Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus (Win McNamee/Getty Images) Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“HNIC.” For the uninitiated, the tart acronym stands for “Head N—-r in charge.” While the N-word was bestowed upon us African Americans centuries ago by whites, HNIC is our own ironic and sarcastic inside joke. It simultaneously applauds someone’s promotion, new job or aspirations and denigrates the subject of the applause. The term is said with affection and a wry smile among intimates. Or it is said with derision by one African American to the face or behind the back of another. To use this phrase and not be black requires a level of cultural literacy that would be as rare as it would be impressive.

So, imagine my surprise when Twitter follower @bmorrett alerted me to a tweet from the conservative Web site the Daily Caller that displayed a stunning level of cultural illiteracy.

Touting a story about an aspiring Chicago rapper who goes by the name “Rhymes Priebus,” someone at the Daily Caller tweeted, “Hey @Reince, why didn’t you tell us you were moonlighting as a rapper? Turns our GOP chair is HNIC.” The tweet was deleted and, to the Daily Caller’s credit, an apology tweet was issued. “Apologies for the earlier tweet, clearly been listening to too much Fashawn.” Fashawn is a California rapper whose song “Life as a shorty” features the lyric, “And when I grow / know I’m bound to be the HNIC / follow me.” A new tweet was sent out later using the same language except this time “the boss” is in place of HNIC and a typo is fixed.

Without question, hurling HNIC out into the public domain from the Twitter feed of a news organization stretches the bounds of propriety. I certainly wouldn’t have done it. But the cultural illiteracy of such an action is what I found most fascinating.

“Wow,” said Toure, my MSNBC colleague and author of “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness,” when I showed him the series of tweets. “This is stunning cultural illiteracy and taking far too great a liberty with a dangerous term.”

“Cultural illiterates should not be allowed to tweet. Not funny, just ignorant. Typical,” Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told me in an e-mail on Friday. “AND they think they’re being relevant and hip and are neither.”

Steele was the Republican National Committee’s first African American leader when he was elected in 2009. He wanted to close the cultural gap between his party and blacks. He also wanted to get the GOP to shed its creeping reputation as a regional, rather than national, party. And he wanted to expand the GOP’s reach beyond its comfort zones with an “off the hook” public relations campaign. “We need messengers to really capture that region — young, Hispanic, black, a cross-section,” Steele told the Washington Times. “We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles. But we want to apply them to urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”

Sound familiar? The GOP autopsy of its 2012 presidential loss is filled with observations about what the party needs to do to stay relevant that Steele made during his stormy two-year tenure.

While the Republican-leaning Daily Caller is not an instrument of the GOP, its HNIC tweet is yet another example of why the party has a hard time being taken seriously by blacks. Just because someone is a fan of rap music doesn’t mean he knows or understands the nuances of a black rapper’s rhymes about African American life and culture. That requires a curiosity that, generally speaking, neither the GOP nor the Daily Caller seems to have or care to have.

Daily Caller editor in chief Tucker Carlson (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post) Daily Caller editor in chief Tucker Carlson (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

In my quest to find out how such a culturally illiterate tweet made its way onto the Daily Caller Twitter feed, I reached out to editor in chief Tucker Carlson. I asked about the identity of the tweeter and what action, if any, was taken as a result of the tweet. In addition, I asked for his reaction to the reaction to the tweet. His response proved my point better than I could.


Good to hear from you. Are you really writing a column on our deleted tweet? Seems like pretty thin gruel given all that’s happening in the world, but I guess I’m not your editor.

I realize it’s habit on the Left to hunt for racists under every bed, but you won’t find one here. The employee who wrote it was making a reference to his favorite hip hop song. Not everyone understood the allusion (including me), and — even worse — there was a typo in the tweet. So we deleted it.

But the tweet certainly wasn’t intended to be malicious or racially-tinged. And by the way, isn’t Reince Priebus white?

I hope/assume that in the interest of fairness you’ll quote me in full.

Hope all’s well,


When I asked Toure for a reaction to Carlson’s response, he said that what’s “even more offensive is Tucker’s brain-dead ‘the left looks for racists under every bed,’ as if we’re here searching for racism. They love the idea that it’s we who mention racism who are the problem rather than racism itself being the problem.”

At no point in this piece have I mentioned racism. Nor did I use the word in my e-mail to Carlson. My interest in the HNIC tweet was piqued from the very beginning by its glaring ignorance. Although the line is thin, there is a difference between racism and cultural illiteracy. And without question, the Daily Caller tweet was guilty of the latter.

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.