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Racist Rhetoric of the Right Wing

by Cash Michaels Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2003 at 4:55 PM

''[Black] parents scream and yell about the racial achievement gap, and how the schools aren't fair, and society is racist and blah, blah-blah, blah-blahhh, because they don't want to get off the sofa, and put some effort into it themselves'' - Jerry Agar, Conservative talk radio host

Racist Rhetoric of the Right Wing-Part II

Cash Michaels, The Wilmington Journal, 10/20/2003

To Jerry Agar, he did nothing wrong.

Going on the air in September 2002, the staunch conservative Raleigh radio talker, responding to an article about the racial achievement gap in Wake County schools, told his predominately white audience that Black public school students aren't performing well because, ''… their parents don't care;'' ''… Black parents aren't doing what they should do;'' '' if we stop wasting money on busing programs, wasting money on Smart-Start, and put all of our effort and resources into essentially forcing [Black] parents to get involved, we'd solve the problem;'' and in a final insult, ''… if a parent puts a modicum of effort into it - and some of the parents we're talking about are going to have to look up modicum, by the way…..''

The conservative even pointedly said that racist white teachers, a problem Black parents have encountered since the public schools desegregated thirty years ago, was a poor excuse.

''[Black] parents scream and yell about the racial achievement gap, and how the schools aren't fair, and society is racist and blah, blah-blah, blah-blahhh, because they don't want to get off the sofa, and put some effort into it themselves,'' the radio host opined. ''It's easier.''

According to Agar, all this was, was ''constructive criticism.''

But readers of The Carolinian in Raleigh, and even some liberal callers to his afternoon radio program, angry that Agar and many in his audience inaccurately seemed to paint all Black parents with the same critical brush, called his diatribe something else.

Racist.

''[The Carolinian] is 100 percent in what [it] says,'' Columbus Pressley of Cary, who battled the Wake Public Schools for years over how his five children were treated,'' told Agar.

The conservative's response was typical of the right-wing when racial controversies flair up - what he said wasn't racist, just his opinion.

''[The Carolinian] wanted the readers focus on the bad conservative racist, not on problems close to home,'' Agar wrote shortly after in a letter to the editor. ''Keep it in the community. It's embarrassing to have white people talking about it.''

Agar, who enjoys a wide and varied audience in the Triangle market, is indeed typical of conservative radio talk show hosts in the aftermath of Rush Limbaugh's success.

Limbaugh, arguably the best known and most powerful right-wing talker on the air nationally for the past 16 years, made it fashionable for conservatives to publicly and aggressively attack Black leadership, the civil rights movement, and the Black community itself for its continuous, though sometimes tenuous political loyalty to the Democratic Party.

But Limbaugh, who has taken temporary leave off the air amid his admission last week of abusing prescription drugs, took his racial rhetoric one step further beyond criticism. He actually castigated African-Americans he didn't agree with, telling them to ''take that bone out of your nose'' and practice looting and blowing up places.

The powerful conservative got away with it, and was embraced by the Republican Party, who relished the political influence Limbaugh potentially had with 20 million listeners weekly over 650 radio stations across the country.

''He is the companion to millions, he is America's top voice,'' Matt Drudge of the online Drudge Report told MSNBC last week.

But Limbaugh wasn't the first to make racist rhetoric an effective weapon of the right.

When former Raleigh City Councilman Jesse Helms took to the air on WRAL-TV in Raleigh during the 1960s with station editorials, he made ''Martin Luther Coon, Jr.'' and an unrelenting rhetorical assault on the Southern civil rights movement led by Dr. King and others his trademark. While many whites agreed with what Helms said about the movement being ''Communist inspired,'' many Blacks, and whites, were appalled that the former sportswriter was allowed to say such things so blatantly.

That kind of racial plain talks is what propelled Helms into the U.S. Senate in 1972, as the conservative Democrat (who would soon switch to the GOP) rode the coattails of President Richard Nixon's ''Southern strategy'' to corral angry white southern voters.

Even after he got to Congress, Helms would continue to call things as he saw them racially, no matter how callous, without apology. Deliberately singing ''Dixie'' in a Congressional elevator as then Illinois Sen. Carol Mosely Braun, the first Black woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate, got on, was one of the milder examples of Helms being willing to provoke a racial fight.

That same willingness seems to be alive and well not only on right-wing radio and on television with the arguably conservative FOX News Network on cable, but on college campuses as well.

As The Wilmington Journal recently reported, college and university campuses across the nation have been the scene of ''anti-affirmative action'' bake sales by conservative, and predominately white Republican student organizations.

Cakes and cookies are sold to different people at different prices according to their race. So while a cookie will cost a white male anywhere from .50 to .00, that same cookie would cost an African-American only 25 cents.

At UCLA, the young GOP vendors went on step further. They got Black, white and Hispanic Republican students to stand behind the bake sale table with signs that say ''Uncle Tom,'' ''The White Oppressor'' and ''Self-Hating Hispanic Race Traitor.''

''We hope to show students the inherent hypocrisy of assigning exclusive meaning and value based purely on skin color or perceived ethnicity,'' The UCLA Bruin Republicans said in a statement, adding that the controversy only highlighted how unfair affirmative action is to white students.

So far, none of these collegiate ''bake sales'' have taken in North Carolina.

But when the NC Republican Party was asked by The Wilmington Journal whether it not only approved of this activity by young GOP groups, but specifically approved of the message that it was sending, Jonathan Jordan, Communications Director for the state GOP replied by e-mail,'' Let me answer by referring you to our NCGOP Platform, the governing document of the North Carolina Party.''

Jordan then forwarded the following passages from their platform:

Article III Individual Liberty, Paragraph 6. Republicans believe in equal opportunity and impartial treatment before the law regardless of wealth, social status, race, or gender.

We believe that government must vigorously enforce individual civil rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and by the Constitution of the State of North Carolina.

Article III Individual Liberty, Paragraph 7. Government should treat all citizens fairly and should assure equal opportunity for all without regard to race, religion, gender, or national origin. We oppose all forms of invidious discrimination. We also oppose efforts to include sexual orientation as a category for preferential treatment status under civil rights statutes at any level of government.

Enforcing ''individual civil rights'' has been the conservative reasoning behind the anti-affirmative action movement from the start. Eliminating affirmative action hires and college admission policies is what is meant by ''Government should treat all citizens fairly and should assure equal opportunity for all without regard to race, religion, gender, or national origin.''

Beyond saying ''Regards,'' Mr. Jordan did not, on behalf of the party, denounce what many have charged was the overtly racist nature of the bake sales, or the students who sponsored them.

The two GOP platform paragraphs were an indirect way of approving of the controversial activity, without ever being on record as saying so.

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