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Not my America: Reflections on the GOP National Convention

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Message Sylvester Brown, Jr.
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As I watched segments of the GOP National Convention, a disturbing thought lingered: "This is not my America."

In fact, I wondered how anyone seeing the tsunami of whiteness that filled the Tampa Convention Center could have been comfortable with the absence of color among delegates and attendees. Oh, the occasional brown celebrity-former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, ex-Democratic congressman, Artur Davis, Sher Valenzuela, the Delaware GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, Lucà Vela Fortuno , the first lady of Puerto Rico and others were strategically propped on stage.   But the smattering of color didn't erase the fact that, out of the GOP reported 2,286 convention delegates, only 47 were African American.

Was this your America?

When groups gather by race, gender or ethnicity-be they black, white, brown or "other"-the intent is clear; they congregate to express and discuss true feelings, issues, passions and strategies relevant to the dominating assemblage. The overwhelming, homogenous horde at the GOP Convention added suspect undertones to party chants and slogans. There is a divisive civil war-era connotation when Americans use "USA, USA, USA-- to beat back the criticism of fellow Americans. When a segregated group screams "We're taking back America," it begs us to question who's the "we" and "back to what?"    

The convention, complete with red, white and blue fervor reminded me of my father's America. Born in the 1930s in Little Rock, Arkansas, remnants of the segregated south were etched into my father's soul. It was evident in the way he hesitated to look white people in the eyes and how he instinctively felt the need to step off the curb or step aside when we passed whites on the street. My father's America, like his father's, was seared with the blood-red desire to "take America back," to keep blacks "in their place" and restore privilege and power to whites who felt disenfranchised by the evils of emancipation and court-ordered mandates for integration and equal rights.

The America represented at the 2012 GOP Convention was fortified with illusion, confusion and big money collusion. It was a scene where the growing poor and "near poor," the unemployed and underemployed, the uninsured and those receiving so-called "entitlements," felt on par with the country's richest and most powerful politicians, profit-focused corporations and billionaire secret donors. A buffet of old ideas-less corporate regulations, less taxes for the rich, less benevolence for the poor and more reliance on trickle-down economics-was served as universal remedy for the nation's economic woes. Few noticed the buffet was really the warmed-over recipe that led us into the Great Recession.

It didn't matter. With Kid Rock's "Born Free" as its theme, conventioneers swallowed any lie as long as the wretched name "Obama" was attached. The party faithful clung to the sound bites of politicians who vowed to overturn "Obamacare" even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the legislation.

It was a zone where hard-line policy tea-drinkers convinced that undocumented immigrants are stealing their jobs and overrunning their country welcomed their nominee, Mitt Romney- the candidate who, days before , declared; "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate." It was a subtle, codified nod to those who believe the White House is occupied by a foreigner.

Despite the facade of solidarity, Rice, Davis, Valenzuela and other dignitaries of color must have experienced that familiar but awkward "I'm the only minority in the room" feeling. Recollections of segregation had to have risen when they heard about conventioneers emboldened enough to chuck nuts at a black CNN camerawoman while taunting; "this is how we feed the animals." Surely, the high-profile minorities, along with the millions who watched the 4-day spectacle via television, laptop, cell phone or tablet screen, must have cringed.

The 2012 Democratic National Convention kicks off this week. David Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, predicts that at least 40 percent of the Democratic delegates will be comprised of minority groups. Love or despise President Barack Obama, support or condemn his progress and policies, his Party's shindig will be representative of the America that I envision for my kids and grandkids.

As the Romney/Ryan yacht cruised along the convention's calm waters of whiteness, the presidential nominee felt entirely comfortable telling the crowd: "Now is the moment when we can stand up and say, "I'm an American"!' "

Well, Mr. Romney, I'm already a proud-standing American but the vision of our that you represent and promote simply isn't my America.   




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Sylvester Brown, Jr. is an award-winning journalist, former publisher of Take Five Magazine and metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After leaving the Post in 2009, he began working as a researcher, consultant and contributor with (more...)
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