Oct 01, 2011 3:15 PM GMT
Dear Mr. Freeman,
My name is Ali Akbar. I’m a 26 year-old African-American small business owner and a tea party activist. I’m not writing to rake you over the coals in the way that many conservatives have done in the last 48 hours. Heck, I wrote a passionate open-letter refuting many of your claims already, but this is not that. This is an honest and standing invitation. I do believe that you are wrong in what you said about the tea party, but I would rather prove it to you than castigate you for your comments.
I also understand that your reflexive comments came from experience. You grew up in a different America than the one that I was blessed to be born into. We both grew up in the south, but I never saw ‘White Only’ signs. I’ve been called a name or two in my three decades, but racism has always been the exception in my life, not the rule, as it probably was in your youth. I understand your suspicion of conservative political movements. It is rooted in pain and fear and memory, and though I never saw the horrors of segregation that you did, we share that cultural heritage.
I’ve been a fan of yours all my life. From “Driving Miss Daisy” to “Lean on Me” to “The Shawshank Redemption,” I idolized you as a boy. Growing up without a father, you were one of the strong black men in my life who gave me a model to follow. Each of the characters you played had dignity and confidence. I tried to emulate the strength you projected. While many of my friends headed down the all-too-familiar path of drugs, unwed pregnancies and crime, I’ve striven to live a life with dignity, be an example for my brothers and make my mother proud.
My favorite of your movies was “The Power of One.” I must’ve watched it a hundred times, crying every time when your character Geel Piet was killed by the racist South African. Geel Piet was brave and heroic, even in the face of death, because he knew that the hate that killed him was a trifle in comparison to the love that PK’s anti-apartheid movement was spreading. It is with that spirit that I’m writing to you this morning.
I’ve attended dozens of tea party events. I’ve helped organize them, and I’ve even spoken at a few. The tea party is not what is often depicted in the news. It is people of all colors who are terribly concerned about the direction that America is heading. We don’t trust big government to make decisions for us. And we fear that the present administration’s spending is going to lead our country down a path to insolvency, much like what Greece is currently facing.
Your comments about the tea party have caused me physical pain. You’ve rekindled the old painful paradigm of Uncle Tom – that any black man who votes Republican is some kind of sellout. It’s not true. I work hard, pay my taxes, love Jesus, and I’m good to my family and community. In effect, your comments have stereotyped an entire group of people. And I know in my soul that you must regret that on some level.
There’s already plenty of groupthink among American blacks. Over 90% of us vote Democrat with religious regularity, and we have been doing so for over fifty years. For a short time, I was one of them. I realized a few years ago that the Democrats’ promises of equality bestowed by government wasn’t working and will never work. I came to believe that redistributionist policies with the goal of social justice was essentially creating a new plantation within the federal government. Scraps might be thrown our way, but dependence on the plantation would be the inevitable result.
Over half a century since we started voting for Democrat policies, blacks in America are worse off than before. Black Americans are more likely to get involved with drugs, go to prison, and die younger than our white counterparts. Over 70% of our children are born out of wedlock. Our abortion rate has never been higher. There are two explanations for these results. 1) Blacks are an inferior race and can’t take care of themselves. 2) Despite the best of intentions, the government has created and implemented “social justice” policies that promote perpetual dependence. I choose to believe the latter. Therefore, I have become a Republican.
Mr. Freeman, I’m not asking you to adopt my political views. You’re in your seventies, and a political shift is not in your future. I’m reaching out to you because I want you to think better of your fellow countrymen. Barack Obama is in the White House, and Herman Cain just won the Florida straw poll. America is the land of opportunity for black Americans like never before.
I’m hoping that you’ll come to a tea party in Tennessee — the place of your birth. Really anywhere in the country that works for you; I’ll set it up with the one of the thousands of activists I know around our great country. I’d be delighted to introduce you to good people who will welcome you with open arms, disagree with you, and then feed you some of the best barbeque you’ve ever tasted.
Racism is an ugly thing, but I assure you that it is part of our past, not our present.
It takes bravery to admit that you may have made a mistake. But, for Geel Piet, bravery is like breathing. It’s just something you do.
I hope you’ll take me up on my offer.