Whether or not you believe that racial prejudice pervades the Grand Ol’ Party or that there exists a Republican-led “War on Women,” the RNC has some explaining to do.
The way party officials handled events at their Mitt Romney-endorsing convention in Tampa should leave everyone with gut-wrenching lament for the future of the party that once claimed Honest Abraham Lincoln as its own. Two incidents that occurred within hours of each other scream for a need for Republicans to face their racial unease.
Did I say “unease?” No, that might describe Rick Santorum talking about his relationship with “blah people” or Mitt Romney discussing bling. This is true race baiting — hatred to the very core. Perhaps the party didn’t create the problem, but the leaders’ reaction certainly lends keen insight into how such opinions could be allowed such open expression at all.
In the first incident, a Puerto Rican delegate was shouted down with chants of “USA! USA! USA!” This wasn’t a shoutout for the island territory to finally join the rest of the country as a unified state. Likelier is that the near completely white crowd heard a Spanish-accented voice that brought to mind those darker-skinned “immigrants” many of them have come to deplore and blame for all the nation’s ills. (I use quotes, because it’s a standard assumption among race-baiters that a different complexion illustrates a person “isn’t from around these parts.”)
A mere Mississippi minute later (slower than a New York minute and lacking the diversity and tolerance) an African-American camera woman was verbally assaulted and hit with peanuts as she did her job.
We’ll get back to that first incident in just a moment, but for personal reasons, I want to attend to the second.
Reporter David Shuster, kicked off the firestorm when he tweeted “GOP attendee ejected for throwing nuts at African-American CNN camera woman + saying "This is how we feed animals."
My heart jumped. I thought, “Hey, I wonder if that’s my girlfriend?” I sent her a quick chat: “Are you the camerawoman everyone is talking about?” She promptly responded, “Yes.”
I welled up with tears. Empathy enveloped me. It was easy to imagine that could have been me as I nearly covered the convention myself but for a certain toddler getting ready to start pre-school. More important, how dare they do this to my girlfriend! This is someone with whom I’ve gone on double-dates, spent hours talking about hair and made runs to the organic market. More recently, we have planned unfulfilled spa vacations together.
She and CNN are not talking to media. However, she agreed to talk to her friend and I promised to honor her request that I not name her.
She was assigned to film from the floor of the convention in the recessed camera area. This is right among the thousands of delegates who converge on the forum floor to listen to their Republican leaders, nominate Mitt Romney as their candidate for president and, apparently, throw things at people darker than they are.
“I was just about to put on my headset when someone started throwing peanuts at me,” she told me. “I didn’t understand what was going on.” She recovered enough to ask one man, “Are you out of your damned mind?” A pair of older white men walked to the railing preventing people from falling down into the camera pit. One hurled more peanuts at her and taunted, “Here! Want some more peanuts?”
Then they actually started hitting her with them. “This is what we feed to the animals at the zoo!” he continued. While his partner laughed, the thrower leaned over the railing as if he WAS at the zoo and snorted, “Here’s some more peanuts.”
My friend continued, “It was like they were heckling me.” It became clear to her these people were enjoying her torment. Two African-American cameramen and a female Caucasian reporter came over to investigate the fracas, but none had clearly heard what the men said. CNN security arrived by coincidence and set off after them.
At this point, I expected my friend to tell me how the RNC apologized profusely, how they genuinely seemed to feel bad and how they themselves became outraged by the whole thing. She didn’t. Rather, she told me that RNC security investigated by asking of the assailants, “Were they black or were they white?”
“Are you kidding me, Jamila?” She asked. “I’m from the Deep South! I know racism when I see it and when it’s being thrown at me. No black person would have done that!”
Then a pair of people who identified themselves as RNC officials came to apologize — or offer what to them passed as such. “These must have been alternates,” one said. “Our delegates would never do anything like that.” The RNC’s official statement is that “Two attendees tonight exhibited deplorable behavior. Their conduct was inexcusable and unacceptable. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated.”
CNN, too, released a statement. “CNN can confirm there was an incident directed at an employee inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum earlier this afternoon. CNN worked with convention officials to address this matter and will have no further comment.”
Incident over. Back to the convention. Nothing more to see here, folks.
I know plenty of people at the RNC this week, both white and black. They have all pointed out how white it is. With a few exceptions, if you see a person who is black, Arab or Hispanic, the chances are they are with the media, vendors or they’re in uniform (police, secret service, security, whatever). The party is even called out by some of its own members for being too white, too male, and not inclined to dissociate itself from the charge of being non-inclusive. Is it any wonder that — however much feigned outrage they claim — they can simply dismiss a legitimate cause for concern?
A female member of the media was verbally attacked and assaulted with projectiles on the floor of the Republican Party’s National Convention on the same day as the RNC chairman, Reince Priebus, had to try to restore order when a delegate from Puerto Rico began to speak in favor of Mitt Romney’s candidacy. With so few non-white faces, it’s no surprise that the GOP would showcase what little diversity it has.
What to do, then, when one of your star ethnic minorities takes the stage only to be drowned out by racist chants? Now, some have contended these “USA!” chants were in fact Ron Paul protesters causing a disturbance. However, there’s much video of that incident and Chairman Priebus himself asked of the crowd to please give respect so that the “lady from Puerto Rico” could give her report.
Host of “Capitol Correspondent,” and my colleague at the Voice of Russia radio, Carmen Russell-Sluchansky was actually on the RNC floor at the time. He explained that while there may have been some Paul-supporting dissidents, he’d just come away from interviewing those in attendance to support Paul and most of them were not in their chairs at the time of this event. He said, “It was pretty clear that it wasn't just Ron Paul people. There may have been [supporters] but it was clearly not just one bloc.”
At a time when the GOP has been charged with discounting the voices, bodies and the safety of women, it is unacceptable that, when there’s such behavior on the floor of its national convention, the response from leaders of the party is less than a full repudiation.
To split hairs over “delegate” versus “alternate” or to blame Ron Paul fans for shouting down the Spanish-accented speech of a fellow American speaks to the larger issue of the current incarnation of the Republican Party: “Others” need not apply. Nora Ephron herself couldn’t have scripted a better potential “Kumbayah,” moment!
The leaders could have spoken out and made a plea for party unity and to welcome the stranger. Instead, the party looks at those not already part of the in crowd as cliques at a school cafeteria. The song though, is better suited to the play yard. “If you’re “other” and you know it clap your hands!” Then, please feel free to leave the tent. Oh, and close the peanut-gate behind you.
Jamila Bey is host of the Sex, Politics And Religion Hour: SPAR with Jamila on the Voice of Russia Radio network.