The Elephant and the Race Card Email Print

Over the past week, there's been an uproar nationally and in this neck of the woods over an editorial that ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last weekend.

In the opinion piece, now being referred to as "The Asterisk Editorial", the Journal Sentinel editorial staff wrote that "In losing a woman, the court with Alito would feature seven white men, one white woman and a black man, who deserves an asterisk because he arguably does not represent the views of mainstream black America."

This comment has resulted in tremendously platitudinal backlash, with right-wing hypocrites throwing around terms like "thinly veiled Liberal racism" and recalling old strawman phrases like "acting white".  But such claims are intellectually dishonest in the context of this editorial, and come down to a simple strategy: The right-wing is playing the race card again.  And this time, like usual, they're laying a 2 of clubs and calling it an ace of hearts.


The National Leadership Network of Conservative African Americans issued this statement on the editorial:

The notion that there is a black way of thinking that is expressly liberal in nature is strongly denounced by Project 21 members.

"Agree or disagree with Justice Thomas -- his personal journey from poverty in Pinpoint, Georgia to academic achievement at Yale Law School to high-level service in several federal positions and on the nation's highest court -- is an admirable example of personal dedication and success, not an asterisk," said Project 21 member Deroy Murdock.

Let's see if their objection to the editorial holds water...

  1. An NBC/WSJ poll in October showed that only TWO PERCENT of blacks approved of the President's job performance.  This would seem to be a somewhat Liberal lean. Just slightly left of center.  What?!?  I'm just sayin...

  2. Recent SurveyUSA polling of blacks in Wisconsin and around the country shows that they are overwhelmingly Pro-Choice on the issue of abortion.  In fact, 86% of blacks polled in the state say that the government should stay out of regluating abortion.  62% of blacks in the state say that the government should stay out of regulating gay marriage, and another 14% say the states should make that decision.

  3. Recent SurveyUSA polling of blacks in WIsconsin shows that 80% believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction [AHEM, under entirely Conservative rule that primarily mirrors the beliefs of one Clarence Thomas].

Let's dissect the original statement a bit:  "[Clarence Thomas] arguably does not represent the views of mainstream black America."  

Arguably?  ARGUABLY?

With the facts in hand, I'll go one step farther: Clarence Thomas absolutely does not f**king represent the views of mainstream black America.  Clarence Thomas is so far from mainstream black America that he's not even in a dried up river bed compared to the main stream.

But perhaps the most offensive commentary of all is this blatantly over the top tripe from a local talk show host, who takes a downright orwellian stand against plain and simple facts in a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute article.

The New Plantation Mentality
By Charles Sykes

This week it became official: it is now acceptable to use racially-charged slurs against African-Americans . . . as long as they are conservative.
In other words, Clarence Thomas doesn't count as black, because he doesn't think or behave like a black person is supposed to -- a not-so-distance echo of the schoolyard jibe that a successful minority student was "acting white."
the message was the same: you cannot be both conservative and black. And any black who exercises independent thought and breaks with the left can be subjected to the crudest of racial slurs, stereotypes, and reductionism. The message: Deviate and we will turn on you.
Thus the dark side of diversity: group identity trumps individual identity. If you are a minority, you will be judged not by the content of your character, but by the color of your skin and your willingness to be "representative" of its dominant ideology. Under this logic, had the president appointed Janice Rogers Brown, she would not have counted either as a woman or a black, although she is both. Under the "asterisk" test, minorities only count if they stay on the liberal plantation.
The left's contempt for conservative minorities is, of course, not new. But it has seldom been stated so bluntly and openly and it comes at a time when the acceptable bigotry of the left is increasingly on display.

Racially-charged slurs?  Contempt?  Reductionism?  A Liberal Plantation?

All of these ad hominem attacks because the newspaper made a truthful, defensible statement: "[Clarence Thomas] arguably does not represent the views of mainstream black America."  

Truth is truth, regardless of how many race cards are laid on the table by right-wing hypocrites.

Making a statement that most blacks lean to the left on political issues is a "racially-charged slur"?  Implying that Clarence Thomas is to the right of most black Americans is "Reductionism"?

At its core, the original statement was an ideological one, and it continues to be a purely ideological debate.  

Right-wingers are not offended on this issue because of any real racism.  Rather, they are offended at receiving another reminder of just how badly their message has failed to resound in mainstream black America.  

And to a winger like Limbaugh or Hannity or Sykes or the writers of the WSJ Opinion Page, that's the biggest insult that could ever be thrown at a black man or woman:

"You, sir or ma'am, don't think like a Conservative."

Oh dear God the humanity.  Somebody call the thought police. Oh forget it - they are already all over this story.


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This is a fabulous entry.

The statement, "Clarence Thomas wears a black robe when he sits on the court," could be made. It isn't racist. It is a statement of fact.

The Albany Project. The best damned blog about New York State politics.

by NYBri on 11/05/2005 09:15:08 PM EST

Go rec it if you don't mind.

This really fires me up.  We can't let them get away with this kind of crap.

by ColdFusion04 on 11/05/2005 09:20:15 PM EST

Since the Wurlitzer tenders are desperately searching for crumbs, and the "Oreo defense" seems to be the chosen meme for the current election season, it's probably wise not to give them even small gauge ammunition.

It's not like they expect to actually pick up a single black vote with this crap.  They just want to accomplish:

  1. make Democrats fall over themselves apologizing

  2. feed the beloved myth among their own base that Democrats secretly hate blacks and blacks are too foolish to realize it

While they're certainly being disingenuous in their "outrage," it allows them to steer the argument.

by Devilstower on 11/05/2005 10:02:54 PM EST

The argument was steered very well by the original newspaper editorial.  But instead of addressing the argument on its ideological merits, it was sidetracked into race card land by the hapless local right-wing zealots - the very same who are so quick to accuse the left of employing race cards as a political tool.

I love the "Wurlitzer tenders" imegery by the way.

by ColdFusion04 on 11/05/2005 11:52:39 PM EST

HOT, ColdFusion!

2% of African-Americans don't think the "Conservative" Party speaks for them, either.

Thomas should NEVER have been confirmed. The man actually thinks that the Constitution declares that states are free to establish their "own" mandated religion.


Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle. FDR

by btyarbro on 11/05/2005 10:12:51 PM EST

First, put on a massive show of mock dignity, refusing to even listen to the charges against you.  Then lie, lie, and lie some more to make your positions look more mainstream.

After getting on the court, you can always come back and give a "gotcha" speech about how you fooled them all.

by Devilstower on 11/05/2005 10:47:53 PM EST

Vanguard thing . . .

Well, it's not a "lie" if you take it out of context, . . . or change the context, . . . or make up the context, . . . or "disappear" the context. . .

Google Republican "lies" and here's a sampling of sites:

Fact Check


Republicans Can Lie; Dems Can't

Republican Campaign Literature

Try it. It's fun, quick, satisfying, and non-fattening.

Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle. FDR

by btyarbro on 11/11/2005 12:54:39 PM EST

I think it is not wise for a "white newspaper" to introduce any question of Judge Thomas' "blackness" into a discussion of his views. I think we should attack Thomas' views for what they are, not because they don't represent "black views." While I think your analysis of why the right is attacking the paper is correct, I also think that the way the Journal-Sentinel framed the argument was quite clumsy.

"If you're not writing some legislator at least once a month, you're not doing your job."

by bankbane on 11/06/2005 07:39:21 AM EST

Seems to me that the "white newspaper" meme is what this is really all about.

 If I follow what you say correctly, you've somehow put a newspaper into the column of being "white". That only strengthens the stereotyping/pigeonholing.

The issue, as mentioned elsewhere in the comments, should be about whether Thomas' beliefs are representative of the majority of Americans, and more specifically, African-Americans. If you keep the arguments simple, the conservatives paint themselves into a corner. If they want to court the African-American voter, they have to show that they are making efforts to ensure those voters are represented. So they can't back away from Thomas as an African-American, the only male minority on the SCOTUS. But the conservatives want to say that race shouldn't be an issue.

On the other side of the fence, if they present Clarence Thomas as an example of an African-American represented on the Supreme Court, then they need to answer why his views are not representative of the majority of African-American voters. They can't back away from Thomas here either. He doesn't represent women (he disagrees with a majority of them). Is it racist/sexist to mention that? The race card is a red herring.

 The fact is plain: the argument itself is only racist if you apply a racist standard to it in the first place. The real issue is about an individual whose beliefs and opinions do not represent the majority of Americans, nor a subgroup of Americans. By stating that the opinion is any less valid because it comes from a "white newspaper" you fall into the trap of letting race become the issue, not Thomas' beliefs in and of themselves.

by lsoderman on 11/06/2005 05:52:31 PM EST

I think there is inherent danger in any formulation which implies that an individual should represent the views of an entire race. We would not think of placing that burden on any individual of European ancestry, nor do I think we would be very likely to do so for an Asian, a Latino or a Native American.

African Americans may have nearly unanimous views on George Bush's record or on some subset of issues, but not on the whole range of issues that a court must deal with. The asterisk formulation conflates race with acceptable ideas; I think that is a road we should avoid going down.

Judge Thomas' ideas are bad because his ideas are bad, they are not uniquely bad because of his race.

"If you're not writing some legislator at least once a month, you're not doing your job."

by bankbane on 11/07/2005 06:20:21 AM EST

it's pretty tricky.  The politics of nomination to the Supreme Court are what they are. When Uncle Clarence was nominated for the court, he was explicitly recommended as a "replacement" for Thurgood Marshall.  The subtext was that the views embodied by that eminent jurist would be represented --or at least understood -- by his replacement. (Boy, was that a crock.)

Harriet Miers was nominated as a "replacement" for Sandra Day O'Connor.  She was expected to get support as a woman, not as someone with a specific judicial philosophy.

The same will be true for the first Hispanic jurist:  political support will be galvanized by the hope of including previously excluded populations.

What progressive wants to be in the position of advocating continued exclusion of previously excluded folks?  

I'm with you, though.  We'd all be better off if we concentrated on pointing out exactly how women, Hispanics, A-As lose when regressive judicial philosophies are wrapped in the bodies of the excluded.

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there..."

by Tray on 11/07/2005 08:49:01 AM EST

You basically called him the house nigger, which is the same thing the "asterick" editorial did.

We will have a color blind society when people actually act that way.

Interesting that I posted this last week, and it isn't here now. It doesn't seem to be hidden by downrating, but simply deleted. If I've broken some language guidline, I'd like to know.

by roysol on 11/10/2005 12:45:07 PM EST


...the fact remains that, as mentioned above, Thomas was touted as being representative of a particular constituency.

Thomas' beliefs are the one ones that need to be challenged, but the fact remains that the "race" issue was initially brought up by those who wanted him on the bench in the first place.

I don't believe this is something that needs to be shied away from. Instead, I think it is a point that can be used to show the hypocrisy of those that want race to be a factor. They wanted it to be a factor when they nominated Thomas to the court. Now they want it to be a factor to use against those who question his beliefs. Int he first example, they were all for race as a reason for his nomination. In the latter, they say they race should not be an issue when examining his ideas, hoping that we'll all forget the arguments for bringing him on to the court. 

The hypocrisy is what needs to be attacked. Race should not be an issue. The hypocrisy lies in those who used race as a reason for Thomas to be appointed, despite Thomas' out-of-mainstream beliefs, who now want you to ignore those same arguments. 

They can't have it both ways, and we shouldn't let them.

by lsoderman on 11/07/2005 11:11:43 AM EST

This is a really important issue, for black folks, women, and Latinos.  The issue is this:  right-wing pundits want to say that Clarence Thomas both represents black folks (he is a black man on the court), and that he shouldn't have to (as a conservative).  Now if representing black folks is such a burden to him, or contrary to his beliefs, he's perfectly free not to.  But don't then turn around and complain when people properly note that his views are contrary to what most black folks think.  Seems to me he has to choose.  And whatever he chooses, that's okay with me.  My objection is that I don't want him pissing on my head and trying to convince me it's water. (Not a reference to his pre-Supreme Court extracurricular activities).

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there..."

by Tray on 11/06/2005 02:25:25 PM EST