One of the major criticisms of civil rights leaders for years has been that too many decent Whites choose to remain silent on the issue of race, ceding the spotlight to mean-spirited Caucasians who are insensitive to the suffering of African Americans.
Today, more Whites are willing to challenge injustice, but when they do, they face a barrage of criticism from conservative politicians and talk show crazies who'd like for us to think that Whites, especially White males, are the most oppressed people in America.
The clearest example of this was the attack on former president Jimmy Carter after he attacked the motives of some critics of Barack Obama. In an interview with NBC News, Carter said, "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a Black man."
Carter's comment came a day after Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, breeched Congressional decorum and good manners by yelling, "You lie!" at President Obama as he delivered an address to a joint session of Congress.
Conservatives, including Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, expressed outrage. "President Carter is flat-out wrong," Steele said in a statement. "This isn't about race. It's about policy."
The White House, recognizing it was in a no-win situation, quickly distanced itself from Carter's comments.
But Jimmy Carter did not back down.
In a speech at Emory University in Atlanta, he said: "When a radical element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds."
Carter added, "I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American."
He wasn't the only White person to reach that same conclusion.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, "I've been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer – the frantic effort to paint our first Black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids – had much to do with race."
She continued, "But Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president – no Democrat ever shouted 'liar' at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq – convinced me: Some people just can't believe a Black man is president and will never accept it."
Neither Carter nor Dowd said everyone who opposes Obama is a racist. Far from it. They pointed out that an element of the opposition includes racism and they are correct. Racists are not as straight-forward as former governors Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama and Gov. Ross Barnett of Mississippi. They don't stand in schoolhouse doors or use the n-word. Instead, they cloak their racism in code words such as "family values," depict the opposition as being socialists or communists and want the public to believe that people of color are the racists.
As a Southerner who grew up during the Jim Crow era, I was quite familiar with racists. However, I never knowingly met a "reverse racist." There's no such thing. A person is a racist or isn't one.
This whole attempt to deflect racism by accusing the victims of racism of being racists is part of a larger movement to hijack the language and tactics of the Civil Rights Movement and turn them against people of color. Anti-Obama Tea Party protesters who arrived in D.C. by bus called themselves "Freedom Riders."
In court, anti-affirmative action zealots have turned the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment on its head. Initially passed immediately after the Civil War to provide protection for newly-freed slaves, the clause requires states to provide equal protection for all people within their jurisdictions. Conservatives have gone to court to assert that even voluntary affirmative action programs deny them equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach.