Rangel: Why Ferguson Is An American Problem

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Charles BarronThe following is a transcript of the remarks given by Congressman Charles B. Rangel on the House floor during a Special Order discussing "Race in America After Ferguson" on December 1, 2014:

This is such a great country and I love it so much. I was raised in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and when I graduated from law school, having been the only one in my family having gone to college, I think my mother said, thank you, Jesus, and I said something like thanks for the Constitution and thanks for being born in America.

Like anything else you love, if there's an illness, if there's a problem, you would want to know what can you do to cure it?

How can you make it all that our country can be? How can we say that we have a cancer until we recognize that we do, then we don't really love our country? How can we be able to say that White and Black in this country are equal and that those who work hard and live by the rules have the same opportunities as each other when we know that we have this cancer that sometimes we're able to make the country do a lot better than it has since our people were the only ones that were actually brought here in chains, but I marched from Selma to Montgomery and things that I never had the opportunity to dream because equality never was on the list in my community.

But if as a result of this I've been able to live long enough to see African-American men and women be elected to local and state offices around this country, to come here and join with nine African-American members of congress in 1970 and to walk tall and know that in that short period of time we've grown to over 40, 45 members of congress, does that mean that we've rid ourselves of the cancer? I think not. And how can we do it? By admitting that we do have that problem.

Because whether we're talking about Ferguson or Harlem or somewhere else, until we admit that we have this illness and we have this problem, then singling out the success of some of us in this country does not heal the wounds that have been left through the centuries of racial hatred and prejudice.

We've been able to say we were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, but the truth of the matter is, our people have been in slavery more than we've been so-called free people. And the fact that they said that you were no longer a slave didn't mean that you were an American, with all the rights and the privileges of it.

And it hasn't been that long that I can remember my grandfather from Virginia talking about innocent people being lynched in Virginia. And it hasn't been that long that our people have been granted the constitutional right to what? To vote.

And it hasn't been that long ago that -- even said that our schools should be desegregated or the military desegregated. And until we reach the point that African-American parents don't have to tell their kids to act differently just because of their color, that they have to succumb to the type of conduct that you teach on one hand be a man and stand up for your rights, but if he's in uniform, then beg and plead and don't move, don't say anything that might irritate him.

I think, I really believe that the people who unconsciously don't know and don't care about the heavy weight that Black folks have carried in this country over the centuries that they were brought here cannot possibly love the country as much as they would if they say it was not a Ferguson problem. It's an American problem.

And they should be able to ask, what is it that they could do?

And I would humbly suggest the first thing you do is to acknowledge, acknowledge that you have that problem. Some people may talk about payment for restitution for past crimes committed against human beings. But that restitution could be the ability to say that we're going to make certain that people of color in this country would be able to have access to the same type of education, live where they want to live, compete against anybody for the job and not feeling that they're inferior because people have been taught that just because they have a different complexion that they are superior. And they take that because they were born on third base, that just being born means they can hit a home run.

The fact is that all of us collectively would know that whether you're Black or Brown or Yellow, whatever the complexion is, that the greatest benefit and asset that we have as a nation is that we bring in all of these cultures together to build the greatest nation on earth.

So whether we have Ferguson in another 10 or 20 years, it doesn't have to be. What has to be is that we cut this poison out of the system of this great country and openly say that we have this problem and then, as the parents and Mr. Brown would want, that death would have been just another sacrifice that one of us has made to wake up this wonderful country to do what has to be done.

So let me thank you for constantly reminding us that we've come a long, long way from how we got here, but we have a long way to go. Thank you so much.

 

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