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12/30/2010

Haley Barbour's Comments Reflect the GOP's Ugly Past (and Present?)

Haley Barbour's recent comments regarding civil rights are not surprising to those in Mississippi, familiar with the Barbour family's history.  However, considering Haley Barbour's presidential aspirations, maybe it's time the media does it's job and explores his history with the Black community more fully.  Barbour's racist past has continually been ignored by the mainstream press, even as he basically ran the GOP as Chairman of the Republican Governor's Association.  In reality, the mainstream media has given a pass to the whole Republican party in regards to it's, at times, contentious relationship with the African American Community. However, his Brother's recently released comments have surfaced and have been too hard to ignore.

Haley Barbour's Brother: Blacks Aren't 'Listenin' to White People Like They Used To'

Haley Barbour is currently governor of Mississippi. He is a staunch Republican and governs over the state that stands as a powerful statue of symbolism of America's racially problematic past. The prisons in the state are full of black people and enslave them as many other prisons in the South already do. Economic inequality persists and remains unaddressed. The state is a mess for black folks, racism is alive and well and Haley Barbour is leading the charge.

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    But being a nationally recognized politician, Barbour has learned some tricks of the trade. The game is not about directly supporting racism of the past. It's about maintaining support for norms and institutions of the past that were built on a foundation of racial inequality. Barbour and his GOP colleagues have mastered the art of racial illusion

    The problem for Haley is that while he might be the careful and polished political figure, some of his family members aren't. One of the banes of Governor Barbour's political existence could be his brother, Jeppie.

    Haley and Jeppie both grew up in the deep South, and Jeppie was actually mayor of their small town, Yazoo City. As you can imagine, life for African Americans in 1968 was already difficult



    Living in a small town in Mississippi was likely one of the harshest nightmares a person of color could endure during that time. In the 1971 book, "Integration in a Deep Southern Town," the author Willie Morris writes of conversations that Haley's brother Jeppie had regarding the Civil Rights Movement and his frustration with African Americans deciding to take more of their destiny in to their own hands:

    "Maybe five years ago," he said, "you could've appointed a colored man yourself. Now you simply can't get away with it.

    "They're goin' to have to pick their own leaders. You could've gotten on radio five years ago using these very words, 'George Collins is this ni**er we've appointed,' and could've gotten away with it.

    "I guess they're just goin' through a state of being rebellious and hard-nosed and not listenin' to white people like they used to."

    Jeppi and Haley are effectively the socio-political children of the late Strom Thurmond. Thurmond was unapologetically anti-black during most of his career, and this way of thinking primarily came from his deep indoctrination into a set of beliefs that rested upon the accepted inferiority of black people. Thurmond went to his grave believing that blacks were less human than whites, primarily because that was what he was taught to believe.

    This is not to say that Haley or his brother Jeppi are deliberately racist. Also, we must remember that 1968 was a long time ago. At the same time, their discomfort with a changing nation that slowly grows in its willingness to allow African Americans limited access to the American dream likely makes men like Barbour feel that blacks are taking something away from them. No man enjoys losing power.


    The psychology of white supremacy also helps us to understand why Haley Barbour is one of President Barack Obama's staunchest critics. He doesn't simply disagree with him, he works to fundamentally disrespect him.

    He is one of the leading politicians working to dismantle Obamacare through legal challenges that aren't even going to work. He has stood with leading Republicans who attack Obama for being incredibly radical, or foreign, like something our nation has never seen. His reaction to a black man sitting in the White House is the reaction you or I might have to a zebra driving a Volkswagon: It just doesn't make sense.

    Haley's reaction to this cognitive dissonance is one that goes beyond standard political disagreement and morphs into the kind of anger and hatred that fueled Mississippi lynch mobs 40 years ago. It's shocking to see the zebra driving the Volkswagon, but even more irritating when you think the zebra is driving in the wrong direction.

    We can't hold Haley accountable for the words of his brother Jeppi (I'd hate to be held responsible for everything my relatives say), but we can read the words of Jeppi, in conjunction with the actions of Haley, and the backdrop of Mississippi's racial history to get a further understanding of the mind-set of a man hoping to be president.  Republicans, like Governor Barbour, won't admit or don't want to believe, America has a great deal more to do when it comes to race. And Mississippi has more work to do than nearly any other state in America. Haley, as the state's governor, is a living manifestation of all that Mississippi represents and as the President of the GOP's governor's association, he may unfortunately also represent too much of the Republican party.




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