Yes, you. The one reading these words right now. You.
What’s that you say? No, you’re not a racist?
That’s the situation the Tea Partiers find themselves in this week, after claims that during the Obamacare protests on Capitol Hill last weekend, African-American congressmen were subjected to… well, here’s how William Douglas of McClatchy Newspapers described it.
WARNING: RACIAL EPITHET AHEAD, AS IT APPEARED IN THE NEWSPAPER:
Demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol , angry over the proposed health care bill, shouted “nigger” Saturday at U.S. Rep. John Lewis , a Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who was nearly beaten to death during an Alabama march in the 1960s…
“They were shouting, sort of harassing,” Lewis said. “But, it’s okay, I’ve faced this before. It reminded me of the 60s. It was a lot of downright hate and anger and people being downright mean.”
Lewis said he was leaving the Cannon office building across from the Capitol when protesters shouted “Kill the bill, kill the bill,” Lewis said.
“I said ‘I’m for the bill, I support the bill, I’m voting for the bill’,” Lewis said.
A colleague who was accompanying Lewis said people in the crowd responded by saying “Kill the bill, then the n-word.”
Did you catch that last part? As Jack Cashill at the American Thinker points out, there’s some sleight of hand going on here. Lewis himself isn’t quoted as saying he heard it. The “n-word” claim is attributed to an unnamed colleague. Who? Apparently it doesn’t matter who.
Somehow this is turned into the headline, “Tea party protesters use racial epithet against Georgia’s John Lewis.” Not “Georgia’s John Lewis claims” or “Colleague of Georgia’s John Lewis alleges.” No, they make a direct statement of fact that is, based on the story itself, tenuous at best. Some guy who was with Lewis claims he heard somebody yell something. So hey, it must have happened the way he said it did, right? Why even try to verify it? Everybody knows those Tea Party guys are racists.
And we’re not supposed to pay attention to the video clips of the event that have surfaced:
Do you hear what you’re supposed to be hearing? Me neither. I hear “Kill the bill” and that’s it. But it doesn’t matter, see, because the awful horrible rednecky racism could’ve happened before or after what’s shown here. You’d think that, with such a big crowd in the year 2010, somebody must have recorded such a thing. But no. Not that it matters anyway. The accused, whoever he is, must prove his innocence.
Is it possible that in a crowd of thousands of people, one guy said something awful? Of course it’s possible. But just because a thing is possible does not make it true. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Or, in this case, any at all.
Of course, I’m only saying this because I’m a racist, and so are you for reading it and failing to condemn me publicly and with sufficient passion. That’s how this works.
John Lewis is a genuine civil rights hero, there’s no doubt about that. But if he wants everyone to accept his word without question, or the word of his unnamed colleague, he should’ve thought about that before he became a congressman.
For further discussion:
Our own Alex Pappas
Reason‘s Michael Moynihan
And of course: Keith Olbermann