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The Politics of Race

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I read Dale Brumfield's Back Page opinion (“The Real Racists,” Aug. 4) with dismay. It is a shame when reasoned, honest discourse is made impossible by the willful ignoring of facts, or ignorance of the truth.

I will not try to excuse the actions of certain Democratic leaders in the past — President Woodrow Wilson's behavior would be intolerable today, and the late Sen. Robert Byrd's membership in the Ku Klux Klan is a stain on his record. However, I do feel some honest discussion is called for.

To accuse the current Democratic Party of racism based on the actions of pre-1980s Democrats is absurd. It is true that Democrats opposed emancipation in the 1860s and supported segregation in the 1960s. But Brumfield fails to mention the Republican Party's Southern strategy in which it used racial tension and historic animosity as part of a strategy to encourage white voters to join the party. Starting in the 1970s in the Richard Nixon White House, and reaching full steam under Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party watched over a transition of traditional Democratic voters into Republican supporters.

Meanwhile, Brumfield's choice to highlight certain facts shows clear bias. He mentions Byrd's KKK membership, but not his public apology. He mentions the Republican Party's formation in the 1850s, but not its attacks on existing programs that have benefited African-American communities and individuals. He relishes in naming Democrats who voted against the Civil Rights Act without mentioning Barry Goldwater's opposition. He fails to comment on Strom Thurmond, who headed the Dixiecrat Party after leaving the Democratic Party and then became a Republican stalwart. He ignores substantial political shifts, such as when the traditionally conservative, white Virginia Democratic Party base became overwhelmingly Republican in the 1960s and 1970s.

The best predictor of future actions is past actions, especially in the short term. At this point, the path of history clearly shows one party working toward the inclusion of minority communities and the marginalized while the other does not. Republican Party support for inclusive policies is fading, and no reminders about Lincoln or the 14th Amendment can contradict that.

One cannot cherry-pick examples from the past and claim they are history. If we are to move forward we must be honest and forthright. Brumfield's opinions are neither.

Dr. Mark Ryan
Richmond

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