However, Richard Cohen is not breaking character. And despite his claims of having hurt feelings by being unfairly branded with the scurrilous label of "white racist", Cohen knows that he was keeping character and not breaking "kayfabe".
Richard Cohen gets hits and page views for The Washington Post. He makes money for his employer. Cohen serves a very useful purpose: he is kept on their roster for a very basic and practical reason--the financial bottom line.
Richard Cohen's past columns defending racial profiling and fears of black people because "we are all criminals" is the context for his public attention seeking bigotry...and the readers he attracts.
Consequently, I had no interest in discussing Richard Cohen's history of racist comments in The Washington Post.
I do not want to give Cohen the attention which he so desperately seeks. I was moved to change my mind by Richard Cohen's white victimology interview over at the Huffington Post where he claims that all of this controversy is a misunderstanding, and as is common when white folks are called out on their racism, that he is somehow a "victim".
Readers of We Are Respectable Negroes know that I am fascinated by the power of White Victimology as one of the dominant pathologies of colorblind racism in the post civil rights era. As such, I cannot resist making an intervention and offering a comment on Cohen's recent column, "Christie's Tea Party Problem".
I am also very interested in process, and how writers and other cultural workers go about their professional business. Richard Cohen makes money and gets attention from writing racist screeds in one of the United States' most respected publications.
Christie's Tea Party Problem is the most recent installment in a longer pattern of work which undercuts any claim that his racist routine is some type of outlier or mistake in writing and grammar.
Writing, especially at Cohen's professional level, is an act of intent and design. Sure, writers make errors and mistakes; Richard Cohen is only human. But those several hundred words, edited and vetted, tell us a great deal about Cohen's politics, temperament, and values.
To point. The most telling portion of Richard Cohen's piece is the following passage:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled—about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts—but not all—of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
His use of the word "conventional" is very revealing. He could have marked it with quotations to signal how the concept itself is contingent and should be scrutinized. Richard Cohen could have chosen the word "racist", "conservative", or (even the problematic) "traditional" to describe the mouth vomiting that ensues when "normal" people see interracial couples on the street, daring to walk about without shame.
As a student of the politics of language and culture, and one who writes online here and elsewhere, I have gained a great appreciation for the choices we make in terms of words, emphasis, phrasing, and language.
Cohen's use of "conventional" is a projection of his personal politics. The word "conventional" is also very telling not for the surface definition of the word, but rather because of how it creates a sense of community around "normal" people, and those who are marked as outside of it. The latter are deviants, unAmerican, not worthy of respect, and somehow defective as viewed by Richard Cohen's political imagination.
Last week, I was going to write a short piece about Cohen's confession about how the movie 12 Years a Slave helped to educate him about the horrors of slavery. His "What Art Says About the Past" column, far more offensive and problematic than Christie's Tea Party Problem, suggested to readers that it took a movie to teach him that slavery was not benign, and that the darkies were not happy on yee old plantation with their benevolent white masters:
I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life. For instance, it was not George A. Custer who was attacked at the Little Bighorn. It was Custer — in a bad career move — who attacked the Indians. Much more important, slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.
Steve McQueen’s stunning movie “12 Years a Slave” is one of those unlearning experiences. I had to wonder why I could not recall another time when I was so shockingly confronted by the sheer barbarity of American slavery. Instead, beginning with school, I got a gauzy version. I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people — fellow Americans, after all — and the sadistic Simon Legree was the concoction of that demented propagandist, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a lie and she never — and this I remember clearly being told — had ventured south to see slavery for herself. I felt some relief at that because it meant that Tom had not been flogged to death.
I was not going to defend Richard Cohen's white supremacist understanding of the crime against humanity that was Black Chattel Slavery in the West. Instead, I was struggling with how, perhaps, too many people were being unfair to Richard Cohen, with their condemnation of his naked, public moment of confession, and sharing what remains a none too uncommon view of the enslavement of African-Americans by many Americans.
Ultimately, I am pleased that I did not write up that essay. He did not deserve it.
Richard Cohen is a cartoon character playing a game of political theater. His shtick is a type of politically incorrect white supremacy, one that is somehow made benign for some readers because of his association with the Washington Post. If a writer is going to fully commit to a role as the edgy, throwback, folksy, and politically incorrect white guy who says what "we are all really thinking" about race in American, he or should own the consequences of their political method acting.
To do anything less would be disrespectful to Cohen's performance art.
The American people should laugh and mock Richard Cohen. Why? Because the phenomena known as generational replacement will soon rob us of such antiquated political performers and their retrograde, white reactionary, vaudeville-like routines. The white conservative Tea Party GOP dodo bird is looking right at the American people everyday on Fox News, online, and Right-wing talk radio.
Good citizens of reason and conscience should study those white reactionaries and their allies in the Republican Party before history washes both of the latter away, inexorably down the sewer of public life and historical memory.