Commentary

Saunders: Barbs go all directions - even Rev. Barber's

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 15, 2012 

Ouch. Some of y’all came down pretty hard on me a few weeks ago when I ever-so-gently chided the head of the Wake County Republican Party for her fire-breathing, extreme language.

When I admonished Susan Bryant for calling members of the board’s Democratic majority “radical extremists,” scores of readers called me worse.

The very first letter read, “Saunders, you are a hypocrite” and was followed by more venom from people who hide behind cutesy-wutesy screen names because they’re afraid to stand behind their views.

“You never criticize Rev. Barber when he uses inflammatory language” was repeated ad nauseam.

Well, in our continuing effort to elevate the level of discourse around here, I would just like to say this to them: Aw, shaddup.

In pointing out my presumed flaw, they miraculously picked the one I don’t possess.

Hypocrisy? Me?

Pshawww. I have castigated the sometimes bombastic Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, countless times in print. That, predictably, results in a mountain of letters and noxious calls accusing me of being a “sellout” or Uncle Tom or Clarence Thomas.

Criticism of Barber

Going back just two years, I found columns in which I criticized Barber for trying to enlist the aid of the school accrediting agency in opposing the previous board’s busing plans. I also told his allies and him they should spend more time in classrooms tutoring poorly performing students than commandeering school board meetings.

I even accused him of doing the same thing the hyperbolic Bryant did – recklessly using words. See, Barber went to jail and wrote a letter in which he seemed to compare his incarceration to Dr. King’s 1963 arrest in Birmingham, Ala. That’s where King wrote his transcendent “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

The Rev. Barber wrote a letter, modeled on that one, titled “Thoughts While We Were Being Booked and Processed at the Wake County Jail on June 15 After Engaging in an Act of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience.”

Whew. Since he only spent an hour in the joint, I suspected he’d been released by the time he finished writing that title.

Sorry, I told the Rev. – whom I like and respect – but getting locked up in Sheriff Donnie Harrison’s Wake County Jail in 2010 for an hour is not the same as being locked up in Bull Connor’s jail in 1963. Back then, one might not come out alive. Now, the worst that could happen is you might miss lunch while being booked.

Nuance means a lot

Barber knows he’s a public figure and has shown no indication that he takes the criticisms personally. Besides, I’ve never threatened his life, as have many others. Also, even when I disagree with his tactics, I know he’s fighting for a more inclusive society. The same can’t be said for some of his detractors.

Lost to the un-nuanced letter-writers who see everything in black or white, left or right, was the fact that I didn’t disagree with what Bryant said – that the board hadn’t yet shown a good reason for firing the superintendent – but only with her wild-eyed rhetoric.

Casually employing terms like “war at the school board” or “radical extremists” – or comparing an hourlong incarceration to being in Birmingham’s notorious jail – weakens the language and actually obscures whatever point you’re trying to make.

That’s all I was trying to say.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service