Op-Ed

How much longer can we sugarcoat racial attitudes?

At $27,000, the antique desk was so beyond my budget I gave up and made for the door, but the quick-thinking saleswoman scuttled my escape.

“If you’re looking for something simpler,” she said, “we have a storage shop down the street with some rougher items. I’d be happy to walk you down if you’d like to take a look.”

I tried to say no, but I’d driven all the way to Bloomfield and my back was killing me from working long hours on my couch. Would it hurt to take a look?

The storage shop was, indeed, rougher but still pricey, so I gave up on desks and gravitated toward an old table I thought might work. Eager to make a sale, the woman rattled off a potential discount, a description and a civics lesson.

“That piece was built around 1870, right after the Civil War. You can see one of the legs has been replaced and a corner was broken off. It’s had a rough go,” she chuckled, “kind of like The South.” While I looked the table over more closely she filled the quiet with talk of Southern pride, how the war was all about states’ rights, and how her own ancestors had fought and died for our values.

I recall this story whenever someone explains why, despite his many flaws and moral failings, they voted for Donald Trump. We suffered eight years under Barack Obama, they often say. Or, I got tired of being politically correct. Or, we need to keep foreigners from coming here and taking our jobs. Or, a favorite of late: The Democrats want to take away our Second Amendment rights.

Like the antique saleswoman with her version of the Civil War, we tell the story that makes us feel best. Because surely we did not vote for Trump because he is a powerful, wealthy white man with a history of racial discrimination (see: the Central Park Five), or because he questioned the legitimacy of our first black president (see: birtherism), or because he promised to ban all Muslims, stem the tide of Hispanics at our border, return jobs to rural white America or protect white gun owners.

Or did we?

In a recent interview, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu explained that southerners need to stop glossing over, stop sugarcoating. We need to “quit saying that the Civil War was not about slavery. Quit saying that the Civil War was some kind of noble cause. It wasn’t. The Civil War was fought to destroy the United States of America, not to put it back together. It was fought over the cause of slavery. And for some reason we have a difficult time dealing with that issue.”

On April 6, during a South Carolina town hall, Congressman Ralph Norman laid a loaded gun on a restaurant table. Norman has a concealed carry permit. He smiled and said, “I pulled it out to make a point that guns don’t shoot. People shoot.”

Could a black man walk into a crowded restaurant, lay a loaded gun on the table, smile and say, it’s OK folks, I have a permit and I’m just making a point that guns don’t kill people?

Of course not. Not without getting himself killed.

Landrieu is right. We southerners have a difficult time with unpleasant facts:

▪ Six months post-Hurricane Maria, 60,000 Puerto Rican Americans remain without power.

▪ In Flint, Mich., more than 1,400 days have passed since residents have had clean, safe water.

▪ The women and children dying from chemical attacks in Syria are the very refugees, the Muslims, the Trump administration has insisted are not welcome here.

▪ The president is deploying the National Guard to the Mexican border to keep a few hundred Honduran refugees from finding asylum (and low-skilled jobs) here.

Would we tolerate 1,400 days without clean water in a Lexington suburb? Imagine the uproar if we treated post-hurricane Houston like we have Puerto Rico?

What kind of military response would we deploy to save Christian white women and children from a chemical weapons attack? Does the president’s protection of our beloved Second Amendment apply equally to black and white Americans?

Like with the $27,000 desk, we have to think harder about what is too costly for our comfort.

We elected Trump because, after eight years with a black president, he was a powerful, wealthy white man who promised to make white America comfortable again.

What price are we willing to pay to keep sugarcoating it?

Teri Carter is a writer living in Lawrenceburg. Reach her at KentuckyTeri@gmail.com.

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