Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott appeared on BET on Monday to apologize for controversial remarks that many have deemed racist, but some in the hip-hop world are saying the gesture just isn’t enough.
“I don’t want to get this into a position of making excuses,” Lott told BET’s Ed Gordon. “I accept the fact that I made a terrible mistake, used horrible words, caused hurt. I’m sorry about that. I’ve apologized for it. I’ve asked for forgiveness. And I’m going to continue to do that.”
Lott — who had suggested that the nation would’ve been better off had Sen. Strom Thurmond won the presidency in 1948 while running on a segregationist platform — called his earlier comments “repugnant” and “inexcusable.” As for his 1983 vote against making Martin Luther King’s birthday a federal holiday, Lott called that “a mistake.”
Rap impresario Russell Simmons, chair of the Hip-Hop Action Network, was among those who found little solace in Lott’s apology. “President Bush should take immediate action to stop Trent Lott from being the Senate majority leader,” he said in a statement. “Lott’s comments expose deep-seated racial prejudice, and our nation deserves better quality leadership.”
“It’s a real big kick in the face to minorities,” rapper Fat Joe said. “You would think he would be fired or would have to step down. What’s real surprising to me is Bush actually endorsed him and said that he doesn’t need to resign. … Apologizing means nothing when that’s what you truly feel in your heart. If you truly feel that you’re down with the Confederate flag, down with segregation.”
The White House has said the president believes Lott’s apology was sufficient. “He has apologized, and rightly so,” an administration spokesperson said.
Talib Kweli, meanwhile, said the flap over Lott’s remarks is just a distraction from the bigger issue. “If you thought that Trent Lott wasn’t a racist or wasn’t a prejudiced person, you’re just a fool. Everything in his political record points to that. The issue is not whether or not he’s racist — that’s obvious. The issue is that he got caught saying it. No one’s asking him to recant his beliefs, no one is shocked about what he said. I think people are shocked that he allowed himself to get caught. I think his apology is not for what he said, I think he’s apologizing because he realized he’s a fool for getting caught.
“That’s the illusion of politics,” Kweli continued, “that somehow [once] you put laws on the books, that people change. No, as you see, in private quarters, people are going to say what they want to say. I don’t know why people are shocked by it. I don’t know what it means for him to apologize, or for him to resign. Who are they going to put in there when he resigns? It’s going to be somebody with the same attitude, somebody who’s just smart enough to play the politics of it better.”
Calling for Lott to resign, Kweli said, doesn’t do much to destroy institutionalized racism, which can only be eliminated if people work on a grass-roots level.
“I would like to see more people get involved in community organizations and get involved in work that directly affects people’s lives,” he said, “instead of trying to put laws on the lawbooks. I would like to see more activism on that level. That’s where a Dr. King comes from. That’s where a Malcolm X comes from. That’s where the real power comes from.”
Republican senators will meet January 6 to decide on Lott’s future as majority leader.