MAXWELL:  GOP blacks make race a matter of convenience

11/7/1999 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


“You can run, but you can’t hide,” some smart person said long ago.

I do not know the original context of these words, but I know for sure that they apply to today’s black Republicans _ especially Messrs. Ward Connerly, Alan Keyes and Clarence Thomas, who traipse around the country pretending that race does not matter, that their skin color has nothing to do with their success.

Connerly is the California businessman and member of the Board of Regents who persuaded voters in California and the state of Washington to scrap affirmative action in college admissions and in the awarding of government contracts. He is leading a similar effort in Florida. Keyes, a talk show host, is a perennial presidential candidate. Thomas is the one black person on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Each man is the darling of white conservatives. Like the Bible’s Simon Peter, each is defined by his denial of his true self, his essential blackness. And like the protagonist of James Weldon Johnson’s novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, each fancies himself an ex-coloured man.

The ugly truth, however, always comes crashing down on these frauds, usually during fits of anger following moments when they feel betrayed by their white admirers or when they are locked in a room with blacks who despise them.

If you recall, Thomas’ real coloured self broke through _ in all of its naked rage _ after some Senate Judiciary Committee members aggressively questioned him in 1991 about accusations of sexual misconduct leveled against him by Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill.

Thomas lost it, calling the content and manner of the interrogation “a high-tech lynching.” Why did he use the word lynching? Because, under pressure, he became fully conscious of being a black man, of being out of place, of being a member of a group whose history is a chronicle of the gallows _ both literally and symbolically.

Our would-be justice was not done. He went on to recount the nation’s use of racist “language about the sexual prowess of black men, language about the sex organs of black men and the sizes, et cetera. That kind of language has been used about black men as long as I’ve been on the face of this Earth, and these are charges that play into racist, bigoted stereotypes, and these are the kind of charges that are impossible to wash off.”

Since joining the nation’s highest court, Thomas _ the designated black justice _ has been hostile toward nearly everything in the interest of blacks that has come before him. He is trying his damnedest to be an ex-coloured man.

A few weeks ago, while playing up to a group of white Republicans in Florida, Connerly let his real coloured soul spring loose. He was angry about comments in an editorial about his Indian, Irish, French and African-American ancestry. He called the comments “very demeaning of my heritage. … I think that’s racist. Your damn paper gets away with it because I’m a black.”

Is this the same Connerly who paints a colorblind America? Indeed, he is. He also is the same Connerly whose friend, then-California state legislator Pete Wilson, got him a job in housing and community development in the administration of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. And guess how Connerly got rich? Through affirmative action. His land consulting firm is a byproduct of affirmative action.

Of course, Connerly told Palm Beach Post political editor Brian E. Crowley that his jobs and clients were not the result of affirmative action: “Say I’m a crony of Pete Wilson. Say I’m appointed because I gave him $130,000 for his campaign. But instead, we would rather believe a black person got something because he is black. That stigma is not helpful.”

Neither is disingenuously denying the enduring scourge of race in America.

Although Thomas’ outburst was fiery and Connerly’s was profane and self-pitying, Keyes’ was zany. Following the recent Republican debate in New Hampshire, Keyes, the only black person in the GOP hunt for the White House, attacked the media for not taking his campaign seriously: “I often win these debates, and every time I stand before you press folks, you have no questions. I find it kind of amazing. At some point … one has to start to wonder.

“The people of this country have gotten over their racial sickness. I don’t know that you folks have. I think that merit means nothing to you because you can’t look past race. And I think I’m deadly sick of it.”

Needless to say, the journalists shook their heads in wonderment. What Keyes failed to see was that his race is not the reason his campaign is ignored. Journalists do not cover him because few voters see him as a viable candidate. Were he Gen. Colin Powell, who credits his blackness for much of his success, the press would be all over him. But Keyes, a Simon Peter, did what his ilk does best: He played the race card when it was convenient.

These darker brothers cannot have race both ways. Either race matters or it does not matter.

In speaking of Connerly, Tony Welch, an African-American and director of communications for the Florida Democratic Party, aptly sums up this whole sorry trend of denial among black Republicans. His comments are worth quoting at length:

“Every breath Mr. Connerly breathes as the head of this petition drive is a breath of hypocrisy. You have to ask, who would listen to Mr. Connerly were he white? The answer: nobody. This only works with a black man leading the charge. Connerly was recruited for his current role because of the color of his skin. … In every speech, every article, Connerly is affirmative action attacking affirmative action. Occasionally, you’ll hear Connerly or Alan Keyes lament that they’ve been the victims of discrimination.

“It’s interesting to note that they’re willing to abandon their talk of the colorblind society when discrimination in some form hits them. Then, it’s discrimination. It seems to me they wear black just fine when it can do them some good. Professionally, they’ve carved out a niche for themselves _ the black and anti-black. It’s good pay. You just have to avoid mirrors.”

In the end, Thomas, Connerly and Keyes can run, but they cannot hide from their colouredness.