In the endless arguments over whether certain criticisms of President Obama are racist, there are cases when the answer is clear. In that category we can place angry, barely coherent tweets by a political adviser in Puerto Rico.
After the president tweeted that first lady Michelle Obama’s birthday was coming up, Heidi Wys, proving that racism and witlessness go hand in hand, tweeted, “Take her to Burger King, buy her a sundae with double banana, take her to your homeland, Kenya!” You’ve got to give it to her. Within the 140-character limit, she gets in a simian reference and a bow to birther-ism.
Wys, who has been paid $630,000 since 2008 as the main adviser to Puerto Rico House of Representatives President Jenniffer Gonzalez, apparently has lots of time to tweak the Obamas on Twitter. On June 18, answering a general invitation to have dinner with the president, she wrote, “Wah! Wah! I feel like vomiting! Dinner with a guy borned in Kenya and claims he was borned in Hawaii!” thus proving that racism and bad grammar can also go hand in hand.
On July 30, she wrote: “I fight Obama with all the strength in my heart and passion as a descendant of germans!!” Did you get the Germany reference? Grouped with her dislike of Obama, the race pride comes off as inappropriate at best. In a commonwealth where the residents reflect a variety of cultures and color, Wys makes sure everyone knows where she fits. When in another tweet, she mentions her beloved black nieces – in hopes, I’ll bet, of inoculating herself against charges of racism – it instead reeks of “some of my best friends are…” condescension.
No surprise that some legislators in Puerto Rico are calling for her resignation and Gonzalez is distancing herself with the usual “the expressions disseminated are not acceptable, do not represent my sentiments and are the exclusive responsibility of those who wrote them.”
That racism is alive and well doesn’t surprise me. The depth and ugliness of it in the wake of Obama’s presidency, I have to admit, is sometimes a shock. That people who know they might suffer opprobrium and financial consequences still utter, e-mail and tweet insults and filth means that they can’t help themselves. It goes beyond private hate, hidden in the heart and among like-minded friends, all the way to compulsion.
I think of Richard Cebull, the chief U.S. district judge of Montana, e-mailing from his chambers a disgusting joke crudely maligning President Obama’s late mother; or Dean Grose, the former mayor of Los Alamitos, Calif., who resigned because of his e-mail showing the White House lawn as a watermelon patch; or all the distorted depictions of the first family as not American, as not human.
The offenders, when caught, apologize with the explanation that they don’t like the president’s policies, without acknowledging that their attacks are purely personal. No Obama family member – dead or alive -- is immune, not wife, child or mother.
The latest, Wys, has now put her lucrative gig in jeopardy because she just had to reveal to the world things she should be telling a therapist.
Has America made progress? Yes. But for now, it’s time to put away “post racial.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3