We are better than this
By Bennie Ivory, March 5, 2019 CE
News flash for Mark Meadows: If you are going to play the race card, own it. Don’t try to run away from it.
That’s exactly what the Republican congressman from North Carolina tried to do during the House’s Feb. 26 Michael Cohen hearing after trotting out a black woman in front of the cameras to defend President Donald Trump against charges of racism.
It was an obscenely insulting and surreal scene reminiscent of another place in time when slaves were put on display on the auction block for inspection — a scene devastatingly unbecoming the halls of Congress.
Curiously, the woman, Lynne Patton, stood silently as a smiling Meadows told committee members that she would never work for a racist. We can only assume that he was paraphrasing her sentiments because she didn’t utter a word. (For the record, Ms. Patton has worked for the Trump Organization and now works for the current administration as an official for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In an interview later, she backed up Meadows’ assertion that she was a big fan of Trump and his family. But by then, the damage had been done.)
Of course, this was done in the spirit of proving that Donald Trump isn’t racist. One single black woman versus a mounting body of incontrovertible evidence exposing Mr. Trump’s blatant racist behavior. The math doesn’t work.
When Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., called out Meadows on the tactic, the defiant lawmaker feigned righteous indignation and accused her of calling him a racist, which she didn’t.
News flash: Mr. Meadows, you don’t get to define what racism is and isn’t.
He then resorted to emotional blackmail by invoking his friendship with committee chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who is black. There was more. He went on to claim plausible deniability of his own racism by saying that some members of his own family are people of color — a fact he said not many people know.
Two more news flashes:
I’ve got cheese in my refrigerator, but I don’t like cheese.
You don’t get to define what racism is and isn’t.
Mr. Meadows, did it cross your mind that your ploy with Ms. Patton might at least be inappropriate and rub some people the wrong way? Did you ask Ms. Patton or one of your black friends or your family members of color?
And Mr. Meadows, did you consider what you were doing when you bought into the birther movement that questioned the citizenship and legitimacy of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president? Did you not think that spurious or fake claim might raise its racist head one day? No righteous indignation here, please. It’s on videotape.
Then again, maybe you weren’t feigning righteous indignation at all. Perhaps you really thought you had done nothing wrong and that you indeed had become the victim. Which would make your actions even more egregious. And truly sad in 2019.
If so, you would fall into the ranks of too many Americans who don’t understand the complexities of race and racism. Too many people think a racist is someone who goes around casually spewing the N-word and hiding under white robes and pointy hoods.
For sure, that’s one category of racism. But racism also can be subtle, so subtle that you don’t recognize it even when it’s in plain sight. Or maybe never. It can reside in board rooms and in much, much higher places.
But regardless of the form it takes, there is no place in society for racism on any level. Certainly not in Congress and the highest office in the land.
As Congressman Cummings said at the end of the Cohen hearing, we are better than this.
Yes, we are, but it’s hard to tell some days.
Bennie Ivory is a Hot Springs native. He also is a founder of USA TODAY and, most recently, the retired executive editor and vice president of the Louisville Courier-Journal. He started his career at The Sentinel-Record.
Photograph of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, center, ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, talking with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, left, and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, right, during testimony by Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 (AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).