Off Color 

You du man, Steele ... not the man

Republicans want Harry Reid to give up his position of majority leader. They insist he made a racist comment during the campaign season, just as Trent Lott did a few years ago, and that he should follow Lott's lead and get lost.

Here, somewhat condensed, is what Reid said: Barack Obama has a good shot at winning the presidency because he is light-skinned and doesn't speak with a Negro dialect. He was stating the obvious: Obama is lighter-skinned than many African-Americans, he doesn't talk like what many white Americans have come to expect from stereotypical black characters straight from Central Casting of a century's worth of filmed entertainment, and as a result, he might appeal to enough white voters to win. There was no hint in the comment that there is something wrong with either darker-skinned blacks or sounding like Richard Pryor, and ultimately, the observation proved to be right.

Here, somewhat condensed, is what Trent Lott said: I voted for Strom here, and it's too bad he didn't win the presidency back in '48 because things would be a lot better now if he had. This was said at a gathering to celebrate Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday and referred to Thurmond's Dixiecrat presidential bid in which his principle issue was to preserve the practice of segregation. In 1948, Thurmond was one of the nation's most visible and virulent segregationists, adamant about maintaining the policy of keeping blacks separate from whites in every way possible--a policy which had resulted (by that time) in eight decades of illiteracy, poverty, humiliation, savage violence and numbing injustice for African-Americans, particularly in the South, and worst of all, in Mississippi. And Mississippian Trent Lott said in 2002 that things would have been better for America had Thurmond won.

See the difference?

Of course you do. That's because you have a brain tucked away somewhere between your ears.

The same cannot be said of far too many Republicans who are wailing that Reid's ill-wrought words, accurate as they may have been, are the moral equivalency of Lott's repulsive nostalgia for a Jim Crow South, now largely gone with the cleansing wind of civil-rights legislation and integration.

But we know this frumpery has nothing to do with GOP outrage over racism, don't we? As is widely recognized, the crocodile indignation with Reid's statement is nothing more than another attempt to distract Reid from his leadership tasks. Besides, I don't believe there is a lobe in the GOP brain that processes outrage over racism (unless it's to throw a tantrum because some white guy thinks he didn't get a job because a minority individual got it first).

Taking it further, I'm convinced that if there were such a thing as authentic, sincere GOP outrage over racism, there would be no GOP. It has long been my conviction that the modern Republican Party's very foundation is a gentrified version of white supremacy, and that the odium they feel for liberals is a direct result of the progress for all minorities that liberals have encouraged, facilitated and applauded, and that the right has resisted at every turn.

But wait! There's a flaw in Cope's reasoning, is there not, considering that just last spring, the Republicans went out and found themselves a black man to lead their party?

Ah yes ... Michael Steele. Michael "You Du Man!" Steele, as Michele Bachmann so preciously put it. And it's true; a black man leads the RNC. But does anyone honestly believe that Steele would have been elected to that top spot had Barack Obama not been elected president?

Yet there's a more insidious racism in Steele's election than the patronizing and desperate appeal to minority voters in the wake of a devastating loss, and it has to do with the nature of the man they chose as the phony big tent face of their pup tent party. Warning: The manner in which I intend to portray that nature will be offensive to many in that I will pull from that aforementioned century's worth of American entertainment for my metaphors. But since so few people would identify with names like Ralph Bunche, Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell and Edward Brooke--all prominent black leaders from days gone by--I feel it necessary. I am, after all, writing to a mostly white Idaho audience, and I know from experience that the black faces of show biz may be the only black faces many recognize.

Here's what I mean: with Obama, the Democrats gave us Denzel Washington; in response, with Steele, the Reps gave us Amos and Andy.

Pick your own stand-ins. Say ... Sidney Poitier, which the GOP answered with Stepin Fetchit. Maybe James Earl Jones, and the RNC brought in Redd Foxx.

You may fairly object to the caricatures I've invoked, but if you doubt their applicability, think back to the howl of protest from the Republican base when Steele went off the plantation last summer and implied his job wasn't to play Rochester to Boss Limbaugh's Jack Benny. It took him ... what? ... maybe a day to get back to his place. It has been his pattern since gaining the post: to occasionally speak his honest mind, then tap dance his way out of it when the audience gets ugly.

But to give Steele a break, his dodginess is probably inevitable within a GOP that is so uncomfortable with minorities that it periodically puts on a minstrel show, and calls it diversity.

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