When I wore the clothes of a younger man and listened to country and western music, I liked the songs that conveyed lessons for living life. Kenny Rogers', The Gambler, was such a song. The reframe contains these haunting words:

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

I always liked his admonition not to count your money while you are at the table gambling, and it seemed to me a matter of good card etiquette. I didn't really pay much attention to the lines about knowing when to hold them and when to fold them-until just recently when the voters in Alabama voted to continue the use of racist language in their state constitution.

In a classic case of the states rights vs. the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, Alabama has long fought to maintain some semblance of their racist past. One would have thought that they would have gotten the message after the Civil War that slavery and segregation are a part of the past. However, Reconstruction resulted in the establishment of apartheid in the South with all the atrocities associated with apartheid in South Africa. As with South Africa, Alabama included in its constitution apartheid language.

A century after the Civil War, Alabama was again invaded by the federal government. This time, it was to force Governor Wallace from the schoolhouse door of the University of Alabama. In 1963, blacks couldn't attend a state university. Finally, George moved away from the door and, to his credit, away from much of his blatant racist past.

However, Alabama's state constitution still contains the language of apartheid, segregation, and Jim Crow. It even includes the right to charge blacks a "poll tax". The poll tax was designed to keep blacks from voting by charging them money to vote. Recently, when an effort was made to expunge those despicable references to a shameful time past, there was a major skirmish between those who wanted to delete the language and those that wanted to keep the language in the state constitution.

No one would be surprised that the Klan fought to continue to use of this segregationist language, but many upstanding Christians and their churches were also supporters of keeping the linguistic status quo. With Bibles in hand and hypocrisy on their lips, they bore witness to their nation and Christ.

As Kenny Rogers reminds us: "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em..." The time has come to recognize the reality that the days of slavery, segregation, and second-class citizenship for blacks and other minorities is dead-even in the heart of Dixie. It was morally wrong when we brought the first slaves to these shores. We all have paid dearly for that gross mistake. We need to rectify it and lay that legacy to its shameful rest once and for all. It is time that Alabama, the South, and the rest of the nation end racism. The time has come to know when to hold our cards and get out of the game of racism.

While I have some very serious reservations about our attitude of Manifest Destiny in the world and especially in the Middle East, I sure hope that we are exporting the true version of liberty, freedom, and the American way to those we are allegedly freeing from oppression. The world doesn't need us to export to them our sinful experiment with discrimination and hypocrisy.

A final note to the Arab and Muslim world: America isn't perfect. We make and remake many of the same mistakes over and over again. We are a rich country-rich in things and rich sometimes in hubris-thinking that we are better than everyone else. The state of Alabama narrowly voted down an amendment to purge apartheid language from its constitution. Nearly 1.4 million people voted in that referendum with approximately half of the voters for amending the constitution and the others for not.

Even though the attempt to amend the constitution narrowly lost, 700,000 Alabamians that voted to strike the offensive language from their constitution. It should be noted that in 1960 there were only 53,000 black voters in the entire state. Today, there are some 537,000. Simple logic would indicate that most of those in favor of the amendment where probably black. Nevertheless, simple math would indicate that there were many whites voted to clean up the racist language of the constitution. Those whites have taken Kenny Rogers' advice about knowing "when to fold 'em..." To the other half of the state, the days of Jim Crow are gone forever. Get over it. Deal with it, and move on.

This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 1/7/05.