Larry Wilkerson: A look in American prisons shows that racism and the ideas of the civil war are still alive
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, and welcome to this week’s edition of The Wilkerson Report with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He now joins us from William & Mary College, where he’s a adjunct professor. And if you don’t knowâ€”you probably will, but if you didn’t, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson was the former chief of staff of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s a regular contributor to The Real News Network. And he’s adjunct professor, as I said, at William & Mary. Thanks for joining us again.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: So you created a bit of a stir. You were on MSNBC this week on The Ed Show, and you said something that got you a lot of email. What was it, and what was all that about?
WILKERSON: Basically, Paul, I responded to a question about racism and what role it was playing with regard to my political party, the Republican Party, and I responded somewhat passionately, a little bit hyperbolic. I said the Republican Party is full of racists, and what many in the Republican Party want is not necessarily a vote on content of his character or his competence, in terms of President Obama, but a vote against him because he’s a black man.
And I’ve gotten all manner of email since then. I’ve gotten profane ones, obscene ones. I’ve got ones that I wouldn’t dare quote on even this network. I’ve hadâ€”probably the majority of them, thoughâ€”clearly the majority of themâ€”I wouldn’t say what that majority was, maybe 80,Â 85Â percent had been positive. But as I said in my response to many of the more negative emails, the shoe must fit, or the truth hurts, or something like that.
It’s absolutely unbelievable to me in some respects that members of my party, especially those who ought to know better, don’t understand the so-called Southern Strategy, when strategists, political strategists for Richard Nixon essentially told the Dixiecrats in the solid south, theretofore solid south, since Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, solid South Democrats like my grandmother, told them, you’re unhappy with forced busing, you’re unhappy with desegregation, you’re unhappy with the Civil Rights movement in general? Come on over into the Republican Party. We got a home for you in the Republican Party. And a lot of those people flocked into the Republican Party. And many of them flocked because they saw the Republican Party as a place where they could vent their racism, whether covertly or overtly, in a much more conducive political environment. And we still have those people in the Republican Party, and they are flat-out racist.
JAY: Now, the corporate Republicans who sort of see the strategy of the Republican Party in terms of lower taxes for the rich and such, to what extent do you think racism is also part of their basic outlook on life?
WILKERSON: One of the thingsâ€”the emails that were reasonable and established a reasonable discourse with me, one of the things that they talked about in saying that I’m not a racist, here’s why I oppose Obama, was the economic question, if you will. And their responses ranged from he’s a socialist and here are the reasons I think that, and usually that centered in Obamacare, as it were, his Affordable Health Care Act, all the way over to questions about what he means by saying he’s going to cut taxes on small businessesâ€”and what that really means if you look underneath it is that what he wants is more hiring at minimum wage. I can’t follow the logic there, but I’m not an economist. But most of the reasonable responses that have come back to me have been on the economic issues, and they have said simply that they thought a businessman like Mitt Romney would be able to deal with those issues and improve their lot vis-Ã -vis those issues better than a person like Barack Obama. These were the reasonable discourse responses, if you will.
JAY: It seems to me that this battle betweenâ€”at the ideological or philosophical level between the Democrats and Republicans to some extent does echo some of the fight that took place during the American Civil War. And, you know, a section of the American elite at that time wanted overt slavery, and it’s where theâ€”you know, the northeast wanted modern capitalist wage slavery, some people call itâ€”certainly an advance from overt slavery. But to what extent do you think we’re still seeing kind of a echo of that split?
WILKERSON: Paul, all you have to do is look in our prisons, to be up close and personal with that lingering residue, if you will, of our great Civil War. Right now I think the figures are roughly 15Â percent of the American peopleâ€”that’s a lot of people; that’s over 40Â millionâ€”are being incarcerated either for life, murdered, or in some way usually connected with the drug war, which as you well know has different penalties for people of color than people who are lily white like you and I.
This is a war. This is a war not on drugs, but a war on the lower classes in the United States. I’ve been in the schools, Paul, in our inner cities. I worked in the D.C. public schools for ten years in rural areas. Our schools are as segregated as they were before the civil rights movement.
This is not something that’s just happenchance. This is something that people in both partiesâ€”but, majority-speaking, in my partyâ€”have worked for, have striven for, are still working for, and that is to keep the minorities in this country, brown and black in particular, down as long as they can in what you just called this kind of economic or cultural servitude. The fact that it’s still with us, very much so [incompr.] people who ought to know better when they object to what I’m saying, and I think, where are you? What are you smoking? What world do you live in? Have [you] been in a maximum security federal penitentiary lately? Have you been in Victorville Federal Prison in Victorville, California, where you sit in the waiting room and some 200 people pass you visiting their husbands, brothers, sons, whatever in the prison and they’re all black or brown? Do you know what’s going on in the U.S. prison system? This is the best indication. Someone once said, if you want to know the state of a civilization, look in its prisons. Well, look in our prisons and you know the state of our political process.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.
WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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