Richard Cohen says that his latest piece was not intended to be and shouldn’t be read as racist.
“The word racist is truly hurtful,” he told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “It’s not who I am. It’s not who I ever was. It’s just not fair. It’s just not right.”
The Washington Post columnist came under fire on Tuesday for writing that “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.” He insisted that he was expressing the views of some people within the Tea Party and not his own.
“I didn’t write one line, I wrote a column,” Cohen said. “The column is about Tea Party extremism and I was not expressing my views, I was expressing the views of what I think some people in the Tea Party held.”
I’ve been chewing his latest nonsense over and over in my head the last couple of days, and if he’d just come out and said, “the marriage of a black woman and white man, or a white woman and a black man, and the children of such couples, freaks me out to a degree unbecoming of an adult in the 21st century” he would have come in for rage and ridicule and rightly so. He would have been held up as a relic of a time when the public face of America was much more homogenous than it is, and he would have been seen as the gasp of a dying era.
But that would have been far less damaging than what he did say. One more time:
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.
He’s validating the driving force of the GOP and the Tea Party, which is the resentment over change including, yes, demographic shifts in racial attitudes and to some degree in power. He equated what is, actually, racism and bigotry to simple fear of progress and then made it seem that that fear of progress was somehow reasonable. He used his immense platform in the pages of the Washington Post not to tell people who can’t keep up to get the fuck out of the way, but to empathize with them, with these beleaguered Everymen so beset on all sides with frightening new ideas.
He could just as easily have written, “Cultural conservatives who don’t like what they see around them need to grow the fuck up, because the world doesn’t move backwards, and it’s going to keep changing regardless of how loudly they scream about traditional values and all the other horseshit they like to yodel over their pancakes.” Instead of talking about their resistance to change as a fault, instead of taking apart the status quo that freezes everyone in place, instead of unfolding the way an entrenched power structure protects itself, he acts like life is happening to them, and they’re well within their rights to be freaked out about it.
Never mind that beneath the “conventional people’s” freakout, things are getting tremendously better for large numbers of what Cohen so charmingly calls the “avant garde,” who can marry each other and get health care they need and see themselves reflected in the larger culture for the first time, not to mention NOT BEING DRAGGED OFF TO JAIL FOR EXISTING. It’s the freakout of the put-upon white man Cohen writes about, and it’s that freakout he tries to make understandable, because it’s just so hard for these poor people. These conventional people. It’s just so difficult for them to open their eyes and look at the world every day.
As a conventional middle class white girl married to a conventional middle class white dude, I resent the living hell out of being told that people raised the way I was, who look like I do, get to sit back and be shit-stupid scared of the world around us and that that fear is somehow normal. I resent my major so-called liberal media telling me I can take comfort in how awful I am, because it’s the change taking place around me that’s the problem, not me. I resent not being challenged, not being pushed, not being told to look harder and love more and draw the circle of people I care about wider and wider every day as the place I live does the same.
How does excusing me from my human responsibility help me in anyway? How does it help anyone else? Newsprint is not unlimited these days and Cohen is using up ink to tell us that the problem is what the world looks like to fraidy-cats, instead of telling us to be less scared, to get over ourselves, to get with the goddamn program.