Every now and then someone will tell me a story, when suddenly, it sounds like nails on a chalkboard. They’ll say, “And then there was this big black guy.”
“Big and black??” I’ll say if I’m feeling cheeky. “Oh no.”
The story usually falls apart from there.
This isn’t to say there aren’t imposing and intimidating black men, as there are imposing and intimidating men of every race. Some rappers purposely strike an intimidating pose to show how tough and strong they are. That intimidation, though, also has to do with perception.
In a New York Times piece about white female rappers, Touré writes:
For many Americans, black male rappers are entrancing because they give off a sense of black masculine power — that sense of strength, ego and menace that derives from being part of the street — or because of the seductive display of black male cool.
In that passage, he writes as much about rappers as the public’s view of them: Menacing. Seductive.
The same is true for the person who tells the story with “the big black guy.” That description often says more about the storyteller than the person in the story.
When public figures break the law or do something very bad, forgiving and forgetting can be two very different things.
Two weekends ago, Chris Brown tried to resurrect his career and redeem himself in the eyes of the public with a tribute to Michael Jackson at the BET Awards. The performance was almost a year to the day since Brown pleaded guilty to one count of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna. The first half of Brown’s performance was a dance tribute to Jackson. The second half was Brown weeping to Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror.” He was supposed to sing the song, but Brown appeared as if he couldn’t hold back his tears. I say “appeared” because there are allegations that the tears weren’t real.
Another redemption story came to an end a few hours after Brown’s performance. Robert Byrd – the longest serving U.S Senator in history – died that Monday morning at age 92. Byrd was in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940′s, voted against Thurgood Marshall’s appointment to the Supreme Court and filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Then in the late 1960′s, Byrd had a turnaround on race. He supported the creation of the Martin Luther King National Holiday and endorsed Barack Obama for president. How’s that for a switch? A former Klan member endorsing the man who would become the first black president.
Also that same weekend, the world mourned (again) over Michael Jackson’s death. One year after he died, the media and some of the public rehashed the King of Pop’s life, death and money. Though he was never convicted of anything, the allegations of child molestation followed him for over a decade. Those allegations along with the years of strange behavior - we all know he did, so I won’t list the incidents here – made the Michael Jackson who died into someone different from the one who made hit records. There was one Michael Jackson who was a megastar performer in the 1970s and 1980s and became one of the most famous performers on the planet. Then from about 1993 until his death, he was another Michael Jackson: the guy who once a megastar, but did a lot of weird things and was accused of molesting kids.
I watched Rand Paul’s infamous interview with Rachel Maddow in which he doesn’t give his complete support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was painful watching the newly-nominated Republican U.S. Senate from Kentucky dance around a direct answer to the question of whether businesses should be able to discriminate on the basis of race. Paul said he is personally against institutional racism, discrimination and segregation, and against those things in the public sphere. He just couldn’t bring himself to say the government has the right to tell private businesses that they’re not allowed to discriminate.
Everything from banks and corporations to restaurants and bowling alleys would be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, in his view. From his statement about people in wheelchairs working in two-story buildings, it sounds like businesses would be able to treat disabled people differently, too. And, I’ll go out on a limb and say that in Paul’s worldview, they would be able to discriminate on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.
So, according to Paul, prejudice and discrimination is bad, but it would be allowed for private businesses. If he were to be elected as senator, it doesn’t appear he wouldn’t do anything in that capacity to stop it.
I don’t think these views make Rand Paul racist. Nor do I think that the Libertarian or small government movements are racist either. But their antipathy toward the federal government has blinded them so much that they would allow private businesses to discriminate without any legal recourse. If Paul and his supporters put a business’s desire to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or disability above the need for all citizens to be treated equally, then the movement is flawed.