Cohen Steps in it
WaPo columnist Richard Cohen earlier this week:
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.
Pardon? If the “conventional views” in question are such that one believes that persons of different races ought not marry because, well, they are from different races is that not the very definition of racism?
There is little doubt, by the way, that there are many citizens of the United States (of the white, older persuasion) who do, in fact have very negative reactions to interracial couples and biracial children and who long for a different era where politics and society were dominated by whites. However, such folks are driven not by “conventional views,” they are driven by some pretty deep seated racism that looks at a biracial couple and doesn’t see two human beings who are in love with one another, they see that one of the members of that couple has a different melanin content than the other. Deeming that color imbalance as a reason to “gag” over the couple is pretty high up on the “is this racist?” scorecard.
And I understand that Cohen is defining what he thinks others think on these matters. However, the paragraph ends up reading as if “repress[ing] a gag reflex” at the site of a biracial couple is “not racist.” This is a highly problematic formulation.
And to clarify: I do not think that the GOP or the Tea Party is, writ large, racist. However, I do think that a lot of racists and persons with racist views adhere to those groups. However, that isn’t really the issue here.
See also Ta-Neshi Coates: Richard Cohen in Context. The key graf:
The problem here isn’t that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn’t actually racist, but "conventional" or "culturally conservative." Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn’t racism, then there is no racism.
Of course, Cohen’s understanding of such matters in questionable, given that he wrote last week:
I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life. For instance, it was not George A. Custer who was attacked at the Little Bighorn. It was Custer — in a bad career move — who attacked the Indians. Much more important, slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.
You don’t say.
Paul Farhi at WaPo reports and comments on the controversy here: Controversy over Richard Cohen’s comments on the de Blasio family.