"Whites" was chiseled an inch deep into the marble above the left side entrance to the doctor's office on Main Street in Shaw, Mississippi. Above the right side entrance was "Colored". The year was 1980, sixteen years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, but nobody said anything because the marble slabs had a solid coat of green paint, and I guess some thought that was good enough to abide by what was now Federal law. But while the paint did cover the marble slabs, it did little to hide the words White and Colored.
I didn't say anything; my used clothing store was about six doors down the block, and while 98% of our business was from the blacks with whom we'd always had good relations, we knew that to raise the issue would have ruined our business — and perhaps worse, since people knew where we lived. That's just the way things were.
The two senators I knew from my youth were two of the longest-serving in the U.S. Senate, John C. Stennis (for whom the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) is named) and James O. Eastland were both Democrats — Blue Dog Democrats by today's definition, since they were at least as conservative as today's neo-cons (and as I've often said, Eastland was the most powerful racist in America for a generation). Everybody knew their place and didn't dare disturb the status quo — with the exception of a few trailer-dwelling white trash families, the whites usually did pretty well, the blacks who worked for them got by, and the blacks who did own businesses struggled just to stay in business (a topic for another time). But every white was very patriotic, very Christian, and we only dealt with the blacks because we had to. Of course there were the occasional romances between blacks and whites – the blacks didn't get riled up about it, but the whites — you'd think Satan had just personally possessed the family whose son was caught with a black girl — but sooner or later everyone would settle down, the girl would have her child, the guy would be sent away, and there was never, ever any thought of marriage between the two. If a black guy were so foolish as to be found in a compromising position with a white girl, however — well, the readers can rest assured that the stories they'd heard of the racist South were no exaggeration.
The Mississippi Delta I grew up in had no place for liberal whites; you were either black, or you were a conservative white, or you were "just passin' through" on your way to the state line. When I joined the Navy, I left Mississippi a young conservative white male, hardly prejudiced at all by the standards of the time — but quite racist and homophobic by today's standards.
And that's precisely the point: the standards have changed. The American psyche as a whole today is radically different from that of my youth. Most Americans now accept those of a different color, of a different religion, of a physical or mental disability, and even of a different sexual orientation; and such acceptance will not go away. Barring some catastrophe such as a national coup followed by the implementation of a theocracy, the national tolerance of those who are different will only increase.
This is not news to the readers of Blogcritics.org. We all know this. But over the past eight years it has become painfully obvious that not everyone is accepting the change, and those people and organizations who refuse to do so are at risk of falling foul of Nature's maxim: "Evolve or die".
The 2008 presidential election is a wonderful example. At the rallies for Democrats — and particularly for Obama — we saw the entire rainbow, the complete diversity of the human animal (with the exception of some rallies in all-white areas like Iowa where Obama won his stunning first primary victory). However, at the Republican rallies the phrase raisin in the sun comes to mind. There were very, very few (and very often NO) minorities — and we know this is not because of Obama's color, because this pattern has been precisely the same for decades.
The Republican Party sees the danger, the trap they're in. They know the demographics of the American electorate are changing. They know that by 2030, whites will comprise less than half the population. That's why they seem to go out of their way to support blacks who do join the Republican Party. In fact, it seems to me (without any hard proof) that blacks in the Republican leadership are overrepresented when compared to the number of blacks in the Republican rank and file; and if this is true, it would be either affirmative action, which is anathema to conservative dogma, or tokenism.
But in all honesty, I can't think of a way for the Republicans to escape the trap, unless they adapt to the continuing change in the American psyche. There are some facets of conservative dogma that are attractive to minorities (witness the blacks' support of Prop. 8 in California), and even some that I like (I strongly support nuclear power). However, as a whole, the minorities see which party's welcome is genuine, and which party's welcome smacks strongly of patronization — their votes evince their overall perception — they are genuinely welcomed among the Democrats, but the sincerity of the welcome among Republicans is certainly open to question.
To make matters worse, this unfavorable perception is only reinforced by current events like Barack the Magic Negro, Bush moving to a neighborhood where people of color were banned until 2001, a candidate for the RNC chair giving up his membership at a whites-only country club, etc., ad nauseum; and this is without people like David Duke and the popular perception that Neo Nazis support (if grudgingly) the Republican Party, if only because they flat-out hate the Democrats.
Another, and perhaps the final, nail in the coffin is the Republicans' refusal to accept LGBT's. For here, as with race, the American psyche is changing. With every passing year, America is becoming far more tolerant of those with different sexual orientations, and again, as with race, this tolerance will only increase over time. I've heard it said that perhaps ten percent of the general population is either gay or bisexual (or simply ignores/endures the attraction), and the Republicans can ill afford to alienate yet another ten percent of the electorate.
In summary, if the Republicans do not adapt to this sea change in the American psyche in the coming years, they will find themselves increasingly marginalized by their inability to sincerely, genuinely, and wholeheartedly accept those different from themselves. This marginalization will be slow, but it will happen, barring some catastrophe that ends the America we now know.
The theory of evolution is hated and disparaged by a large segment of conservatives; but as in nature, those who do not adapt to great changes in the political environment will find themselves increasingly isolated, their power and influence increasingly diminished.
My advice to the Republican Party: Evolve or die.