Deshundra Jefferson

Deshundra Jefferson

The Southern Strategy was one of my earliest introductions to politics. In 1988, when I was 12, I remember seeing television ads about a man named Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who raped a woman in Maryland after leaving a Massachusetts prison for a weekend furlough. 

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, who was running for president, was using the incident to paint his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, as weak on crime.

Even to this day, I keenly remember those ads. Horton came to symbolize not just the actions of that one man, but of all Black people. 

It hurt me deeply that my race would be used as a weapon used to frighten people into believing my very existence posed a danger to society. I already had a hard time fitting in at the advanced classes at my Illinois middle school because of my color -- I was constantly viewed with suspicion and as less than -- but to be viewed as an actual threat cut much deeper. 

A few years later, I remember watching a nightly news segment on Lee Atwater, the infamous political strategist who created the Southern Strategy. Before he died, Atwater apologized to Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of the former’s pledge to “make Willie Horton [Dukakis’] running mate.”

Atwater, of course, firmly denied he was a racist. I never believed his apology as I could not understand how he chose to build his career on dog-whistle politics without believing his actions were somehow justified. The Southern Strategy proved to be a powerful tool that politicians use to demonize people they see as not-quite American as "other." 

This wink-and-nod playbook has been used far too many times on issues related to race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and, most recently, gender identity. It needs to stop.

I was rather disappointed, but sadly not surprised, that Rep. Rob Wittman's newest political ads tie his opponent Qasim Rashid to terrorism. It is hard to believe this is a causal coincidence given Rashid is a practicing Muslim who immigrated from Pakistan. 

Religion should not be used as a shield for intolerance or to incite hatred for those whose beliefs differ from our own. Even a cursory review of United States history should remind Christians our nation was founded on the principle of religious liberty as many early white settlers escaped Europe to avoid religious persecution.

Rashid’s faith is not on the ballot, nor should it be the centerpiece of an attack ad. He has already been the target of right-wing extremists, starting with his candidacy for Virginia state Senate District 28. Wittman’s ads are playing into dangerous stereotypes that should have been abandoned by now. 

Rashid is no Willie Horton, nor should he be tainted by the actions of a few people who claim to be Muslims but who are instead following the wrong path.  

Politics is a contest of ideas. Wittman must be running low on fresh ideas that excite his base if he is appealing to their nativist instincts. While I disagree with his politics, I expected more from my congressman. I honestly thought Wittman was better than this. I now know otherwise.

A Montclair resident, Deshundra Jefferson represents the 1st Congressional District as a member of the Central Committee for the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA).

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(13) comments

Louf

Every time I listen to a liberal speak, it confirms how twisted they make things and how they twist words. That being said, I will vote for Wittman. End of discussion.

Grammy1357

[thumbup] Ms. Jefferson, every word you wrote is true and needed to be said. I had forgotten Atwater's hateful legacy, and I suspect others have, too, based on some of the comments on your column. The people who doubt your words need to become aware Wittman's record of lies and deception and learn of Rashid's peaceful and compassionate character. Thank you for writing this column; I hope it is read by people who need to know the real story.

Drronchapman

Wittman is literally using Rashid’s own tweets. Literally that is what he’s doing.

Remember this when Jefferson primaries Ann Wheeler again in 2023.

Rembrandt

I believe the fact that Rashid denies the existence of Islamic terrorism is certainly reason not to support him. We experienced it on 9-11 and fought a war over it after all. GO WITTMAN!

Grammy1357

Rashid does not deny the existence of Islamic terrorism--he simply states that the terrorists are radical extremists and not true Muslims. Wittman implies that all Muslims are terrorists, which is absolutely untrue, Rembrandt.

Drronchapman

Once more. Wittman used Rashid’s own tweets. That’s it. Literally.

Mrs. Silence Dogood

Ms. Jefferson, You lost me at your first point. In the Bible The First thing God said to Adam and Eve after they had sinned was. "WHO told you, you were naked"? So I ask you Ms Jefferson, Who told you..."Horton came to symbolize not just the actions of that one man, but of all Black people."? I believe like myself most Americans Black, White and Brown. (We are all shades of brown) are capable of judging anyone they encounter by the content of their character not by the color of their skin. So why should anyone listen to anything else that same spirit says?

Grammy1357

Welp, it's common knowledge that Horton came to symbolize all Black people. Where have you been for the past 50 years, madam?

cultured2014

voting whittman all the way..this article is racist junk

Mg

Totally agree, Mr Whitman has always been one of the most straightforward and honest politicians I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with

Grammy1357

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha![beam][beam][beam]

Mrs. Silence Dogood

How old are you 12? Too bad common knowledge and common sense are not so common.

Mg

Stop barking like a dog

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