The condescending racism of (some) white liberals

David Cohen Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of the Interior
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No decent person believes that the color of your skin should limit what you’re allowed to achieve or what you’re allowed to earn. So why do some liberals believe that the color of your skin should limit what you’re allowed to think? When people of color refuse to think the way they’re “supposed to” think, when they follow their conscience to conservatism, do they forfeit their right to be treated with dignity and respect? The obvious moral answer is “no,” but some liberals don’t seem to get that. And it is particularly troubling when white liberals attempt to enforce racial groupthink in communities that are not their own.

The GOP convention featured a long and impressive list of minority elected officials. That won’t stop the large majority of African-American and Hispanic voters from supporting President Obama this year. As a conservative, I understand and respect that; historical voting patterns will not reverse course overnight. The case for conservatism in minority communities is an ongoing conversation that will continue for years.

Some white liberals insist on barging in on that conversation without showing the proper respect. “I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010. “Do I need to say more?” No, Harry, you don’t need to say more. Your clueless paternalism says it all.

At the GOP convention, Senator Marco Rubio spoke movingly about his working class parents. “A few years ago during a speech, I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar at the back of the ballroom,” recalled Rubio. “I remembered my father who had worked for many years as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not the life he wanted for us. He stood behind a bar in the back of the room all those years, so one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room.” New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a former Democrat, spoke just as movingly about her humble origins — and how she eventually came to realize that the Republicans, not the Democrats, were the party of opportunity for families like hers.

The majority of Hispanics currently vote Democrat, and that’s fine. But who on earth is Harry Reid to disrespect the choices made by people like Rubio and Martinez? Reid has no idea how patronizing it is to tell Hispanics that their political thinking must be determined by their skin color and surname.

It is not my intention to make “white liberal” a pejorative. I myself used to be a half-white liberal — just as white, and probably just as liberal, as President Obama. While I’m no longer liberal, I know that many white liberals are extraordinarily decent people — especially those with the humility to recognize that their ideology does not hold a monopoly on decency, those with the maturity not to demonize people for thinking differently than they do.

During the convention, several white liberal reporters seized the opportunity to anoint themselves as guardians of racial correctness. With Hurricane Isaac bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Yahoo News’ Washington bureau chief David Chalian proclaimed that the Romneys “were happy to have a party with black people drowning.” (He was fired, presumably for voicing what other reporters were thinking.) MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell accused Sen. Mitch McConnell of racism for joking about the frequency of President Obama’s golf outings. Tiger Woods is half black, you see. O’Donnell’s colleague, Chris Matthews, implied that GOP Chairman Reince Priebus was racist for allegedly “foreignizing” President Obama — by likening his policies to those pursued in Europe. You see, “Europe” equals “foreign” equals “the other” equals “black.” In the fevered incoherence of Matthews’ brain, the dots are all connected.

Perhaps these reporters believe that their excessive racial sensitivity will absolve them of the shame they seem to feel about their excessive whiteness. But in their desperation to show that they’re in tune with “black folk,” they succeed only in showing that they’re out of tune with reality. They remind me of those white Democratic politicians — most recently Joe Biden — who think their impeccable liberal credentials give them license to lace their speeches with what they think is “black dialect.” But what’s even more condescending is when people like Reid presume that their liberalism gives them the moral authority to judge who is and is not a “real” Hispanic, black, etc. These folks would do well to heed the advice of my distant Samoan relative, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: Know your role.

Harry Reid may not grasp this, but there are plenty of excellent reasons for a person of color (or any other American) to support Gov. Romney. Here’s a short list: Because minorities have been devastated more than anyone else by the president’s jobs-killing policies. Because many of us have parents who left their homelands in search of the American dream, not the European welfare state. Because if we don’t get control of our debt, our government will lose the ability to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Because reforms implemented by Republican governors across the country have created jobs and turned deficits into surpluses without raising taxes. Because poor children across America are being robbed of a decent education — and hence a chance to escape poverty — because of the corrupt alliance between Democrats and the teachers unions. Because notwithstanding the dishonest attacks on Romney’s character, those who actually know Romney can personally attest to his extraordinary compassion, generosity, and kindness, and his outstanding record of nurturing the careers of women and minorities.

Not everyone will agree with these statements. I respect that. But what I don’t respect is the notion that these views are somehow beyond the pale, that minorities who hold these views are somehow traitors to their communities. What I don’t respect is that African-American Congressional candidate Mia Love is called a “House N—–” and a “dirty, worthless whore” because she holds these views. The fact is that we hold these views because we care about our communities. If you disagree with us, then let’s debate it — but keep in mind that name-calling is not a substitute for logical argument.

Condoleezza Rice is another person who has suffered unspeakable abuse for daring to think independently. She reflected on her background during her address to the convention: “A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the segregated city of the South where her parents cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants. But they have convinced her that even if she cannot have a hamburger at Woolworth’s, she can be the president of the United States if she wanted to be — and she becomes the Secretary of State.” Dr. Rice overcame the brutality of segregation and achieved remarkable success — only to be called “Aunt Jemima” and countless other slurs by some white liberals in the media.

During her speech, Rice called educational reform “the civil rights issue of our day.” How’s this for another civil rights issue of our day: People of color should be entitled to the same diversity of thought, the same right of skepticism, the same intellectual independence, that others enjoy. I have a dream.

David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.