The title of this article has a pretty obvious double meaning. In the “good old days” that some of the GOP still lives in, it was considered a source of entertainment to have white people paint their faces black and say ridiculously racist things while “impersonating” black people, or, more accurately, a racist’s idea of a black person. Less well-known is that, eventually, black performers also performed in black face, severely darkening their features and performing in humiliating minstrel shows so people could pretend to be enlightened (“look, it’s a black guy doing it…that means it can’t be racist!”) while really just giving a better cover.
All of that more or less explains how I feel about the new crop of black conservatives the GOP has trotted out to make themselves look less racist. The overall feeling being that it looks a hell of a lot better for Arthur Davis to criticize Obama, than for, say, a giant fucking redneck like Hank Williams Jr. to call him a Muslim. The fact that nearly ever Republican on that convention stage was a white guy over the age of 60 (or one like Paul Ryan, who’s 42 going on 82) only underscored how desperately Republicans needed some diversity, any diversity to be on that stage with them, helping throw slanderous attacks at our first black president.
To start with, there’s Arthur Davis, who’s more or less the definition of the sleazy opportunism most people hate about politics. For those that don’t know, Davis is actually from Alabama. He’s a former Democratic congressman from the state and one of the absolute first people to publicly endorse Barack Obama for president in the primary against Hillary Clinton. He wasn’t just on the Obama train because he was a Democrat and Obama was the nominee. He endorsed him with open arms and a big kiss before almost anyone else in the Democratic Party did, eventually becoming a big part of his campaign’s organization in the South. And, oh yeah, besides being a Democratic congressman, proud member of the party, and personally helping Obama triumph in that primary, Davis also ran for Governor of Alabama as recently as 2010…as a Democrat.
That’s right, a Republican now at the Republican National Convention dissing Obama wanted to be the Alabama Democratic Party’s nominee for Governor only T-W-O years ago. This isn’t a man losing a race, doing some soul searching for a decade, and eventually deciding the party has just shifted too much for him to continue in it. [Many Southern politicians have switched from conservative Dixiecrats to Republicans over the last forty years.] No, this is a man who lost a race hoping to be the most prominent Democrat in Alabama, promptly moved to Virginia, and almost immediately switched to the other side…a side he thinks he can win on easier. After all, a black Republican in Virginia probably has an easier road to the governor’s mansion than a black Democrat in Alabama.
Almost nothing about Davis (who I have actually met a couple times…always feeling he’d pretty much tell you anything if it’s what you wanted to hear) that was true two years ago is true today. He was an Obama supporter but now he’s touring the country (getting paid all the way) to denounce him in favor of Romney. He was an Alabama congressmen for years but now he’s hoping to build a political future in Virginia (a politician switching parties is rare, switching states is extremely rare). And he was not only a Democrat a mere two years ago, but campaigning for Governor…campaigning for ideas and platforms then that he’s campaigning against now. Sounds like the perfect Romney surrogate to me!
But why would we believe a word coming out of this man’s mouth? If nothing about him was true then, why is it true now? How is this not just another paid gig for a political gun for hire? And how can we really be moved by Mia Love (the black female Republican congressional candidate for Utah’s only Democrat-represented district) either?
Especially considering she’s quite the attractive candidate, literally and figuratively, for not only a party trying to subdue accusations of racism (from horribly disproportionate voter ID laws to unruly factions within its own party determined to “out” Obama as an illegal immigrant, a two-for-one hatred special), but a state that’s had more than its fair share of bigotry. [Utah is overwhelmingly Mormon, a religion that didn’t officially reverse its ban on black members until 1978…thinking dark skin was a “curse from God” until that time, and more than a few members still thinking that.]
It’s very telling that Mia Love’s speech at the convention was a rousing bullwinder about how much Obama sucks and how awesome Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are. She listed both as examples of personal heroes for her, an extremely vague nod to Civil Rights (never actually mentioned) that seems curious given her disdain for the first black president in a majority white nation, more or less the ultimate Civil Rights figure.
By “celebrating” Civil Rights figures from fifty years ago——long after they’ve stopped being controversial anywhere but Mississippi and Alabama, where I had teachers that called them “troublemakers,” and called MLK Day “Robert E. Lee Day,” no kidding——in a speech crusading against the biggest one this year, isn’t she really just posing? Would she have really even been a part of the Civil Rights movement back then, or would she (like Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain) have refused to participate in it? Letting others march for her rights while she refused to stick her neck out, playing the safe conservative while those “radical liberals” (she’s now criticizing today…even as they want the same things the Civil Rights struggle did back then) won the battle.
It seems to me that a black conservative (from Michael Steele to Clarence Thomas to Herman Cain) is really just somebody who specializes in telling white conservatives what they want to hear. “Racism doesn’t hold people back anymore,” “black people are only suffering because Obama is President and has ruined the economy,” and “the President is the one stirring up hate and divisiveness,” not the hateful, divisive rhetoric of the Birthers and Tea Partiers in the media and congress.
In other words, it may be what white conservatives want to hear, but it has little basis in the actual lives of black Americans. It’s so spectacularly misrepresenting the truth about the black experience in America (yes, even today’s America, although I don’t hear them talking much about past horrors either…can’t have that, they have to present race equality as a battle that’s been won fully, and not rub conservative’s noses in the fact that they were on the wrong side back then) that, to me, they might as well be saying it while wearing a darker shade of makeup.