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SIMMONS: Race-baiting on both sides makes labor pains worse

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Labor Day, like most man-made holidays, means different things to different people, and today leads to more of the same.

This time around, though, it's clouded with racial overtones that should make us - the employed and the unemployed - feel a bit uneasy.

The American worker has been singing the blues for months on end, leaving many of us scrambling to make ends meet and finding little reason to celebrate what traditionally is considered the end of summer and beginning of autumn.

There simply aren't as many nuts to gather.

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis cited congressional "gridlock" as the culprit and said it's time to don steel-toed brogans and kick "partisan finger-pointing to the curb."

It's naive to think hard-core Democrats and shortsighted Republicans are going to reach across the aisle and play nice when partisan finger-pointing is their favorite pastime - regardless of race.

The recent tit-for-tat trading among high-profile black leaders in both camps offers considerable insight into why we Americans must deal ourselves a new hand.

During the August recess, Rep. Andre Carson, whip of the Congressional Black Caucus, said members of Congress affiliated with the tea party would like to see blacks "hanging on a tree."

That wasn't the first time Mr. Carson, Indiana Democrat, plucked strange fruit from the incitement tree. In 2010, he claimed tea party protesters gathered outside the Capitol had hurled racial slurs at fellow caucus member John Lewis of Georgia. Video evidence exposes the truth.

Now the partisan saber rattling cuts the racial cloth anew with Rep. Allen B. West tweeting that Mr. Carson's rhetoric about strange fruit has left him questioning his own caucus membership.

In a letter to caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Mr. West urged him to condemn "hate-filled comments" made by Mr. Carson and other caucus members.

"Otherwise, I will have to seriously reconsider my membership within the organization," the Florida Republican wrote.

Betwixt those comments came ones made by none other than BET founder Bob Johnson, who while certainly wealthy isn't exactly the E.F. Hutton of black America, but he is peering into a crystal ball clouded by high unemployment numbers.

"No one is using the bully pulpit to urge corporations to create diversity of opportunity in this economy," Mr. Johnson told Politico. "We can't exist in two societies, wherein one population is able to be successful and the other one is unsuccessful - that's the prescription for social unrest."

True. The jobless numbers are stark: nationwide, 9.1; whites, 8 percent; blacks, 16.7 percent.

But it's also true that Americans will not be positioned to resurrect themselves jobs-wise if we let racial or social unrest tear asunder the red, white and blue.

It's important that Mr. West, the lone Republican, continue to sit at the Black Caucus table.

It's also important that every time racial and ethnic slurs are spouted by American leaders that they are immediately condemned.

Sure, the jobless rate has dug its heels into black America, but that's always been the case.

But solutions, not racial-bating rhetoric, are what's needed.

And frankly, my fellow Americans, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats has revealed a plan to flip the jobless script.

That is why red-blooded Americans need to stiffen their backbones, open their eyes and readjust their antenna.

Race-baiting rhetoric turns the red, white and blue black and blue, and race-based policies exacerbate labor pains.

So pay attention midweek to both President Obama's jobs plan and the Republicans' response.

If their partisan fingers get a workout on their respective bully pulpits, don't be surprised because their comfort zone lies in rewriting sermons about job training (for Democrats) and cutting the deficit (for Republicans).

What Americans want is common ground.

Indeed, acknowledging common ground would represent the breakthrough needed to put Americans back to work.

Heads up: D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown will hold a roundtable on middle schools Wednesday morning. Parents and other stakeholders should speak out, as the chairman is on record as saying this broken bridge will be fixed.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmon@washingtontimes.com.

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