I don’t even know where to start. You may have heard a lot of us lefty smartasses talking about Richard Cohen today. Is it as bad as we make it sound? It’s worse. Trust me, it’s plenty worse. This happened in the Washington Post yesterday. I’ve read the whole column, so I see the guilty passage in context. It’s still bad:
Iowa not only is a serious obstacle for Christie and other Republican moderates, it also suggests something more ominous: the Dixiecrats of old. Officially the States’ Rights Democratic Party, they were breakaway Democrats whose primary issue was racial segregation. In its cause, they ran their own presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond, and almost cost Harry Truman the 1948 election. They didn’t care. Their objective was not to win — although that would have been nice — but to retain institutional, legal racism. They saw a way of life under attack and they feared its loss. Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
This is part of a column that’s all about explaining why Gov. Chris Christie isn’t a strong GOP candidate for the next President. Mr. Cohen wants to tell us what kind of shape the current GOP is in, and what kind of candidates it wants. It could have been a straightforward, unproblematic piece of writing, except for the part where he says something about people gagging at the sight of a white man married to a black woman and having two biracial kids. This is tied to a “not racist, BUT…” description of the Tea Party. So, shit rained down on Cohen’s head, and he went running to the Huffington Post to insist that we’re being unfair to him.
“The word racist is truly hurtful,” he told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “It’s not who I am. It’s not who I ever was. It’s just not fair. It’s just not right.”
And those views are not held by the entire Tea Party. “I don’t think everybody in the Tea Party is like that, because I know there are blacks in the Tea Party,” he said. “So they’re not all racist, unless I’m going to start doing mind reading about why those black people are there.”
Dude, please stop hitting yourself.
He added, “Look, maybe the word was inappropriate or maybe I could have used a different word. But you’re talking to somebody who has written, I don’t know, 100 columns in favor of homosexual rights, many columns in favor of same sex marriage.”
That…doesn’t answer the question here.
Cohen has been criticized for his comments on race in the past. When asked why he thought it was that he keeps getting caught up in racially charged arguments, he said that it’s because people view him as a liberal and find some of his positions unconventional. “Every once in a while I take an unconventional stance as a liberal — as someone who has always been called a liberal,” he said. “If someone on the right wrote this, no one would care. No one would make a big deal about it but because I veer every once in awhile from orthodoxy, or maybe more than once in awhile, I get plastered this way.”
Maybe you keep getting plastered because you keep saying callous, hurtful shit? Is it the case that many Americans still think white folks and black folks shouldn’t get married and have families together? Sure, of course it’s still the case. Are people who think that way racist? Why, yes, indeed they are. There’s a lot more to undoing racism than acceptance of interracial marriage, BUT, a society that doesn’t accept biracial families is a society that is full of racism. There’s no way around it. And…Cohen’s original column didn’t acknowledge that. It was a really stupid move to include a “not racist, BUT” clause in the same paragraph as a statement that people with “conventional” views find Bill de Blasio’s family gag-worthy. Also, nota bene: if someone is “deeply troubled” about immigration in America, they’re almost certainly full of racism. They’re not frothing over people from Australia or Sweden taking our jobs, is all I’m saying. It was a stupid move to use a “not racist, BUT” clause anywhere, to tell the truth. If you find yourself writing those words, that’s when you need to start the sentence over from scratch. Where he gets really…special, is where after he writes something hurtful, his reaction to the pushback is all about his feelings, his intentions, his reputation. Why not take a moment to think about how Bill de Blasio’s kids feel about knowing that some people think their very existence is gag-worthy? Why not think about how interracial married couples, and biracial people, might feel about seeing such language casually tossed around in a column that simultaneously seeks to minimize that bigotry as people being “deeply troubled” about the acceptance of what was once “avant-garde”? I don’t see anything in his HuffPo interview that shows any concern for the experiences of the people who were insulted by his writing. It’s so very “hurtful” for people to call Richard Cohen racist, but people in mixed-race families apparently have no hurt feelings at all.