Getting Ebony to Apologize for Racism Won't Get the GOP More Black Voters

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In a curious turn of events, the Republican National Committee demanded an apology from Ebony for racism — and amazingly, it got one, by conflating racial prejudice with ideological prejudice against conservatives. The RNC released a statement about Ebony on Friday, after one of the magazine's senior editors called the RNC's black deputy press secretary "a white dude" on Twitter. This does not bode well for the GOP's minority outreach efforts. One of the unofficial strategies of Republicans' outreach to minorities has been to argue that the Democratic Party is more racist, both historically and in the way its policies "enslave" low income people. But accusing a black woman of being prejudiced and using that as "a catalyst for greater engagement and understanding between the Republican Party and the black community," as RNC chair Reince Priebus writes, is not the way to go about reaching black voters. 

On Thursday, Ebony senior editor Jamilah Lemieux pointed out a new magazine edited by black conservative Ben Carson on TwitterLemieux began mocking Carson's magazine, and said she wanted to know less than she already did about it, not more. That's where Raffi Williams, the GOP's deputy press secretary, came in: 

Lemieux apologized for not looking more carefully at his photo, but then said she didn't care to hear anything he had to say. Preibus wrote that she "went on to deride those who were criticizing her as 'a house full of roaches.'"

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Lemieux had tweeted, "I forgot that tweeting something about a Conservative is like leaving a cookie out in a house full of roaches and turning off the lights." There was definitely a swarm of internet activity about it. 

Many on the right are now arguing that Ebony supports racism, particularly, black (liberal) on black (conservative) racism. At The Daily Beast, Ron Christie, a black conservative, called the Lemieux/Williams Twitter exchange "another disgusting display of racism — once again at the hands of a supposed enlightened black person attacking a black conservative for his political beliefs." Emphasis added. Note that half the controversy here is that she mistakenly called him white. He then calls Lemieux's comment a "slur" and quotes from Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech to drive his point home. The Daily Caller called it an "attack" as well, and Town Hall's headline read "Ebony Editor Questions RNC Staffer's Ethnicity," which implies that she contradicted his assertion that he is black, instead of apologizing for being unaware, which is what actually happened. 

"Attacking someone for his or her race, heritage or political views is the very thing Ebony has worked to discourage," Priebus writes. That argument will appeal to black Republicans, whose right-wing convictions are sometimes unfairly challenged by the left. Allen West and Clarence Thomas, two noteworthy black Republicans, have publicly said as much. To everyone else, however, black-on-black racism seems like a stretch. While Lemieux was definitely dismissive of conservatives, especially Ben Carson, her tweet doesn't rise to the level of racism described above. 

Ebony, in a statement titled "Diversity of Thought," said Lemieux displayed a "lack of judgment on her personal Twitter account" and "apologize(d) to Raffi Williams and the Black Republican community." Several black writers found this apology surprising and/or embarrassing

The RNC's insistence on an apology (which they got), "not just for making assumptions about (the staffer's) race but more importantly for dismissing black Republicans and the validity of their opinions in public discourse," is not going to work on their target demographic — black people — mainly because they're trying to paint an ideological prejudice against conservatives as a racial one.

Finding cases of left-wing prejudice — especially cases like this one — won't change how black voters view the Republican Party. The reason people accuse the GOP of being racists is not because the Democratic Party has hidden its racism well.  It's because of places like Alabama, where Republicans passed stringent voter ID laws that primarily affect black voters while promoting its dozen black conservative candidates. It's because of politicians like Paul Ryan, who appealed to low income inner city voters by saying that part of the problem is "generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work." Those are the kind of racial slights that should be "a catalyst for greater engagement and understanding between the Republican Party and the black community," not someone tweeting "I don't care what you think" to a conservative. 

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