Conservatives' Race Problem Isn't Over

Monday brings us two essays about the GOP and race. One is a confessional in Politico by a former aide to Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who was fired after his neo-confederate writings were brought to light. The other is a USA Today op-ed that argues racism doesn't exist anymore, because Oprah was really popular. 

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Monday brings us two essays about the GOP and race. One is a confessional in Politico by a former aide to Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who was fired after his neo-confederate writings were brought to light. The other is a USA Today op-ed that argues racism doesn't really exist anymore, because Oprah was really popular. 

Paul's aide, Jack Hunter, was a radio shock jock who called himself the "Southern Avenger" prior to working for the Paul family. On the radio and in columns for the Charleston City Paper, Hunter defended racial profiling, wrote that President Lincoln would have been gay for Hitler, and once suggested that someone should "whip" Spike Lee for criticizing The Patriot. This stuff wasn't written decades ago. In 2007, Hunter said "A non-white majority America would simply cease to be America for reasons that are as numerous as they are obvious..." In 2010, Hunter was still praising "the soldiers who fought under that proud Southern banner." In his Politico essay, Hunter insists that he doesn't believe those things anymore.

"It was about as politically incorrect and childish as you could imagine," Hunter writes. "That was the point. But while I was having fun, I often wished I could ditch the gimmicks and start over with a more serious tone." Hunter writes that libertarians like Rand Paul "changed" him for the better.

Meanwhile, USA Today columnist Mark Joseph imagines a narrative we all wish were true. In an op-ed titled "No, Oprah, America isn't racist," Joseph explains that racism is a thing of the past — and Oprah should really stop complaining about it.

After Oprah accepted her Presidential Medal of Freedom last week, she suggested that some of the ire directed at President Obama is related to his skin color. Joseph is pretty sure this kind of thing stopped happening in the '70s. He writes:

Oprah's pronouncement produced another "huh?" moment for me, considering the fact that it was millions of Americans that gave their colorblind eyes to her show for a quarter-century, famous enough to be interviewed by the BBC. ...

Oprah is still living in that other time and era in which people separated themselves from one another primarily on the basis of race — a real time to be sure — but one that is, for the most part, not our reality today. That's especially so at the highest levels of politics and entertainment.

Joseph is invoking Rush Limbaugh's argument that America can't be racist because Americans love Oprah. But Joseph, a record producer/Fox News contributor who produced The Passion of the Christ soundtrack, is wrong. While America might feel different to him than it did in the '70s, racism is unfortunately still real.

According to a 2012 Associated Press study, racial prejudice actually increased in America since the 2008 election. The AP found:

...51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election.

And unfortunately, attitudes about race often divide along political lines. A Washington Post/ABC News poll from last month shows:

 41 percent [of Americans] think nonwhites have fewer opportunities than whites in society. Fifty-six percent of Democrats say so, as do 62 percent of liberal Democrats (more than the number of nonwhites themselves who say so, 51 percent). Among Republicans that dives to 25 percent.

In other words, Oprah's ratings aren't the sole metric to determine the existence of racism in this country. 

Further, racial attitudes do affect policy at all levels of government, despite Joseph's claims. For one example, consider the recent decision to move the Atlanta Braves' stadium to the suburbs of Cobb County. Cobb residents have been openly critical of extending metro service from Atlanta to the new stadium. Joe Dendy, chairman of the Cobb Republican Party, said he the "solution" is moving in suburban baseball fans by car, "not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta."

As Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains, "It’s impossible to see statements like [Dendy's] and not notice very strong echoes of the debates of 30 and 40 years ago, in which Cobb and Gwinnett counties barred MARTA [Atlanta's subway] from crossing their county lines out of belief that by doing so they would keep the city’s majority black population at a safe distance."

But Joseph is so hopeful, he thinks race itself is disappearing. Perhaps because the percentage of Hispanics in America is rising, Joseph concludes that by next week, probably, we will all be Latino. 

Some day soon, when we all look like actor and TV host Mario Lopez, it will simply be impossible to find people of a different skin color, let alone hate on the basis of it. 

Unfortunately, race still plays a huge role in politics, and racism — as blatant as toasting John Wilkes Booth on air and as subtle as controlling public transportation — still exists. Hunter writes, "Let’s be honest: My commentary wasn’t all that different from what more mainstream conservatives were saying — at the time and still today." 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.