Laura Waterman Wittstock

Laura Waterman Wittstock is president and CEO of Wittstock & Associates. The firm provides consultation in new projects, creative, development, assessment/evaluation, and governance. Read more about Laura Waterman Wittstock

Black, As In Gorilla

Posted by: Laura Waterman Wittstock Updated: September 21, 2009 - 3:05 PM
Presidential candidate Barack Obama faced numerous charges of being a "racialist" for discussing or even mentioning his African American experiences, family, and friends. The usual suspects Ann Coulter, cable TV personality and the more introspect Thomas Sowell, fellow of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University in California pushed their views of the "racialist" Obama on Fox cable channels. Commentary to the contrary was labeled racialist as well when it necessarily brought in topics involving race. There was no winning the tic tac toe game in which the right wing had made the first move.

Now with president Obama in office, the steady drum of jokes and jibes laden with comments on race and African Americans are to be expected. This kind of racism was sure to surface and it requires no response. It has always been there in an underground of slime and now it exposes itself on the Internet whereas once it was spread on small disc recordings, sold out of the back of stores.

But recently, two public utterances have broken the surface. 
In January 2008, William R. Farr, a Greeley CO businessman read imaginary telegrams in a speech congratulating University of Colorado president Hank Brown. The event took place at the National Western Stock Show. Farr pulled out a piece of paper and said he had a telegram from the White House. Then he said, "They're going to have to change the name of that building if Obama's elected." Mayor John Hickenlooper said "I don't think he intended any mischief or malice, but it was inappropriate."

Afterward, Farr said he regretted making the remark and apologized 
to anyone offended. “I apologize for that,” Farr told a reporter as 
soon as the banquet ended. “I mistook it to be humorous, 
but it was something I shouldn’t have said.”


Then in June 2009 former state Senate candidate Rusty DePass commented on the escape of a gorilla from the Riverbanks Zoo by saying it was an ancestor of First Lady Michelle Obama.  "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors -probably harmless," he said. When the GOP activist was reached by phone he said, "I'm as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest." But then DePass amended his apology. He said, "the comment was hers, not mine," adding that the First Lady made statements in the media recently that we are all descendants of apes. However a search for any Michelle Obama comments on the subject turned up no news articles confirming the DePass assertion.


So it seems that there is little chance of avoiding race in the coming years of the Obama presidency. Racial blasts with tepid apologies such as seen in these two examples will bloom into a fire walk for the country. Still, some seem to long for the parochial little America of Andrew Jackson. Now the US leads the world with its muscular economy, and social examples. 

Not in Jackson's time. He was born in the Waxhaws area near the North and South Carolina borders. Back in 1828, a mere 647, 286 votes were enough to elect Jackson president. 

While president he was known as a populist and used his presidential veto liberally. "Let the people rule" he said. Yet when it came to the first peoples of the country, Jackson saw them as obstacles. The lower south was home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chicasaw and Seminole nations. To the whites of the Carolinas, they stood in the way of the cotton industry. In 1814 Jackson commanded U.S. military forces against part of the Creek nation and they lost 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama.


Populism was only for whites. Native nations only had the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal to based on treaties and a Constitutional right to negotiate with the federal administration. However Jackson's heavy fist forced the Cherokee out to Oklahoma, on foot, over the infamous Trail of Tears.


The lessons of Civil Rights, education for all, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid have been equally heavy for those who long for the Jackson days of white race supremity. They won't come back. Neither will the days of Strom Thurmond or Jesse Helms. Nor Governor George Wallace or Sheriff Clark. We have come a long way from Jackson, but a couple of nostalgists like Farr and DePass don't mind soiling themselves just for the sake of old times.



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