Sen. Trent Lott put his foot in his mouth this week with an inappropriate and untimely remark honoring the retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond. Lott said the nation would have been better off had Thurmond won the presidency in 1948 and that many of our troubles since then would not have happened. Since Thurmond was running as a segregationist at that time, Lott's comment set off a firestorm. They were stupid remarks.
Lott apologized. That should have been the end. But our oversensitive society, mixed with ample political rhetoric, assured the issue would not die quickly. And as of this writing, Lott remains in office. That could well change.
So did Jesse Jackson resign when he used a derogatory term for New York City that inflamed the Jewish community? Did Sen. Robert Byrd (D, West Virginia) resign following comments about his days in the Ku Klux Klan? Did Sen. Edward Kennedy resign following the tragic death of his "friend" and his subsequent disappearance for 12 hours?
You know the answer to all of the above.
Many people - publishers included - said and did things 40 years ago that we regret today. Society changes and we change with the era as well. That's the way it should be. What was not necessarily insensitive at one time may have a different meaning today. But to brand someone for stupidity is patently wrong. Were we to judge our political leaders on their stupid remarks, the halls of Congress would be empty.
Blacks in our society have endured wrongs in the past and some do to this very day. But all white, middle-aged men are not racists. I do not believe Trent Lott to be a racist as well.
Way back in my college days I was a member of an all-white fraternity. Blacks were not excluded. None, to my knowledge, had applied back in 1965. Today however, my fraternity boasts a number of blacks and other minorities as well. That's a positive sign of a changing time. But by the same token, it should not brand those of us who participated in the all-white environment as racists.
I've seen the hatred in the eyes of young black men directed toward whites. That hatred is directed at skin color and nothing else. That is as wrong as a political leader making an insensitive remark. Again, it's stupid.
Attitudes are indeed changing and they have been for nearly 40 years. We have much change yet to accomplish. But I believe we take a step backward when we attack for purely political reasons a senator for an impromptu remark that lacked both style and substance.
The way you advance racial tolerance and understanding is to accept the apology of those who have misspoken and to move forward. We have yet to learn that lesson.