The Color Blind Lie

I grew up mostly in East Texas. To give you an idea of the politics of the area, I lived in the district that is currently represented by Louie Gohmert. During that time, I knew all of two black people – my grandmothers’ maids.

When I was about 10 years old, a group of black men in Jonesboro, LA (less than 150 miles from where I lived) organized Deacons for Defense and Justice – eventually sparking a showdown with the KKK that resulted in federal intervention on behalf of local African Americans. I never heard a word about it until I watched the movie – Deacons for Defense – a few years ago.

That’s how I was trained to literally be color blind.

I thought of that when I read this interaction Molly Ball had with former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster about why southern whites are leaving the Democratic Party.

“I don’t think it’s racial,” Mike Foster, the Republican former two-term governor of Louisiana, now 84 and retired, tells me, without my having asked…”You know, the races have gotten along down here for years. Look at what’s happening in Ferguson right now. We don’t have a bunch of people running out in the street hollering about that.”

“I think what has changed it is that this is a hardworking state. People work hard, and they really don’t take to people who are on the dole,” he continued. “You’d better not be supporting people who are sitting on their front porch while I’m trying to work! You drive around these small communities, you see a lot of able-bodied people sitting around, when you know there’s work to be had …. That’s the only thing I can figure. This part of the country, people have been raised by families who worked very, very hard. But now we’ve got a president who loves to sit down every day and see how much he can give away of what they make.”

Those sentiments aren’t new. We heard pretty much the same thing from Duck Dynasty’s Phil Roberts about the Jim Crow era in Louisiana.

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field …. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

If I had the patience to do the research, I’m sure I could find quotes from plantation master’s who also claimed their slaves were “happy slaves.” Its all part of the same lie white racists have been telling themselves for centuries.

And it leads right into the lie that – while those black people were happy when they were slaves/terrorized by Jim Crow – now they’re all just sitting on their porches collecting goodies from the black guy in the White House while the rest of us white folks work hard (could Lee Atwater have summed up the Southern Strategy any better?)

Nope, nothing racial about that at all.

Pundits all over the spectrum are suggesting that Democrats need to reach out to people like this. Until they can identify their self-interests in a form other than these racist lies, I’m not sure that’s going to be possible.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.