Now that President Obama has won a second term, the “Because He’s Black” political argument is trickling down to his administration. (Previous episodes are here and here.)
Susan Rice, as you might have heard, is being hounded for her initial statements that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was sparked by anger over a film that denigrated Islam. The strongest criticisms have recently come from two Republican senators, Lindsay Graham and John McCain, both of whom are white. (At least 97 of the 100 senators are white. The newly elected Mazie Hirono of Hawaii was born in Japan. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Marco Rubio of Florida are Hispanic.)
Some black Democrats are saying, directly or indirectly, that Rice is being attacked because she is black:
“There is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments being made by unfortunately Sen. McCain and others,” Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio said Friday. She may have been referring to McCain’s comment that Rice, a Stanford graduate and Rhodes Scholar, is “not very bright.”
Earlier, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina was asked by liberal commentator Chris Matthews why Rice was facing so much “hostility … why do they treat her like she’s someone to punch?”
"That’s exactly right. This young African-American woman, I might say," Clyburn replied.
Hmmm. You be the judge.
It must be said: This type of exchange is not new. The infamous “You Lie” moment is widely seen as an example of racially motivated disrespect of Obama. Even things like the debt ceiling debate have been viewed as evidence of racial opposition, by folks like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Michael Eric Dyson (whose "the economy in the hands of the black" seems to have been inspired more by Dyson's love of Tupac than Obama).
Speaking personally, as a black man: It can be difficult to keep the “Is It Because I’m Black” question out of my head. When I get treated differently than I might like or expect, it’s impossible to know for sure if my brown skin is a factor. But I do know that a certain un-pin-downable percentage of Americans have biases against black people. What to do with that information? I try very hard not to act on it. Suspicion just makes things worse. And overall, I know that racial bias can’t keep me from the important things in life.
But suspicion seems to work in politics.
UPDATE 11/20/2012: This morning, Clyburn was asked specifically if there was a racist component to the criticism of Rice. His reply focused on use of the word "incompetent" to describe her.
"You know, these are code words," Clyburn told CNN. "These kinds of terms that those of us -- especially those of us who were grown and raised in the South -- we've been hearing these little words and phrases all of our lives and we get insulted by them."
"Susan Rice is as competent as anybody you will find. And just to paste that word on her causes problems with people like [Rep.] Marcia Fudge, and certainly causes a big problem with me. I don't like those words. Say she was wrong for doing it, but don't call her incompetent. That is something totally different. A lot of very competent people sometimes make errors."
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com