Parties Fight Over Who Gets to Talk About Slavery

Lone Republican in Congressional Black Caucus might leave over lynching comments

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Florida Rep. Allen West, the sole Republican in the Congressional Black Congress, publicly threatened to quit the group after a fellow member, Rep. André Carson, said the Tea Party wouldn't mind seeing black people "hanging from a tree." West said Wednesday on Fox & Friends, "When you start using words such as lynching … that’s a reprehensible word and I think we should move away from that language." But as The Hill's Justin Sink notes, West doesn't mind such dark  references to earlier times when he's the one making them.

Earlier in August, West (pictured above) described the Democratic Party as a "21st century plantation." West told Bill O'Reilly:
"You have established certain black leaders who are nothing more than the overseers of that plantation, and now the people on that plantation are upset, because they have been disregarded, disrespected and their concerns are not cared about...
So I'm here as the modern-day Harriet Tubman... to lead people on the underground railroad away from that plantation and to a sense of sensibility. "
Republicans and Democrats have long criticized each other for deploying "identity politics," but this election season is looking particularly identity-laden, with references to darker periods in race relations abounding. While liberals complain of racist undertones in Tea Party rhetoric, conservatives claim that it's Democrats who are the racist ones.
This spring, several Republican presidential candidates signed a pledge by the Christian conservative group The Family Leader that asserted that in some ways, black people were actually better off before the Civil War:
Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household* than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.
And in March, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain declared he wouldn't "stay on the Democrat plantation." He assured Tea Partiers that they're not racist:
"I have two observations for you. Number one, if you're black and you disagree with the president [it doesn't imply racism]. … It may shock you but some black people can think for themselves. Number two, if we ever reach the point where we cannot criticize constructively our elected leaders we're no longer the republic that the founders intended. We’ve become a nation of tyranny." 
Then in June, Cain implied that mild birtherism -- maybe not the belief  that President Obama wasn't born in America, but a suspicion of his international childhood -- doesn't mean you're racist, either:
"Most of the ancestors that I can trace were born here in the United States of America... And then it goes back to slavery. And I'm sure my ancestors go all the way back to Africa, but I feel more of an affinity for America than I do for Africa. I'm a black man in America....
"Barack Obama is more of an international... I think he's out of the mainstream and always has been. Look, he was raised in Kenya, his mother was white from Kansas and her family had an influence on him, it's true, but his dad was Kenyan, and when he was going to school he got a lot of fellowships, scholarships, he stayed in the academic environment for a long time. He spent most of his career as an intellectual."
Finally, he said his candidacy "would take race off the table."  Cain explained, "Right now, every time someone criticizes Barack Obama, they try to play the race card, the White House, all his supporters, they try to play the race card." No more race card, Democrats! That's Republicans' move now.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.