

Since individuals see things through entirely different apertures, is it possible to turn to a national conscience for resolution?

On December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Paine was rallying the people of the American colonies to a revolution that would form a new nation with an aspirational promise of equality and unalienable rights, “that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

America just celebrated its 244th year of independence and the principles of the new nation were well-defined — even if not universally applied.

For Black Americans, the promise of the founding principles is yet unfulfilled.

Yes, the laws changed in the 60s, but there is still a long way to go in practice. Laws in themselves do not alter hearts and minds.

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution was written to deny equal access to justice for Black and poor Alabamians by keeping Montgomery as the power center from which all money and rights would flow. There have been changes but none so great as to amend the wrongs written into the state’s founding document.

A few short years ago, the state government passed a law that protected Confederate monuments that state lawmakers thought should be preserved as part of Southern heritage.

What monuments are revered speaks to national and local character. Is our character one that says we should honor those who sought to ensure the continuance of human bondage?

Should we honor those who preached and enforced segregation for political gain?

There is another way to look at statues and that is to realize that they are more reflective of the thinking at the time than the shrine itself.

If monuments are artifacts of the moment and not truthfully to honor history, then what they mean today is an open subject for debate.

Is the statue of Jefferson Davis on the Capitol grounds in Montgomery a symbol of who we are now or a reminder of who Alabama citizens were at the time it was erected?

This is not about erasing history but about recognizing monuments for what they are and acknowledging their meaning to all citizens.

The fact that most world religions warn against idols shouldn’t be lost in the moment either. Statues are tricky because heroes are almost always redefined by present events.

While nations should be built on laws alone, they are also made on myths and legends. But history has a way of exposing myths and bringing legends low.

Washington could tell a lie, Honest Abe was not always truthful, and under our current law application, some people are more equal than others. Should their memorials be removed because they were flawed? No

In his work “Adam Smith on the nature and authority of conscience,” Albert Shin argues, “there is a need to cultivate our conscience. We do so; I will argue, primarily through encountering diversity, which leads to disagreements, which prompt us to reevaluate how we judge others.”

Again the Catholic Church finds, “Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.”

Are we more divided than ever? Probably not.

Is there a way out of the present threefold dilemma? Yes.

Returning to our founding principles while understanding that they are for everyone is a start. But principles shouldn’t change with every election or be sacrificed to win one.

Indeed, King George III thought those who staged the Boston Tea Party were thugs and looters, set to overthrow the government.

No, they were ordinary citizens who saw injustice and launched a revolution.

Today, we do not see so much a call for revolution but a demand for evolution across a broad front of problems.

There is now a need for better respect for health and science, for our neighbors of all skin colors and a rethinking of the inequities of poverty.

Our response to the immediate crisis will surely determine our long-term destiny, and the collective conscience of “we the people” can be the moral force that brings about needed change.

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Opinion | Somebody, please, take the lead

Joey Kennedy

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a press conference to update the COVID-19 situation in Alabama Friday May 8, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Just like Donald Trump on the national level, Gov. Kay Ivey has bungled containing the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Alabama is showing record cases and hospitalization levels.

But while Ivey extended the Safer-at-Home order though July 31, she didn’t add any new restrictions. The governor says requiring masks is simply too difficult to manage and enforce.

Nobody said fighting the virus would be easy. The problem is neither Ivey nor many other governors, along with the White House, didn’t really make containment much of a priority.

Testing is still inadequate, nearly a half-year after the pandemic started. Alabama’s first diagnosed case was March 13. Since then – as of Wednesday – Alabama has racked up more than 30,000 cases with more than 900 deaths. Nationally, there have been more than 2.6 million cases and nearly 130,000 deaths.

When the pandemic was young, Ivey responded well, ordering everybody to stay home except for essential workers. She did much better than the governors in the state’s surrounding Alabama. But just as with most states across the Southeast, after a few weeks Ivey’s resolve cracked. Like the governors of states like Georgia and Florida, which are also seeing a spike in infections and are setting records.

Ivey should tighten up the restrictions, including closing the state’s beaches over the July 4th weekend. Bars, gyms, and other places where large crowds gather, usually not social distancing and many without masks, should be restricted.

Yes, such measure will continue to cause economic pain, but such restrictions would slow the spread of the virus. We’ve already seen that not just in the United States, but across many parts of the world.

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Ivey and health officials also need to increase testing and contact tracing.

Yes, all of that is difficult, but what are the consequences? More deaths. Just how many deaths are acceptable? Is it 1,000 (we’re almost there), or 2,000, or 5,000? Is any number unacceptable. It doesn’t suffice for elected officials to claim even one death is too many when, through their own actions, thousands and thousands have died in Alabama and across the nation.

And those numbers don’t include infected and once hospitalized patients who are left with permanent organ and lung damage.

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Cities like Birmingham and Montgomery have mandatory mask laws, and they need to be enforced because a lot of people are going out without their masks. Still, there are many laws on the books that are difficult to enforce; that doesn’t mean those laws don’t have value. A statewide mandatory mask order if, nothing else, would lead more people to wear masks, plus it would give support to businesses who refuse to allow people inside without masks.

UAB is planning to bring students back on campus when the fall semester begins in late August, but there will be strict safety measures to follow, including wearing masks, social distancing, handwashing, and regular health checks.

Ivey says if the rate of cases and hospitalizations doesn’t slow, she’ll enact more stringent measures. But when she finally gets around to making those decisions, it could very well be too late.

Indeed, it may be too late already.

We’ve seen what indecisive leadership does during a pandemic. What we need to see – in Alabama and nationally – is a more determined response that helps put the virus in check. That includes mask wearing, increased testing, and contact tracing.

Every day that doesn’t happen, more people will get sick and die when they didn’t have to.

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