Very sad and tragic that some people will do virtually anything to be famous, and practically anything to sell a book, even if it means spewing hatred, division, and manufactured lies and half-truths just to get a rep, as the late rapper Guru once rhymed.
Case in point is Ms. Ann Coulter, the right-wing political commentator, syndicated columnist, and omnipresent media personality whose new book, “Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama,” is so bad, so poorly written, so drenched in shameless historical revisionism that one has got to wonder if she, Ms. Coulter, believes anything she has put on paper.
In this her eighth book Ms. Coulter’s itchy trigger finger takes aim at those dreaded White liberals who’ve made big power plays off the backs of us poor and misguided African Americans. Colored folks, mind you, who do not comprehend that our Civil Rights Movement has been pimped by said liberals, and unfairly expanded to include, among others, women, immigrants, and gay people. What Ms. Coulter refuses to grasp is that while the Civil Rights Movement definitely was kickstarted and propelled by Blacks, it was to make the entire American democracy experiment better for all. So little wonder that, say, women, the LGBT community, persons with disabilities, environmentalists, and immigrants have cited and continue to cite the Civil Rights era as a tremendous galvanizing force for their own movements. In other words, none of us live in a bubble, each and everyone is interconnected, whether we like, admit, or acknowledge that fact or not, so it is nearsighted and inhuman to pretend as if we do not shape and influence each other’s lives.
Ms. Coulter goes a step further, in her book and on her endless publicity tour, to paint Republicans, “the party of Abraham Lincoln,” as the real protectors of the rights of Black people, and Democrats as the ones who not only did not support Civil Rights in America historically, but who have created the racial stand-off in our country. Divisions, mind you, stirred by the numerous Democratic-initiated “welfare” programs we Blacks have become depended on. And divisions stirred by these liberals, these Democrats, whenever they need to point fingers at Republicans, especially when it comes to racial problems, real or imagined.
However, this is nothing new. I came of age during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, as a teenager, as a college student, and I watched right-wingers, politicians and pundits alike, meticulously produce a game-plan to pit Americans against each other: liberals versus conservatives, Whites versus Blacks, people of color versus White people, straight people versus gay people, the poor and middle class versus the wealthy, American citizens versus immigrants, you against me, us against them, and America versus the entire world….
Rather than discuss and champion a United States where we can bring people together, in spite of our differences, and deal with the hardcore issues of everyday Americans, these right-wing activists hustle and flow in the red zone of divide and conquer. As long as we who share this land are at each other’s throats, they continue to wield power. A kind of power that controls the direction of national conversations: which ones we have and do not have, and how and why, in our America.
Take, for example, my very recent “debate” with Ms. Coulter on the Current TV program “Joy Behar: Say Anything!” It was neither a discussion nor a very productive and solution-oriented dialogue, as you can see here:
Instead, Ms. Coulter did what she always does: she makes up “facts” as she goes along, she talks at the level of a rebel yell with no ability nor care whatsoever for listening to others, and when challenged and called out for who she is—a racist peddling books for a buck—she resorts to attack mode because I dared to speak to her as she habitually does to others. I have watched Ms. Coulter on panels and debates long enough to know if I did not jump in and meet her at her level I would have never gotten a word in edge-wise. Because, for her, this is not about educating and uplifting people. It is about entertainment and the media circus that documents her rants ad nauseam. Ms. Coulter was visibly shaking on the set next to me with raw anger and refused to shake my extended hand when I was leaving. This is an immature schoolyard mentality, yet I have witnessed young people behave more rationally and speak far more logically about serious social matters.
That is because individuals like Ms. Coulter are neither intellectually equipped nor emotionally or spiritually-grounded enough to engage in sincere and honest dialogue about the huge challenges of our times. Ms. Coulter claims to be a Christian and I do not doubt her belief in God and Jesus Christ. But the God I as a Christian worship is about love and understanding, not hate-mongering and people-bashing. God is about kindness and grace, not mean-spiritedness and a reckless disregard for the feelings of other human beings. Clearly love, understanding, kindness, and grace are not prime preoccupations for Ms. Coulter. Right-wingers like her are strictly about book sales, media ratings, sensationalistic shock value, and pissing people off and keeping people separated and in perpetual states of paranoia, rage, and mistrust.
That, to me, makes Ann Coulter and so-called thinkers like her very un-American, very dangerous, and the exact opposite of E pluribus unum, the seal of our United States which translates, in Latin, as “one from many.” But ultra-conservative activists do not think in terms of “we.” It is “I,” and there is the conundrum.
That certainly explains why every single time I either appear with a right-winger on radio or tv, or write a blog discussing an issue from my perspective, a barrage of offensive and hateful tweets and emails flood my inboxes, like this one from someone on Twitter a moment ago:
“kevin_powell You’re one racist nigger hell bent on keeping racism alive in America. Someone should drag you under a truck 12 city blocks!”
I’ve received so many threats and disses through the years that I’ve become immune to them. But of course the great irony, above, is in one breath this gentleman calls me both a racist and a nigger. Too damaged emotionally to get he is doing what he is accusing me of. Furthermore, given the community work I have done for nearly 30 years, in nearly all 50 American states and globally, how many workshops and trainings I have led or participated in that have been about bringing people together regardless of their race, culture, or ethnicity, and how extensively I have written on diversity and cooperation between different groups, it is abundantly clear to me that many people in our great nation simply do not read, listen, or bother to do basic research via Google.
Put another way, hatred and ignorance are so ingrained in the minds of some, logic flies out the window and you have to wonder if some actually realize what they are saying as they hide behind fake names and fake photos on the social networks, uttering the most disdainful things to those either different from them or whose views they detest so profoundly. Additionally, you begin to wonder if some of these folks are so wired with knee-jerk reactions that they cannot see that the most divisive forces in America’s conservative movement do not even care about them, regular everyday Americans doing their best to make ends meet.
Thus what we are left with is an American climate so bullet-ridden with hatred that you pray to God (at least I do) that the sort of assassination attempt that happened to former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords does not spread, like a vicious virus, because some of the more mentally and spiritually unstable amongst us have decided to match the hyper-aggressive and violent rhetoric with violent action.
That is why an Ann Coulter is so very dangerous. She and right-wingers like her do not genuinely care about working class and middle class White Americans who’ve been so deeply affected by our tough economic times any more than they care about Blacks, Latinos, Asians, or immigrants of any background. What she and her peers care about is money, power, fame, privilege, and manipulating the masses. For sure, they scream, “we are taking our country back” for a reason. But I sure do wonder how Native Americans feel about that one dropping from the puffed out lips of these particular kinds of folks given they are the original owners of this land? But these ultra-conservatives do not care what anyone thinks because they do not really care about us. What they care about is blowing wind, very hard, onto the burning fires of alienation, disillusionment, fear, and anger, and creating moving, breathing targets that would otherwise be allies. After all are not most Americans struggling financially regardless of our background? Do not most Americans want access to better public schools, better jobs, small business opportunities, basic healthcare, and a decent and affordable place to live?
Racism wins, White, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Red people, when we permit someone from outside our neighborhood-community-environment-reality to dictate to us who we should and should not like, who we should and should not trust, based on ancient fears and divisions created back in the day to keep human beings separated and under the thumb of the powerful. Nothing wrong with power if it is used for good, used to bring people together, to uplift and motivate people. If that power is born from love. But if it is not, my God….
And that is why it is such hogwash for Republicans to continue to say they are the party of Abraham Lincoln. First of all, Republicans like Ann Coulter are not; Lincoln was trying to save the Union, not burn it to the ground with hateful rhetoric. Second, even Old Abe had serious issues around race and flip-flopped quite a few times, publicly and privately, around ending slavery, so it is a bold-faced lie to continue to perpetuate the myth that Lincoln was that clear-cut in his vision around African Americans and slavery. He was not.
But, to be fair, of course I will acknowledge and honor what Lincoln and other Republicans did on behalf of civil rights, on up to President Dwight Eisenhower during the Little Rock 9 school integration battle in the late 1950s, and President Nixon’s support for Affirmative Action initiatives during his first term. But, by and large, the Republican Party of yesteryear is not the Republican Party since the Nixon era (Black folks who know will never forget how Nixon’s law-and-order tactics shut down, literally, the last vestiges of the Civil Rights Movement, for example), and if we are going to be honest, we must be honest about that. I do not think even Mitt Romney’s dad, nor Abraham Lincoln, for that matter, would survive in the 21st century version of the Republican Party. Not with the fire-breathing fury of the Tea Party and Ann Coulter out there stage far right.
And to imply or outright say that Democrats, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson, did close to nothing is another bold-faced lie. And a double lie to suggest that Blacks have no criticisms whatsoever of the Democratic Party, of President Barack Obama, when we do, and it is stated very visibly, and very often, in blogs, on the social networks every single day. You just have to look, and read. Blacks, to be brutally honest, have stuck by the Dems because it is, one, the lesser of two evils as I have heard more than a few elected Black Democrats say themselves. And second because at least the Dems make an effort to be inclusive. Republicans, meanwhile, are ridiculously pathetic in that regard.
Finally, it needs to be stated that Black folks have been in America far too long to think either party represents our empowerment or salvation. We have been both Republicans and Democrats in our American journey and, not for nothing, we have always been a group who knew we had to do some things for ourselves no matter who is representing us at any given moment. Yes my mother and I needed welfare at one point, and yes I got help going to college, but to suggest that Black people have done nothing more than look for handouts from the government is not merely a lie, but a great disrespect to who we are historically and culturally in the context of America. As a matter, my life work of public service is partially because I feel so blessed to have gotten help when I was growing up in poverty. So I cannot imagine not helping others to succeed, too.
Beyond the above, most Black Americans don’t have the time or energy to debate who are the good White folks and who are the bad White folks. We do not even think like that. Our challenge is historical and present-day racism, whether it comes from a White liberal or a White conservative, and God knows we’ve gotten it from both sides, equally. But do the vast majority of Black people hate or blame White folks for everything? No, not even close. I know. I am Black, and I am in Black circles all the time, all across America. So racism even lifts its ugly head when certain White Americans believe that Black people are somehow so obsessed with race, with racism, with playing the so-called race card that we just sit around discussing them all the time. That is funny, at best.
So it is abundantly clear from Ms. Coulter’s writings, my “debate” with her, and her many appearances around this book that she has never lived with nor around vast and diverse groups of Black people for any extended period ever, has never studied Black history on any high level, ever, and does not get that it is even inherently racist, as a White person of privilege, which she is, to assume you can speak for an entire race of people on a movement and matter so central to their existence and sojourn in America. I would never do that to my White sisters and brothers, or my Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Jewish, Arab, or Native American sisters and brothers, and I do not want anyone doing that to and for me. The path to racial and cultural harmony in America has to be based in the respect for any people to tell their own stories, on their own terms, with my voice equal to yours and yours to mine.
My problem with the Ann Coulters of the world is that there is no real critique of the system of racism, just flash moments to prove some twisted point that suit their immediate agenda. When I attempted to raise to Ms. Coulter the issue of stop and frisk in New York City, she was dismissive. As if the lives of Black and Latino young males are so tragically worthless that our getting stopped by the police more than any other demographic in New York, in America, is somehow insignificant. That is when you know this person could care less about anyone except herself and her bank account. And maintaining a status quo run by ultra-conservative old school wealthy White males who are so terrified of the multicultural America that sits upon their doorstep, with a hiphop soundtrack bursting from its loins, that they will do and say anything to stop the hands of time. That means voter I.D. laws. That means propping up a mediocre presidential candidate like Mitt Romney. That means making sure an Ann Coulter will always have a platform and always be a New York Times bestselling author even if her books are as dangerous and disposable as the worst fast food.
Finally, I always find it interesting when people say they do not agree with my politics, as Ann Coulter’s supporters have done nonstop since our Current TV debate. My politics are real simple at this stage in my life: I believe in love, nonviolence, peace, and truth-telling, even when it makes some uncomfortable. Only way the world ever changes is for us to confront lies, untruths, oppression, and the marginalization of any and all people. We are in this together. I really believe that. Sad and tragic some people truly believe, in the darkness of their souls, it is us against them. We have a choice in life: be bridge-builders or be bridge-destroyers. Folks who are bridge-destroyers are also known as racists, sexists, homophobes, religious bigots, anti-Semites, haters of persons with disabilities, and classists. Bridge-builders are also known as human beings. Better to be human than to be inhuman. For the good of yourself, for the good of us all.
Kevin Powell is a long-time community and political activist, a nationally-acclaimed public speaker, and an award-winning writer. Kevin is also the author or editor of 11 books, including his newest title, “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Learn more about Kevin’s work at www.kevinpowell.net/about.php, or follow him on twitter @kevin_powell