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‘I am American’: Black Americans use social media to respond to McConnell’s comments on voting

The Senate minority leader said Black Americans ‘are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.’ He later clarified that he meant to say ‘all Americans.’

On Jan. 19, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that African American voter turnout was “just as high” as for "Americans." (Video: C-Span)
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Black Americans are using social media to express outrage over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments on African American voters, with the phrase “I am American” and the hashtag #MitchPlease.

On Wednesday, as Republicans prepared to block voting rights legislation that would have ensured ballot access for many, McConnell was asked what his message was to voters of color who were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to vote during this year’s midterms if Congress didn’t pass the bills.

“The concern is misplaced because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans,” McConnell said.

Almost immediately, McConnell’s words sparked furor online, with many interpreting them to mean that he sees African Americans as separate from the rest of the U.S. population.

“Senator McConnell, what is the difference between African Americans and Americans?” asked the NAACP’s Twitter account.

McConnell and his office tried to clarify that the minority leader had misspoken and meant to say “all Americans,” not just “Americans.”

Speaking to reporters in Kentucky on Friday, McConnell corrected his statement once again, saying he meant “all” Americans.

“Look, I think I’ve made my point,” he told reporters. “I’ve never been accused of this sort of thing before. It’s hurtful and offensive, and I think some of the critics know it’s totally nonsense.”

In an earlier statement Friday from his office, McConnell said he has regularly noted that the 2020 election saw record numbers of voters. “I have consistently pointed to the record-high turnout for all voters in the 2020 election, including African-Americans,” McConnell said.

Still, the anger among Black Americans was evident in social media posts.

“Being Black doesn’t make you less of an American, no matter what this craven man thinks,” Charles Booker, a Democrat running against Sen. Rand Paul (R) for Paul’s Kentucky seat, tweeted.

“Collin Powell was a real American,” tweeted an account named “Republicans against Trumpism,” attaching an image of the late general, who was Black. “[McConnell], apologize now!” the account demanded.

“Hey [McConnell], for your information, I’m also an American,” tweeted Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, a Black man.

Soon, more Black Americans were tweeting pictures of themselves with the caption “I am American” and using the #MitchPlease hashtag.

Democrats have pushed for federal voting rights legislation in response to Republican-led state laws imposing new restrictions on ballot access. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked the measures, which combined an effort to restore portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were struck down in recent years by the Supreme Court with a broader effort to establish new national standards for federal elections, including minimum requirements for early voting, voting by mail and other methods making voting easier.

An effort to change Senate rules to ensure passage also failed as two Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — joined all Republicans in opposing the effort.

McConnell led his Republicans in sinking the voting legislation. “This is about one party wanting the power to unilaterally rewrite the rule book of American elections,” he said this past week.

Amid frustration over the outcome in the Senate, McConnell’s remark about Black Americans and voting sparked the most anger.

“African Americans are ARE Americans, 365 days a year,” tweeted the Congressional Black Caucus.

“This is 2022 and being American is not synonymous with looking or thinking like you,” Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) said in a letter to McConnell. “African Americans are, in fact, American citizens deserving of our recognition, respect, and equal protections under the law.”

When pressed Friday on what his general message is on the state of voting access in the country, McConnell said he’s focused on the progress the country has made.

“Others look at where we are and point to the defects,” McConnell said. “The truth is, it’s some of both. We’ve made enormous progress, and I think to deny that is to deny the obvious. Have we improved in every way we conceivably could? I’m sure we haven’t.”