There’s something about Rep. Charles Rangel (D – NY 15th District) that, well, let’s say, is colorful. He’s never been a person to mince words or observe the finer points of the Internal Revenue Code as his 2011 censure by Congress will attest. He is also the third longest serving member in Congress and he happens to be darkly complected.
When I think about Charlie Rangel I am always reminded of the story about the man who was speaking to the village idiot:
Man: “You are without a doubt the stupidest person I’ve ever met. How did you get that way?”
Idiot: “Well, I can guarantee you it didn’t happen overnight.”
Charlie Rangel has had 42 years to hone his craft on Capitol Hill and his picture should appear next to any thoughtful argument dealing with the merits of term limits. Only a Congressional ethics investigation impeded his becoming the Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. Those are the people who spend the money that we send to Washington – plus an additional 20% or even more in a really good year.
Rep. Rangel is back in the limelight over some comments he made the other day regarding the Tea Party. You’ll remember them as being the people whose applications for tax exempt status were held up for deliberate political reasons by the IRS.
To quote the Congressman, “It is the same group we faced in the south with those white crackers and the dogs and the police.”
Not to dispute the Congressman – but that group that he and other civil rights activists faced in the ‘60’s are probably long dead or at the least they are octogenarians. I haven’t seen any pictures of Tea Party activities wherein the participants were in wheel chairs with special cup holders to house their dentures.
But let’s return to the statement about “white crackers”. Every reference (and I looked up seven) refers to the term as an “offensive slur”. In other words, it is an overtly racial derogatory remark. Has there been any outburst from the white community demanding the Congressman’s entrails? Not that I’ve heard. Nor would one expect that there would be.
The same term, you will recall was apparently used by Trayvon Martin in his description of George Zimmerman – at least according to the prosecution’s star witness. Once again – there were no expressions of outrage by American whites, no marches, no protests. This should lead all of us to ask, why do American whites not respond to racial epithets in the same volatile way as American blacks?
I think there is a simple yet profound explanation – one which speaks to the heart of this issue and to the great divide which separates us. It all boils down to self-image.
It is extremely easy and rather alluring to advance the argument that blacks have been denied opportunity simply because of their skin color. And it would be naïve to argue that in many cases that is not true. But this argument assumes that black Americans have uniquely been denied opportunities which have always been open to those who came from Europe and were white. Any review of the history of immigration to this country will rapidly disprove the validity of that theory.
The Dutch weren’t happy when the English showed up. Neither of them was too keen on the Germans – and when the Irish made it here they were all concerned that the country was on the road to hell. Thank heaven for the Italians and the Eastern Europeans. Now there was a whole new collection of people that everyone else could look down on.
All of these people came here and ultimately assimilated in what was the great melting pot. It wasn’t always sweetness and light and there were skirmishes and battles that were fought based on a person’s ethnicity. But somehow those managed to work themselves out. The days of seeing a banner over a club that said German-American or Italian-American are long past. And it was accomplished by the people themselves – without either the benefit or hindrance of government involvement.
There has never been a Polish-American, a Polynesian-American, a German-American or any other kind of (Fill In The Blank)-American caucus in Congress other than an African-American (Black) one. And if there is merit to the Congressman’s argument that racism is alive and well in this country, he should ask himself why, when a white applicant asked to be admitted to that caucus, he was declined membership. He should know the answer, I would hope, as he has been involved in the Black Congressional Caucus from its inception.
Racism, like any form of hatred, is a disease. It is virulent and contagious. And like all diseases, given the right environment it will spread and become a plague. What the Congressman may not realize is that if it gets out of control, there is no one who is immune from its toxic effects – not even those who are the carriers.
That’s something which even the village idiot should be able to understand.