We are more than cartoon people

Published 1:37 am Friday, September 25, 2009

Having lived in Selma now for nearly two years, I’ve grown used to when someone wants to talk about race — someone in the national or international media — they generally come to Selma.

That’s understandable because of Selma’s role in the civil rights movement and breaking down a barrier to the ballot box for African-Americans.

What I have yet to understand, however, are reports, such as the one broadcast Thursday morning on National Public Radio by reporter Debbie Elliot.

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The context of the report seemed to focus on the question of rejection of President Obama’s health care plan as racist.

This report — all seven minutes and some-odd seconds — was as shallow as the Alabama River gets during a drought.

It’s not the race question that’s bothersome in this report. It’s the reporter coming up to Selma and not taking time to understand the dynamics here or get our places named correctly.

Elliot calls the highway leading into Selma and over the Edmund Pettus Bridge the “Jefferson Davis Highway.” It is U.S. 80, plain and simple. As of several months ago, there is no thoroughfare in Selma named for the late president of the Confederate States of America. The Selma City Council approved renaming the street for the city’s first African-American attorney, J.L. Chestnut Jr.

Elliot should know better. She’s based in South Alabama. She received her journalism credentials from the University of Alabama. She was news director of Alabama Public Radio for awhile before joining NPR.

The wrong thing about the NPR report is Elliot made cartoons of our people and our town. She allowed Faya Rose Toure to basically label all white people who disagree with the president’s health care plan as racists, not bothering to bring into focus that even Cong. Artur Davis, an Obama supporter, had said he would not support the health care plan as it was originally proposed.

Elliot runs over to a local restaurant and grabs three good ole boys who are white and conservative and ask them about the label. They defend themselves, but, hey, that’s a natural position for folks already labeled racist.

By the way, not all the white people in Selma are conservatives, either.

Elliot came into town and did a hit and run job. It turned up on NPR and it’s offensive.

Elliot has an open invitation to come back and get to know us — or at least get the name of the main thoroughfare correct. I’ll spring for the lunch and bring conservative and liberal — black, white, hispanic and native American to the restaurant table for a real round robin.

Leesha Faulkner is editor of The Selma Times-Journal. Call her at 410-1730 or e-mail her at leesha.faulkner@selmatimesjournal.com