By Ken Stern 

Musings - On the editor's mind


April 19, 2023

Very few of us are racist or know people who are racist. Few of us stay quiet when racist remarks are made. That is what polling and folks discussing race in America or in their community say. Yet I know that I very definitely crossed the street once when three Black men were coming my way. Was that caution race-based?

So, a few of us are racist. Many argue that there is not systematic racism. So substitute power, control and fear as motivations driving individuals and individuals in charge of institutions to act. Statistically and historically, white men have dominated institutions using power and control over Blacks.

The expulsion of Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the Tennessee legislature in early April got my attention. In group settings, when people are unruly and break the rules they get sanctioned. While a youngster, I was sat in the corner, stood out in the hall and sent to the principal’s office. But getting expelled? That is an extreme form of punishment.

In Tennessee those that make the rules, ruled, and they ruled Jones and Pearson right out of their elected offices, overruling the hundreds of thousands who voted to have those two represent them. Fellow legislators deliberated and decided that these two men were in the act of “insurrection” and “mutiny.” Read the news reports. That is how Republican legislators termed their colleagues' actions.

The use of power and control for extreme action is independent of political party. People in politics want to be in control. People of every party break small-d democratic norms when they can, when they are intoxicated with the control their wielding power brings.

Anyone else reflect on the May 1856 beating of U.S. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts? Look it up. He is “best remembered for his role in a dramatic and infamous event in Senate history – what has become known as the ‘Caning of Sumner.’ Just days earlier, Sumner had delivered a fiery speech entitled ‘The Crime Against Kansas,’ in which he railed against the institution of slavery and unleashed a stream of vitriol against the senators who defended it. In retaliation, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Sumner at his desk in the Senate Chamber, beating him with a heavy walking stick until the senator was left bleeding and unconscious on the Chamber floor.”

That is power out of control. It was three years before Sumner resumed full-time duties in 1859.

That was from the U.S. Senate’s website. Here are details from the House side. Rep. Laurence Keitt, also from South Carolina, accompanied Brooks to Sumner.

“[A]ngry House Members demanded the expulsion of Brooks and Keitt. The House failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote to expel Brooks, but it successfully censured Keitt. Both Congressmen resigned to protest their treatment by the House. In his resignation speech, Brooks said, ‘I should have forfeited my own self-respect, and perhaps the good opinion of my countrymen, if I had failed to resent such an injury by calling the offender in question to a personal account.’ South Carolina voters held Brooks and Keitt up as heroes, returning both men to Congress by special election to fill their own vacancies.”

Voters always choose representatives that reflect their beliefs. Then, those guys from South Carolina, were slaveholders.

Still, today we are not racists. But believe it or not, white people have almost all the power. Maybe all of us can agree that African Americans are not happy with that.


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