Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s victory in the Democratic primary for Florida governor wasn’t even 12 hours old when his Republican challenger, Rep. Ron DeSantis, hurled a few race cards into the general-election campaign. Of course, he did this during an interview on Fox News, that safe space for conservatives to wallow in demeaning stereotypes and petty grievances.
“Let’s build off the success we’ve had on Gov. [Rick] Scott,” DeSantis said. “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”
The obvious slur here is “monkey this up.” Likening African Americans to monkeys, apes and chimps is a racist pastime. Since slavery, blacks were seen as not human or less than human. And lest you think that is a relic of some shameful past, remember that former president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, were depicted in this manner throughout their eight years in the White House.
And DeSantis was already dog-whistling mere seconds before he went full bullhorn:
[Gillum] is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate. I watched those Democrat debates. None of that was my cup of tea, but, I mean, he performed better than the other people there.
Ask any African Americans how they feel about being called “articulate.” I hate it. “Oh, you’re so articulate!” “You’re so well-spoken!” I’ve heard it since my days at mostly-white schools in New Jersey. It has been said to me in surprised, wondrous tones. The silent finish to what the speaker believes is a compliment “for a black person” — as if the outward manifestation of my education was some miracle, instead of the same hard work they or their children put in. Most folks probably don’t even realize that what they are saying to us is incredibly offensive. Those who do are deplorable to begin with.
The other ugly DeSantis utterance was “performed.” For certain people, the one thing — maybe the only thing — blacks excel at is performing, entertaining other people. Unless you’re in the same line of work as Beyonce or Jay-Z, the “compliment” is as dismissive as it is patronizing.
Bare-knuckled talk is nothing new in politics. But when the president of the United States is a low-brow brawler whose ongoing rhetorical descent started when he kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists,” brazen is the fitting word to describe Republicans seeking high office these days. Or even radio hosts.
Where Gillum “performed” well was at the ballot box on Tuesday, which was no accident. That was by design. If you listened to my interview with the mayor back in June, you learned who he was and what he was trying to do. You knew it was a long-shot, but you weren’t nearly as surprised by his victory as the rest of the country. And what has been nearly as offensive as DeSantis’s race-baiting has been the simplistic coverage of Gillum’s victory. Actually, it has been lazy. And I’ll get into that in my next post.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast