Slavery is one of the worst crimes that we can commit against one another. No country is free of its stain. In the United States, its legacy still haunts African Americans and stands as a wedge between Blacks and Whites. Lingering social inequalities mean that when conversations about slavery occur, language must be carefully chosen so that African Americans are not further demeaned and their experiences are not appropriated.
Apparently, Harry Reid missed this important memo when he made a very insensitive comparison regarding the failure of Republicans to support the health care bill.
“Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is, ’slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.’ If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right,” Reid said. “When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said ’slow down, it’s too early, things aren’t bad enough.’”
Is it really the place of a man who continues to benefit from the crime of slavery to decide that this is an accurate analogy to make? Reid clearly wants Republicans to be aware of the selfish privilege that is the basis of their resistance to universal health care, but obviously the standard of caring about marginalized people does not apply to fauxgressive White liberal Democrats. Whatever point Reid was trying to make was lost in the offensive words he used trying to shame Republicans.
However, Reid did accomplish a feat that is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest: he made Michael Steele acknowledge racism.
In an interview on MSNBC Michael Steele responded with following commentary regarding Harry Reid’s statement:
“I still say Harry Reid is out of touch, he’s clueless. And he can’t help himself. I don’t think he should be in the leadership, responsible role right now. I don’t think if you’re going into something as important as the debate on health care, that you have to reach back into one of the darkest parts of our nation’s history and to belittle that time and that experience for generations of African Americans, uh, to put it in comparison to a political dispute on health care. To me, it’s just plain ignorant”.
One could certainly argue that this sudden awareness on the part of Steele is related to the fact that this was an example of racism on the part of the Democratic Party, since he has a history of declaring actions by the Republican Party or their talking heads as not racist. This disconnect has manifested itself repeatedly in the response of African Americans to his commentary and actions, most notably in the #BlackerthanMichaelSteele hashtag that appeared on twitter. One could say that this is the first time that Michael Steele has been on the right side of Blackness. Before responding to Reid, apologizing to White men seemed to be what Steele did best.
So upsetting was Reid’s commentary, that he actually made Senator John McCain look progressive. According to the “Christian Science Monitor” McCain commented:
“I would very much appreciate it if Senator Reid would come to the floor and, if not apologize, certainly clarify his remarks that he was not referring to those of us who we believe are carrying out our constitutional duties and that is in acting in the best interests of our constituents on an issue that will impact the United States of America for years, and years, and years,”
This from a man who voted “no” when the issue was raised of creating a holiday in honour of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1983. In 2000, McCain approved of South Carolina flying the confederate flag on state buildings, and defended his position by employing states’ rights. The states’ rights mantra has been used by Republicans for decades to pander to its racist right wing fringe. If you were searching to find an image of a racially sensitive person, Senator John McCain would not be first on any list, despite the fact that he loves to trot out his adopted daughter for photo ops.
It’s enough to make one wonder if the world is off its axis, because men like McCain and Steele are making anti-racist commentary. Never did I think that I would see the day when I would nod my head in agreement while reading an article in “The Christian Science Monitor.”
The problem with White liberals is that they are often unable to see the ways in which they support institutional racism as they wave around their liberal credential cards. If they took the time to actually listen to people of color, they would realize that fighting prejudice begins with confronting it in yourself. Racism is not just something other people participate in, it is something that we all create and maintain daily through individual action.
Health care should be a universal human right. When a country as poor as Cub can insure that all of its citizens receive medical care, the resistance of Republicans to this bill amounts to a disregard for the sanctity of human life. The Republicans must be shamed into caring for others, but to invoke something as emotionally scarring as slavery is to appropriate the pain of African Americans who are the descendants of slaves.
Reid’s refusal to apologize places his desire to save face over and above the feelings of African Americans. Playing political games instead of honouring human dignity is exactly what the Republicans are doing by refusing to support health care. If Democrats are ever going to usher in an era of real and lasting change, they need to lead by example rather than supporting a hierarchy of oppression through deed and thought.