When Racism Seems To Be Acceptable

It is the height of hypocrisy when we vigorously oppose racism in one form but don’t oppose it in all forms. But in our world, seemingly dominated as it is by political partisanship and personal self-interest, there is one time when it’s acceptable, when making racial comments is overlooked.  And that’s when you are attacking conservatives.

Being interviewed on the Today show on NBC this past week, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), an African-American US Senator, was asked by the host, Craig Melvin, if he was ‘a token’.

The NBC anchor, who is black, added, “Some have said that your party is using you, they’ve even thrown around the word ‘token,’ as well. Your response to that criticism?”

First, let’s just say it—what a sleazy question that was. For starters, Melvin provides no citation for the “token” allegation. The anchor actually asked a United States senator to respond to anonymous ‘them’. Of course, that’s become a lazy little industry secret:  ‘reporters’ often use the “some people say” formulation to level criticisms they generally agree with but do not want to say outright for fear of appearing biased. So, to maintain the appearance of objectivity, and to dodge being held responsible for stating their own controversial or biased thoughts, reporters often couch their questions in terms of a shadowy “they” who are saying something.

Imagine Craig Melvin in a different context. Imagine asking Rep. James Clyburn, also a black member of Congress from South Carolina but a liberal Democrat, if he was ‘a token’ because he was the Democratic Whip in Congress, the third highest leadership position in his party. Imagine if the anchor at NBC implied that he was just put into that high level position because she was just being used by the Democratic Party and was there only because of the color of his skin?  There would be widespread outrage!  Yet, there isn’t when the same question was posed to Sen. Scott.


But, Sen. Scott, rather than get mad, responded with the patience and calm demeanor that he is known for among his colleagues.

“Well, I am also the only person in my conference who has been racially profiled, driving while black,” the Senator said. “I’m the only one in my conference that’s been stopped seven times in one year as an elected official, perhaps the only one in my conference wearing this senate pin that was stopped from coming into the building.”

He added, “So if there’s someone in the conference who understands discrimination and profiling, it’s me. It’s the reason why I asked to lead this charge because it is a personal issue; it is the right issue. And frankly, I think it helps to have someone who has been a victim of this situation and who still has a tremendous respect for where our country can go together. So I shrug those comments and criticisms off. But you’ve got to know, when you’re a black Republican, you’re like a unicorn. People are going to criticize you when you wake up, when you go to sleep. If you say you like apple pie and football, there’s a lot of critics for that, too. So, God bless their souls.”

So why is it OK to ask a question like that of Sen. Scott but not of Congressman Clyburn? Because in their world, you can’t be qualified if you are a person of color and also a conservative. You can’t possibly be an intelligent, responsible public servant. You have to be someone who is a token, just for a photo op. As a matter of fact, you can’t even be a conservative at all if you are anything but an ‘Uncle Tom’. Just listen to Joe Biden recently, who said on the campaign trail that if you are black and vote Republican “you ain’t black”.

What arrogance!  What racism!  But yet it’s OK. Because it’s OK to treat conservatives different. Because you see, these people aren’t really against racism. They are only against racism by people they don’t like.

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