Excuses for racism

Miami Herald/March 22, 1999
By Derrick Z. Jackson

At a recent press conference, a reporter willing to pester politicians on such trivial matters as bigotry, racism, and white supremacy asked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott: "Can you explain why you wouldn't support a resolution to censure the Council of Conservative Citizens?"

Lott responded: "I think if anybody wants to have a resolution condemning any groups that advocate, you know, white supremacy or racism, you know, we should support that. But when you start naming one group over another group, or this group or that group, the list is going to get to be pretty long, and that would be the wrong approach."

There was a follow-up: "But you all did that with the Khalid Muhammad resolution several years ago, and everybody supported that, you know."

Lott said: "That was one individual. Are we going to start doing that repeatedly, naming individuals and groups?"

Another follow-up: "That doesn't seem hypocritical, you supporting one and not the other?"

Lott said: "No. No, no, no. It doesn't seem hypocritical to me."

Lott is the devilish dodger who has yet to break a sweat in the three months that have passed since details of Lott's cozy ties with the council were first reported. The 15,000-member group has a thick lineage to the South's racist white-citizens councils.

Its Web page is a current linkage to 1990s hate. Its page or those that link back to the council are engines of paranoia, desperately trying to prove black genetic inferiority and the harm that Jews, homosexuals and feminists have inflicted upon straight, white, Anglo-Saxon men.

The council's Web page has been praised by pages that also support the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations and David Duke.

The articles forced Lott to distance himself from the council: "I have made my condemnation of the white supremacist and racist view of this group, or any group, clear." But he quickly muddied the water with the incredible claim that he had "no firsthand knowledge" of it, despite the fact that:

  • He made speeches before the group in the 1990s.
  • He was declared an honorary member.
  • He never protested the use of his Senate column in the council's newsletter.
  • He welcomed top officials of the group in Washington in 1997.
  • He posed with a smile for a photo with the officials.

The condemnation became even more hollow when Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., and James Clyburn, D-S.C., last month introduced a resolution to condemn the council. The resolution has 132 signatures, including 10 Republicans. Wexler invited Lott to introduce a similar resolution in the Senate.

Lott is refusing. Yet he was one of the senators who voted, 97-0 in 1994, to condemn the hate speech of Muhammad, a previously unknown aide to Louis Farrakhan in the Nation of Islam.

"What it all comes down to," Wexler said, "is [that] when it is a black person who is racist, it's OK to condemn that individual and single him out. But when it is a white person or white group, that it is not OK to single out that group."

That observation is shared by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. When the African-American mayor of Washington, D.C., momentarily accepted the resignation of a white aide who used the word niggardly, a word with no racial meaning, Bond said that he received 50 telephone calls from the media. Bond said that he has received only six or seven calls from the media about Lott.

"I brought it up with Arlen Specter and Mitch McConnell," Bond said. "I said, 'What are you going to do about Trent Lott?' They said, 'What about Trent Lott?' "

Lott no longer should be obscure and obtuse about the council. If the Senate can condemn Muhammad, a crackpot with no influence, it must condemn a council powerful enough to have Lott, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., and Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice as keynote speakers.

The battle to turn up the heat resumed last week when Wexler held a press conference with several civil-rights organizations. But Wexler needs help. Perhaps when Bond gets 50 phone calls on Trent Lott, we can begin to predict the day that Lott makes in the Senate the only condemnation that now matters.

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