In a “woke” world, was Mayor Emily Larson half asleep last week when she tweeted a link to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 message to congress, “The American Promise”?
The message preceded the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark federal legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in voting and while the speech was certainly one to revere, the man, Lyndon B. Johnson had some major flaws. In fact, according to an MSNBC article from 2014, when discussing the Civil Rights Act with other southern Democrat lawmakers he would call it “the n-word bill” (saying the actual n-word).
As president, Johnson was a civil rights leader and activist who advanced our country for all people – but by today’s standards, he should have been cancelled.
As the MSNBC article explains, Johnson was a man of his time – and during his time in Congress “stonewalled” civil rights legislation. President Johnson biographer, Robert Caro, shared stories that highlight the brutal racism he brought to the White House:
“Buying into the stereotype that blacks were afraid of snakes (who isn’t afraid of snakes?) he’d drive to gas stations with one in his trunk and try to trick black attendants into opening it. “
“According to Caro, Robert Parker, Johnson’s sometime chauffer, described in his memoir Capitol Hill in Black and White a moment when Johnson asked Parker whether he’d prefer to be referred to by his name rather than “boy,” “n-word” or “chief.” When Parker said he would, Johnson grew angry and said, “As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your goddamn name. So no matter what you are called, n-word, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture.”
Another biographer, Robert Dallek, in Flawed Giant, writes “that Johnson explained his decision to nominate Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court rather than a less famous black judge by saying, “when I appoint a n-word to the bench, I want everybody to know he’s a n-word.”
How is it that Duluth’s Mayor can share a link to Lyndon Johnson’s speech with only one response, a negative comment with a link to a recorded call where Lyndon uses the n-word?
Where is the outrage that filled the streets when Ivanka Trump visited a Duluth business to promote an initiative that works to train, promote, and put more Americans to work?
Where is the outrage from a few weeks ago that surrounded the Emancipation Memorial, a statue of a freed slave crouching before President Abraham Lincoln, in Washington D.C. – the memorial, nearly 150 years old, commemorating Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the executive order to end slavery?
The problem with Cancel Culture is that you can’t pick and choose who/what you cancel. You can’t throw Paula Deen and Rosanne Barr under the bus while embracing Lyndon B. Johnson. And you certainly can’t believe that there is any value in, or need to, cancel anyone/thing at all.
A few months ago, a Facebook group of vigilantes decided they would “out” what they perceived to be racists, successfully getting a woman fired from her job based on a single, poor attempt at a joke comment she made on a local news channel post. How did that help anyone?
The world and what is considered acceptable is changing at lightning speed. What’s fine today could put you in the cancel column by Monday – as nearly every late-night TV talk show host has discovered. Most recently, both Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon faced criticism for “blackface” photos of them from parties/comedy sketches a decade or older. None of us are immune. Unless, we all say “enough”.
People are dynamic. Within a flurry of admirable traits, you will inevitably find a flaw. You will find that Lyndon B. Johnson was a racist, you may find someone has a real crappy sense of humor, you may find that some people have stifled their own growth by judging people based on their very limited knowledge and life experience, instead of learning to peek around the flaw and see the whole person – then to push further to see why that flaw exists – and further still to find a way to help that person overcome the flaw. That, would help everyone.
The MSNBC article about Johnson sums this up with a quote from Robert Parker, Johnson’s chauffeur, saying: “After Johnson’s death, Parker would reflect on the Johnson who championed the landmark civil rights bills that formally ended American apartheid, and write, “I loved that Lyndon Johnson.” Then he remembered the president who called him an n-word, and he wrote, “I hated that Lyndon Johnson.’”
Perhaps it’s time for the “woke” among us to take a nap with the hope that when they wake again they look to embrace and enhance the potential in their fellow humans, instead of throwing them aside for a minor flaw.