If the Southern segregationists had to assemble an ideal 4 X 100 meter relay team they would probably be unstoppable. Senator Trent Lott would be the first leg. Since he believes that all the problems in the United States could’ve been avoided had Strom Thurmond been elected President in 1948, he will get a fast start trying to chase history. The second leg, which runs the longest distance (110 meters to be exact), would be run by Strom Thurmond. Thurmond would be ideal for this position because of his stamina. How many people can argue continually for 24 hours 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (the longest filibuster ever conducted by a single senator)? Even Rush Limbaugh gets tired. Senator Joseph McCarthy would run the third leg so he could tell the anchor if there are any communists behind him. Finally, Governor George Wallace would run the last leg. Although he might not be the fastest on the team, he could always use fire hoses and canines to take care of the competition. However, this team wouldn’t be passing a baton. Batons are for cops without warrants. No, this dream team would be passing the “Southern Strategy”.
The Southern strategy was created as a political mechanism and used by Richard Nixon in his 1968 bid for the presidency. Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Hadleman, designed a plan to use racially coded language about “law and order” to play on many White people’s fears of Black militancy. Essentially, his plan was to exploit the deep racial divisions that already existed in the United States of America. In fact, the architect of the Southern strategy, Kevin Phillips plainly said: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.” And vote they did. Even National Republican Committee chairman Michael Steele admitted, “For decades the GOP pursued Southern Strategy that alienated minorities”. Yet, even with the recognition of the overtly discriminatory political weapon in our “post-racial” society, Southern strategy still exists. But just like Michael Jackson’s face, it morphed over time. However, the “thriller “tactics are still “off the wall” and offensive.
The contemporary Southern strategy is not based on institutionally disenfranchising folks. In 2010 people have stepped their game up. Poll taxes are about as played out as beepers. History has a strange way of repeating itself. In the 1960’s the politically charged lexicon of the right consisted of two powerful terms: “states’ rights” and “law and order”. These two terms gave many local governments in the South the belief that they didn’t need to adhere to federal laws attached to the Civil Rights Act because of state sovereignty. Racial justice was a mere afterthought due to the fact that some Southern politicians hid their bigotry behind the 10th amendment. Similarly, cries for law and order criminalized many Black folk by using implicit racial messaging that linked crime and Blackness together. Law enforcement could get tough on Black people by getting tough on crime.
Yet today, in an age where freedom and tolerance supposedly reign supreme, Southern strategy has reared its ugly head. This time the new victims happen to be worshippers of Allah. Since September 11th, Muslim-Americans have been discriminated against, tormented, and abused for their beliefs. A nation founded upon religious freedom has stigmatized a group of people based on their religion. According to a recent Pew Study 85% of Muslim-Americans find radicalism unacceptable and 74% have unfavorable views of Al-Qaeda. Yet, our President gets more questions about being a Muslim than being our Commander-in-Chief; Former South Carolina gubernatorial candidate, Nicky Haley, a person of Sikh faith, was called a” rag head” by a prominent state legislator; and Republicans and Democrats are up in arms about the Islamic community center not mosque to be built in lower Manhattan, not Ground Zero. The politicalization of this issue illustrates that the Southern Strategy is alive and well. Although many Democrats claim they support it, they are giving credence to their detractors by making concessions. In a recent statement about the community center not mosque former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean said “There’s no point in starting off doing something that’s good if it’s going to meet with resistance from a lot of folks.” I guess social movements weren’t worth undertaking because they were met with opposition. Even President Barack Obama hinted that it wasn’t the wisest decision to build it at it’s current location, which is blocks away from Ground Zero. Currently an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory stands there. Moreover, if we are truly concerned with religious zealots who perverted religious doctrine for nefarious purposes, we should push for the ban of churches being built in Europe. After all, the crusades were based on religious triumphalism and took a lot of lives. Also, the mere fact that politicians are simultaneously acknowledging a right and insisting that government suppress it is eerily reminiscent of the Southern Strategy. It’s like pushing for integration but saying not on my block. Senator Harry Reid’s office said, “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.” I’m afraid this nation’s discouragement of building the Islamic community center not mosque will create precedent in which citizens will be criticized for exercising their freedoms guaranteed to them by the Constitution if there is a lot push back.
The all out assault against Muslims in America is emblematic of America’s past. Native Americans,Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Jews, Blacks, LBTQ folk, etc have been “othered” at some point in U.S. history. At some juncture, someone’s identity was used as a political weapon to gather votes. This sad but true cycle has manifested itself in the form Islamaphobia. Let’s put our political agendas aside and stop the stigmatization of Muslim people. Let’s put an end to the Southern Strategy!
“THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
THEN THEY CAME for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.”