Mitch McConnell’s Verbal Separation of African Americans from Americans Sparks Outrage
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” are words taken from a renowned speech from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Decades ago, while marching for civil rights, King declared to the masses that we are all Americans. However, way too often we are placed in a classification where we are not seen as Americans, but instead as ‘other’.
King wished for better for our country, including that skin color not be a factor in deciding anything about people of color, including voting.
Fast forward to last week and one must ask what in the world was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell thinking when he uttered the words that started a firestorm across black communities and in other communities that adhere to King’s dream. They see Americans as one, not us or them, but not so with McConnell.
Last week, McConnell was asked a question by a reporter for Latino Rebels whether he had a message to people of color ahead of the midterms, in light of the Republican’s blockage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. While explaining his opposition to the Democrats’ voting rights legislation, McConnell offered some remarks that he no doubt wished that he could take back.
Said McConnell, “Well, the concern is misplaced because, if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”
Many jumped on McConnell’s remarks saying the Senator from Kentucky was implying that Black voters are not Americans. His words ignited a wave of angry responses on social media with most noting that his comments were just the latest example of how often white people in power don’t see Black people and other people of color as Americans. The hashtag #MitchPlease, along with other choice words were trending as they made their way across the internet.
In an attempt to defend his comments, McConnell responded by saying, “I have consistently pointed to the record-high turnout for all voters in the 2020 election, including African-Americans.” He came back later to call his original remarks an “inadvertent omission.”
McConnell insisted that he had misspoken, but the damage was already done. In addition, many who know him say McConnell is well known for choosing his words carefully, so this was no slip.
Some point to former President Donald Trump and say McConnells’ words are his modern-day dog whistle that is akin to Trump’s MAGA – “Make America Great Again”.
Unfortunately, Black people and others of color are used to being marginalized, misunderstood, and mischaracterized. We have centuries of this occurring within our country. I say our country because, despite their refusal to admit it, Blacks and other people of color are an integral part of this country. We helped build, through slave labor and we keep the economy moving with our dollars. So why should we be less than when it comes to voting or placed in a category that separates us from the rest of Americans?
Regardless of what he meant, McConnell’s words are illustrative of how Black people are seen by fellow citizens including lawmakers such as himself, law enforcement, banks, housing communities, and others. Be it someone at the highest levels of government, such as McConnell, local police officers with guns patrolling our communities, or banks with a rejection stamp for our loan requests, we as Black People fear that their decisions will be based on the color of our skin versus the content of our character.
King’s wish for our country is something people of color continue to carry with them, but are often disappointed with reality such as when someone at the highest level of government labels us as others, intentionally or via the slip of his tongue.
We are automatically stamped with the ‘other logo’ when it comes to housing, jobs, education, and more. Because we are Black Americans, we can’t live in the same neighborhood, make the same money, or receive the same education as the Americans McConnell referenced. Based on the senator’s flippant comments, the need to protect our voting rights in the year 2022 falls under that ‘other’ category as well.
Charles Booker, a Kentucky Democrat seeking to unseat GOP Sen. Rand Paul in November, tweeted a clip of McConnell’s comments and added: “I need you to understand that this is who Mitch McConnell is. Being Black doesn’t make you less of an American, no matter what this craven man thinks.”
McConnell on Friday called such criticism “hurtful and offensive, and I think some of the critics know it’s totally nonsense.” He attempted to stamp out the outrage by saying, “I have had African American speech writers, schedulers, office managers over the years.” He went on to reference Martin Luther King Jr. by saying he was in the audience when he gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and was present “when President [Lyndon] Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in the Capitol in 1965.”
Oh, Mitch…reminding us of this only solidifies the point even more. You were not a young child, far removed from the Civil Rights Movement. You have had a front seat to the plight of people of color for equal rights but yet you still stand in the way of the John Lewis bill as you continue to marginalize people of color.