Dear Editor: State Representative Tommy Benton made headlines this weekend for belittling the legacy of Rep. John Lewis on a radio interview at WJJC. It made national news.
Many folks took to social media defending Benton, or denouncing those calling him to task. As a privileged white person, I have a public request that some do not feel comfortable making, even though they have lived in this county far longer than I.
To Benton’s defenders: You, and he, share this county with people of color. I don’t care how nice he is to you or how long you have known him. Ask yourself if you would walk into a church on Gordon St. and say the things that you have said online, about the “truth” of his statements. I could easily provide primary documents that refute his “facts,” but that is not my purpose here. I want you to FEEL something.
Put yourself in Benton’s Commerce classroom, a student of color, a single generation from Jim Crow segregation, and learning from this “great man” that slaveholders were justified in demanding to be reimbursed for their “property,” and that the Confederacy was a mythical heroic effort.
He took his students of color on field trips to PLANTATIONS.
Imagine how you feel to hear your elected representative denounce MLK, Jr. and John Lewis because he thinks he can get away with it, in 2020. Your white neighbors and coworkers, who are incredibly kind to you in person, who teach and coach and love your black children, will vote for his brand of white supremacy anyway.
THINK about living in Jackson Co. as a person of color with this man representing your interests. You have no voice. You don’t feel safe jumping on opinion pages and Facebook groups and speaking your mind. Even though this is your county, Benton’s narrative and popularity have always made you feel like an outsider.
Yes, Benton’s status quo is under attack because it is WRONG. Factually incorrect and disputed by top scholars, but also MORALLY wrong.
If you support him, I know it feels uncomfortable to admit you are complicit, and that the natural response is to be defensive. We have all had those feelings. But the key, I think, is to ignore your personal guilt, imagine your dearest black friend, and pretend you are them. How would Benton’s remarks make you feel?
For the first time in 15 years, Benton has a high-quality opponent who probably agrees with you on more issues than you would imagine. Look into Pete Fuller before you vote in November.
It is OK to distance yourself from Benton. I suspect that you have a far better heart than his.