In today's "hmm, that's racist," news, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen published an op-ed about Chris Christie and the Tea Partiers who don't think he's conservative enough to win 2016. Fine on its own, of course, but things got a little weird when he brought up new mayor-elect of New York, Bill de Blasio, and his interracial marriage. From the post:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
Huh. Wait. Did Cohen just suggest that..."conventional" Republicans have to "repress a gag reflex" when they see interracial marriages? And then proceeded to bring up the sexual orientation of Bill de Blasio's wife, as if to condemn their union further? What?
Truth be told, it's hard to tell where Cohen's stance on interracial marriage lies: On one hand, it seems like he's just generalizing the views of some non-conventional, definitely racist conservatives, but on the other, it almost seems like he's trying to avoid talking about how he, the author feels—which, in a way, is problematic on its own. It also doesn't change the fact that, even if he is generalizing views, it's an offensive generalization to make because it only represents a very small, very racist portion of Americans—definitely not those with "conventional" views.
It doesn't help that the "liberal" Cohen has a history of writing kind of problematic stuff, as indicated in by this column on 12 Years a Slave from just last week:
I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life. For instance, [...] slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.
In what world could Cohen have possibly grown up learning that slavery was a "benign institution"? How?
It's worth noting that Cohen has already spoken out about the major criticisms his Christie column has been receiving, and according to The Huffington Post, denied it's racist—saying that he was expressing the views of "some people" in the Tea Party, not his own.
"The word racist is truly hurtful...It's not who I am. It's not who I ever was. It's just not fair. It's just not right," Cohen said. "I didn't write one line, I wrote a column," Cohen said. "The column is about Tea Party extremism and I was not expressing my views, I was expressing the views of what I think some people in the Tea Party held...I don't think everybody in the Tea Party is like that, because I know there are blacks in the Tea Party. So they're not all racist, unless I'm going to start doing mind reading about why those black people are there."
Hmm. So, if that is what Cohen meant, why did no one edit the piece to ensure his thoughts were properly conveyed? Turns out, someone did: Cohen's editor, Fred Hiatt, told The Wrap that he should have edited the line about gag reflexes "more carefully," which is probably the biggest understatement of the year. "Anyone reading Richard’s entire column will see he is just saying that some Americans still have a hard time dealing with interracial marriage," Hiatt said. "I erred in not editing that one sentence more carefully to make sure it could not be misinterpreted."
Furthermore, if Cohen intention was to generalize the views of "some people" in the Tea Party, as he said in his apology, he would be wrong anyway—as Ezra Klein of the Washington Post pointed out in an article published a few hours after shit hit the fan with Cohen's essay, 87 percent of adults in the US approve of interracial marriage, leaving only a small chunk of Tea Partiers he was apparently describing as "conventional." Newsflash, Cohen: They are actually the opposite of "conventional," and they are all racist.
As Salon suggests, maybe, at this point, Cohen is just "begging perhaps subconsciously, to be bought out and allowed to retire"—it would certainly make sense, because it's hard to see, even with all this damage control, how anyone at the Post thought that this op-ed's insinuations were fair or accurate.