Words have consequences

Can we all move past talk of racism?

Rep. Jimmy Matlock From knoxnews.com
"I think it's based on racism. There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president." - Former President Jimmy Carter, Sept. 15, 2009.

"I agree with President Carter that racism is playing a role in recent outbursts against President Obama." - Bill Cosby, Sept. 16, 2009.

"The animus toward the White House is so great these days that mixing racism with politics is OK among 'good' people in the Republican Party in Tennessee today." - Editor's column, News Sentinel, June 21, 2009.

These words have consequences. Does former president Carter think that any form of dissent is not debatable? Does Cosby, who before has spoken so strongly about personal responsibility, believe that now any disagreement therefore must be founded in some form of hatred?

Does the June 21 News Sentinel column imply that anyone associated with the Tennessee Republican Party must harbor an unspoken dark side?

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City These incidents illustrated to me that the word "racist" is being used to cause division and little else.

In fairness to Carter, his words were angrily spoken after Rep. Joe Wilson spoke out on the floor of Congress. In fairness to Cosby, his track record, heretofore, indicates fair-mindedness toward all people.

Lastly, in fairness to the News Sentinel editor, his tone followed an unfortunate incident in Nashville where a state employee used terrible judgment in forwarding a very hurtful e-mail message.

Racism creates hard feelings. It causes people to get defensive, and before you know it, we are not even discussing the real issues anymore. There is a lot of shouting going on but very little talk about the actual issue.

We must debate only the facts. Humans were given the gift of reason, but I do not think we have been demonstrating it lately.

I am a small-business owner, running a family business that has operated in East Tennessee for more than 57 years. I also serve as the state representative to Loudon and Monroe counties and humbly serve more than 66,000 people.

But this issue is not about me; it is about me speaking for a large group of people who are tired of defending themselves against accusations of harboring racist thoughts. They are just families who live in small towns and large cities across this state, working hard, taking care of their families, and enjoying their time together.

Occasionally, they read or hear something through the media with which they disagree. This doesn't mean they must immediately be labeled - many of these folks have voted for both parties through the years. These are average Americans, and they are simply scared. Terrified, in fact!

When I talk to people in my district, they are genuinely worried. They are concerned about heath care or if they can continue to provide for their families in this dismal economy. They do not feel like all of their questions are being answered, and they feel distrustful of statements coming out of Washington and Nashville.

So they go to local town halls, and they write their congressmen and legislators, and they attempt to have their voice heard. That doesn't make them racists - it makes them American.

Like most people I come in contact with, I have tremendous concerns about the direction we are taking as a country; the coarseness of our language, the disrespect toward each other and the lack of personal accountability. Our communities, our state and our nation can only be as good as the people who make up our citizenship.

I am reminded of a statement with which I will close: "Ridicule is the argument of last resort."

My hope and prayer is that our culture will move towards being able to look past the color of one's skin and create a tone of civility which fosters respect toward all our neighbors.

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City is a sixth-generation East Tennessean. He is a small business owner serving his second term in the Tennessee General Assembly. His e-mail address is rep.jimmy.matlock@legislature.state.tn.us.