Megyn Kelly finally asked the race question, more than halfway through Thursday night’s Republican debate.
Many in the Black Lives Matter movement, and beyond, believe that overly-aggressive police officers targeting young African Americans is the civil rights issue of our time. Do you agree? And if so, how do you plan to address it? And if not, why not?
It was a softball question for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. In Ohio, of all places. Kelly could have asked about the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice by a policeman in Cleveland last November. Or John Crawford, shot by police in Beaver Creek, a year and a day before the debate. Or Samuel DuBose, shot at a traffic stop for a missing front license plate in Cincinnati, just three weeks prior.
Not surprisingly, Walker punted. It’s about “training,”, he said, casually mentioning his black “friend”, NRA darling David Clarke, the sheriff of Milwaukee County, who once accused the county executive, Chris Abele, of having “penis envy” and being on heroin when he crafted the county budget. Walker continued:
It’s about making sure that law enforcement professionals, not only on the way into their positions, but all the way through their time, have the proper training, particularly when it comes to the use of force. And that we protect and stand up and support those men and women who are doing their jobs in law enforcement. And for the very few that don’t, that there are consequences to show that we treat everyone the same here in America.
Not bad. But it’s not as if Wisconsin treats everyone “the same.” According to The Root, Wisconsin has the honor of being among the five “worst states for black people.” The state incarcerates black people at the highest rate in the country — 13 percent. Of its treatment of black men, 49 percent under 30 have been incarcerated, largely because of mandatory minimum-sentencing drug laws.
So much for the Republican discourse on race – about half a minute of airtime. Ironically, immediately after Walker’s response, a commercial ran for the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton”, a film about the rap group who wrote the song “F-ck Tha Police” in response to police brutality and racial profiling.
Well, in fairness, Kelly did come back to the race issue, in a question to the lone African American Republican candidate, neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson:
One of the issues that the public was very interested in, and we touched on it earlier, is race relations in this country, and how divided we seem right now. What, if anything, you can do, you would do as the next president to help heal that divide.
Carson gave the standard Republican response:
You know, we have the purveyors of hatred who take every single incident between people of two races and try to make a race war out of it and drive wedges into people. And this does not need to be done.
You see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are.
Now, I’m no neurosurgeon, but I couldn’t agree more. We Americans, we human beings, are truly one and the same. But the wedge does not come from talking about race. The problem, pure and simple, is racism itself.
The good news is that for the first time, maybe ever, a majority of Americans are in agreement. Last week, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that 59 percent of Americans agree that “Our country needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites.” Just last March, that number was only 46 percent. Among whites alone, 53 percent agreed, up from 39 percent.
Interestingly, when looking at the Pew results, there is little difference by age or education. Nearly 80 percent of blacks agree. However, among Republicans, 69 percent agree with the statement that the U.S. “has made [the] necessary changes” for equal rights — truly amazing, given events over the past year.
To paraphrase a poignant piece last June in the Daily Beast, conservatives “hate talking about race.” Not only is racial injustice not part of the narrative of self-reliance, the “self-made” man, and color-blind opportunity, ignoring race matters, or its more sinister companion, dog-whistle politics, has served Republicans well. It served Ronald Reagan, who talked about “young bucks” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks and “Cadillac-driving” welfare queens. It certainly served Richard Nixon, who appealed to the “silent majority” fed up with race riots and minority claims to entitlements, an integral part of his “Southern strategy.”
But, thankfully, America has changed. After Ferguson, after Baltimore, and certainly, after Charleston, a majority of Americans has awoken to the reality that, indeed, we have a race problem.
After last Thursday’s circus – and the near total silence on the race issue – it is hard to imagine Republicans retaking the White House. However, that will be for voters to decide.