Barbour won’t be surprised or unarmed for ‘racist’ label

March 30, 2011 

— Haley Barbour is white. He’s a Republican. He’s conservative. He’s from Mississippi. That yields an easy label: racist.

Applying labels is what shallow media and shallow people do. It’s code, as in, “Oh, he’s a preacher” or “Oh, she’s a liberal.” It’s affixing a stereotype for the purpose of adding context — and often to discredit.

Because Barbour, whose work for the national GOP is legendary, has been peeking out from the party’s war rooms, he’s become a target.

Opinion-makers and policy-shapers who have decided he will hinder their agenda are rallying, trying to thwart a presidential campaign before it can begin.

Barbour has prepped some ammo. Whether it will work remains to be seen.

“Racist” is about the worst label that can be applied. It’s up there with “child molester.” Ask Charles Pickering. He’ll tell you it’s not necessary to show that a target for this label has ever spoken racist words or committed racist acts. In fact, the opposite can be true. Witnesses said Pickering, of Laurel, was a steadfast and public nonracist in his hometown of Laurel. But when nominated for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, his status as conservative white Mississippi Republican — and Baptist! — erased any chance of Senate confirmation.

Barbour says his decision on a presidential run will come at the end of April. Already, he has attracted a trifecta — maybe more — of allegations of “racially suspicious” behavior.

One relates to his tacit approval of a petition by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to have a state-sanctioned license plate.

A problem, at least, is that the SCV is affirmatively nonracist.

Members are mostly historians who like studying the War Between the States. They find the strategies and personalities of the era compelling. If they are racist, members of the Daughters of the American Revolution should be banned from visiting England as traitors and insurrectionists.

A second charge is pure media spin. In December, Barbour ordered early release for Gladys Scott and Jaime Scott who were serving life. The African-American women’s case had been a hot item on the Internet.

Their champions called them victims of “Mississippi justice” based largely on the fact that they were convicted of participating in a robbery that netted only $11.

The reason it netted only $11 was that $11 was all the victims had. Barbour wasn’t living in Mississippi when the Scott sisters were arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced.

The rest of the case is technical. The sisters, 36 and 38, had served 16 years, not enough for parole. So the discharge orders from Barbour took the legal form of conditional medical releases. Jaime needed a kidney and Gladys said she was willing to donate.

The Washington Post reported the events accurately, but commentators went berserk. “Barbour orders black woman to donate organ as condition of freedom” and such. Glossed over was that but for Gladys volunteering to help her sister, there would have been no legal basis for her release.

Much has also been made of a Barbour comment that Citizens Council members in his hometown of Yazoo City were peacemakers in the desegregation of public schools there in the 1970s.

Guess what? It’s true.

The indignities, the injustices, the violence inflicted on black Americans in Mississippi for a solid 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation is a permanent badge of shame. From the mid-1950s on, Citizens Councils were the “uptown KKK,” active believers in segregation. But it’s equally true that when court orders were issued for Yazoo City, Greenville, Meridian, Vicksburg, Oxford and elsewhere, many of these same people worked, as Barbour said, across racial lines, to blend schools without the riots and mayhem of Little Rock and elsewhere.

Barbour was asked for his memories of desegregation. He remembered that when a crucial time came, many stepped up and did the right thing.

Regardless, torrents of “racist” will rise if he opts in to the Republican primary.

How will he respond?

At a press conference while seeking a second term, Barbour walked out prominent Mississippi Democrats to endorse him. One of them was Yazoo City attorney Mike Espy, a Democrat who had served in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet as the first black Secretary of Agriculture.

‘‘He’s my homeboy and we’ve worked together for generations,’’ Espy said.

Cameras were rolling, including what appeared to be a private crew.

If Barbour runs, expect to see that footage in a TV commercial. It may not change the minds of anyone who has concluded Barbour is a racist, but it does show that our governor plans ahead. He has some “I’m not a racist” ammo.

Charlie Mitchell, former editor of the Vicksburg Post, is assistant dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

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