— A week after the Fourth of July, 1872, Booker Taliaferro Washington took a grave risk. He served as an officer in a local Republican Party meeting near Charleston, W.Va.
Not long before, the local Ku Klux Klan (who styled themselves “the Board of Education) attacked a local Republican leader and Civil War general with rocks. One observer wrote, the Klan “wanted to make it so hot that (blacks) would leave this place.”
Washington still publicly took his stand among the Republicans against bigots who would deny him any basic rights.
Washington knew racism in its baldest and ugliest forms. Since his time, racism has lost its original meaning as the word degenerates into another political weapon.
Recently, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller joined the constant Greek chorus of liberals chanting “racism” at any hint of opposition to Obama or policies like Obamacare The senator talked about “people who made up their mind that they don’t want it to work.” One reason given was that “maybe he’s of the wrong color.”
Six years prior, state Democratic chairman Nick Casey said of supporters of the then-presidential nominee, “John McCain is confident that ignorant, redneck racists are not going to vote for Barack Obama, because Barack Obama is black.”
Jill Upson, one of two black Republican candidates for the West Virginia House of Delegates says “it’s a tactic and it’s a very ugly tactic.” Upson added that the “natural reaction is to defend against the accusation. The new discussion becomes ‘who is a racist.’” Obama has not won a single election in West Virginia, not even a primary.
The retiring senator and congressional hopeful both took positions that heaped insults on thousands of members of their own party.
This follows a broader national playbook of stifling dissent and argument with a single word.
But will it work? Maybe in the short run.
Sen. Joseph McCarthy spent six years hammering away at political and cultural enemies with the repeated word “Communist.” Public accusations pried into government, the film industry, and even the military.
It came to an end when the lead counsel for the Army blasted at McCarthy, “At long last have you left no sense of decency?”
Despite his ineffectiveness, McCarthy’s public hunts garnered so much attention because there actually was a threat.
Sovie-led spy networks had actually penetrated the intelligence and diplomatic offices of both Great Britain and the United States.
By the same token, racism exists in more quiet corners than the hysterical shouting in public forums. Donald Sterling’s discrimination against minority tenants in his low-income housing is a prime example.
In the long term, overusing a word wrongly takes away its power. McCarthy’s six years of antics wrongly convinced history that Communism posed little domestic threat.
The sacrificial revelations of Time editor and former NKVD agent Whittaker Chambers combined with the opening of Soviet archives proved otherwise.
Those using the word “racist” as a political weapon risk the same result. West Virginia Republicans have nominated three candidates with minority backgrounds for congressional or statewide office in the past decade, which is three more than the party of Casey and Rockefeller.
Most accusations of racism launched against Republicans nationally fall just as flat when confronted with the actual picture. The danger of repeated far fetched accusations is that they will convince the audience racism just does not exist.
Even worse, ugly accusations poison the well of civil discourse, stifling honest debate.
Upson notes that “Calling people racist without evidence is almost as evil as racism itself.”
Stephen Smoot Keyser, W.Va.