Al Sharpton, via Huffington Post
People are upset. The government is partially shut down, workers have been furloughed, important services are unavailable, some schools have had to scale back on providing meals because of a lack of funds to the federal lunch program, many local businesses are suffering, some workers are performing their duties without pay at the moment, families are forced to ration things like food, many national parks and monuments are closed, world markets are watching with a cautious eye and people everywhere are on edge. But instead of channeling this frustration to those who are guilty of holding the government, the nation and its people hostage, some have been misguided and have resorted to unspeakable acts of hatred. And the same politicians who caused the shutdown and are now pushing us to hit Thursday’s deadline are the ones fear mongering and playing on people’s anxiety.
During the ‘Million Vet March’ this weekend, a man waved a Confederate flag in front of the White House as the protest expanded to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Yes, a man waved a Confederate flag in front of the home of an African-American family. And the elected officials who organized, spoke, marched or promoted this rally are just as responsible as that man for this ugly display of bigotry.
Last week, my book, The Rejected Stone was released. In it, I share many stories of my work in the struggle for social justice and the varying relationships I’ve garnered and built even with those who I don’t necessarily agree with. But what I also highlight and place emphasis on are key lessons I’ve learned along the way. One of those main lessons is that hate cannot ever be tolerated or accepted — even quietly. One cannot ignore a blatant act of racism or intolerance by simply stating that they did not commit the act themselves. There are many times in my own life when I had to condemn the actions of others because they may have taken place at an event I organized, or around an issue I was heavily involved in. Even though I wasn’t the one who said it or did it, as a public figure, that’s what you must do because if you don’t, you might as well condone the behavior. And that’s exactly what Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Mike Lee and others involved in this weekend’s protest have done. Their silence is deafening.
Often times, people like to falsely believe that the Confederate flag is somehow not offensive. As Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post highlighted in his recent piece, it’s akin to placing a swastika somewhere. The Confederate flag symbolizes dehumanization, injustice and pain. It is a stark reminder of an era in our history that was defined by the abhorrent practice of slavery. And it is representative of a mentality that looked upon Blacks as inferiors who needed to remain in the shackles of subservience. If you don’t believe me, ask family members of those that were beaten, castrated and lynched under the guise of that Confederate flag. For a person to boastfully wave that flag in front of the White House is beyond reprehensible.
The organizers of this weekend’s march will dismiss this flag waving abomination by stating they cannot be held responsible for the actions of others. While I agree that as a public figure you can never fully control what people say or do at a gathering, when an individual or group turns ugly, it is your duty to speak up. Because if you do not, you are quietly cosigning whatever despicable act they have committed. These elected officials can have all the differences in the world with the President and with the Democratic Party, but they cannot tolerate actions and environments of vile behavior. We are afforded freedom of speech in this country, but we are also afforded the right to live in a safe environment for all. When a Confederate flag threatens the peace and security of so many people of color and those who were on the right side of justice, why would we ever allow it to be waved in front of the home of the First Black family?
If Ted Cruz and others want us to believe that they don’t despise minorities and that they are trying to make their Party more ‘inclusive,’ then they need to start acting like it. A great first step would be to condemn this disgusting, inexcusable act.
But I won’t hold my breath on that one.