GOP's race problem: What's really behind that bad tweet

The party's Rosa Parks fiasco only hints at its problems with civil rights -- here's why it should be afraid

Published December 3, 2013 12:45PM (EST)

  (Jeff Malet, Cameron/Jonathan Ernst)
(Jeff Malet, Cameron/Jonathan Ernst)

With this week marking the 58th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, much has rightly been made of the Republican National Committee tweeting a picture of Rosa Parks this weekend, with a caption that said: “today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism." (emphasis added)

But while many have justifiably focused on the claim that racism has “ended” (which the RNC later "clarified"), another significant truth has gotten lost. If they really cared about Rosa Parks’ memory, Republicans would attempt to emulate her courage in challenging the white male entitlement that demanded she give up the seat that she paid for. That kind of white male entitlement still dominates both the GOP and the American political scene today.

For example, if the party really wanted to take lessons from Rosa Parks’ story, it would think about the 90 percent of African-Americans who stayed off those buses and walked or carpooled to work in order to demand equal treatment and recognition of their dignity. In contemporary elections, it is routine that more than 90 percent of black America votes for anyone but the GOP.

GOP cronies and conservatives masquerading as moderates (Arne Duncan, here’s looking at you) would stop the kind of union busting in places like Chicago that continue to erode the school system and disadvantage the predominantly black and brown students that attend Chicago public schools. Old school civil rights figures would decry the school reform movement and see clearly that it places black children back in the very kinds of conditions that Brown v. Board of Education was meant to rectify. Companies like Wal-Mart would pay their workers a living wage and acknowledge that they could do so and still remain profitable each year to the tune of billions of dollars.

Moreover, Parks, who began attempting to register to vote and encouraged others to do so in Alabama in the 1940s, would balk at the brazen voter suppression efforts that the GOP continues to lead under the guise of implementing voter identification laws and gerrymandering voting districts to dilute the power of the black and Democratic vote.

Most of all, if Republicans cared about Rosa Parks’ legacy, they would stop their war on women. In her wonderful book “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance,” Danielle McGuire demonstrates that Parks had a long history of activism before she ever refused to give up her seat on that bus. In the 1940s, she worked as an anti-rape activist, perhaps because she was raped herself, as some of her archival papers seem to indicate.

Yet the GOP persists in passing draconian anti-choice legislation in locales around the country, and the blatantly right-wing Supreme Court is poised to hear yet another case, arguing for a religious exemption to businesses that don’t want to provide free birth control to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.

Rosa Parks had the last laugh when black Twitter came out in full force to demonstrate the utter absurdity of declaring racism to be ended. Tweeting under the hashtag #racismendedwhen, the twitterati appended endings like “when Mr. Drummond adopted Arnold and Willis,” “when Bill Clinton played the sax on Arsenio Hall” and “when the Fresh Prince moved to Bel-Air.”

I’m glad we live in a culture that can respond to such political absurdity with humor. I’m pretty sure we are all laughing to keep from crying.

Affixed to the picture of Rosa Parks that the RNC tweeted is a quote that reads: “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

Unfortunately, this means that the GOP should be afraid. Very afraid. Continuing to support policies that redistribute wealth upward, continuing to gut public education, refusing to regulate guns, doubling down against healthcare reform, and policing the bodies of women is a potent and heady chemical mix that might just make the GOP implode from the inside out.

Moreover, the GOP’s refusal to grapple with the persistent and enduring problem of racism will find them on the wrong side of history just a couple of generations hence. For instance, though Marissa Alexander is now free on bond in Florida, awaiting a second trial for firing a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband, by all indications conservative prosecutor Angela Corey insists on using taxpayer money to try her again and to lock her up for 20 years based on Alexander’s attempt to defend herself.

A fierce champion of black women’s right to safety, security and a society free from violence, Rosa Parks might be a part of the Free Marissa Now Campaign and actively aid in helping to free her.

This Rosa Parks fiasco demonstrates that the GOP’s intellectual and political gymnastics around racism and civil rights are so off-kilter that they couldn’t even manage to stick the landing on an exercise with a minimal level of difficulty. They definitely need to come again. And this time, I hope they’ll come correct.

By Brittney Cooper

Brittney Cooper is a contributing writer at Salon, and teaches Women's and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers. Follow her on Twitter at @professorcrunk.

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