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Controversy Surrounding Paul Ryan’s 'Culture' Remarks Linger

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Congressional Black Caucus, left-wing leaders continue to hammer Ryan over alleged racially-tinged remarks

By Corey Arvin
Staff Writer

Nearly two weeks since his radio interview with “Morning in America”, a formal rebuke by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and a letter defending his statements, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) still can’t shake comments about “culture” related to men not working.

On Sunday, during a town hall meeting in his district, a black male attendee confronted Ryan for statements he made that what he considered to be a “code word for black”. The man asked Ryan why he made the statements, to which Ryan defended as having no racial implications.

“This is not a race thing, (it’s) a poor thing. Poverty knows no racial boundaries,” Ryan explained at the town hall meeting.

Ryan’s remarks during his March 12 radio show appearance touched off a firestorm of criticism from Democrats, particularly members of the CBC, who considered Ryan’s comments racially-tinged and divisive. The 43-year-old legislative group called on Ryan to apologize for his comments and rescind his statements.

In a letter sent to Ryan, signed by CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), the group said, “The problem many people in poverty face is not isolation, but rather the lack of resources to help ensure all people have the opportunity to succeed and contribute to society, such as adequate transportation, infrastructure, job training programs and other resources to search for jobs and become gainfully employed. A serious policy conversation on poverty should not begin with assumptions or stereotypes…”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, one of the most outspoken critics of Ryan’s statements on the “Morning in America” show, said Monday, “Mr. Ryan’s remarks were offensive to me not only because he is a member of Congress, but also because he chairs the House Budget committee, which I sit on. In the Budget Committee, we work on funding for social safety net programs, and the comments that Mr. Ryan gave indicate a deep lack of understanding about what’s really going on on the ground when it comes to poverty in America. We see these values laid out in his budget proposals that time and time again create no jobs, slash funding for nutrition assistance, gut our social safety net, and create more poverty.”

“As we’ve seen over the past several days, these comments are sparking a conversation in our country about race and poverty that is long overdue,” she added.

Lee had previously scolded Ryan for his remarks when she released a statement March 12 calling them a “thinly veiled racial attack.”

According to Jody David Armour, Professor at University of Southern California’s (USC) Gould School of Law, Ryan’s interview was a stark reminder that insensitivity and a lack of understanding about poverty in relationship to race is a historical problem in the U.S. that elected officials have continued to use for political advantage.

“(Ryan) sees the source of the problem in people themselves rather than in their circumstances. This is a very old, familiar explanation and debate,” said Armour.

Armour, who specializes in racial discrimination, racial profiling and cultural diversity, believes modern-day racism and racially-inferred statements are much more complex and continuously evolving, which makes it more difficult to decrypt and determine how such comments should be confronted.

Armour says racial remarks and insensitivity have always existed on both sides of the political aisle. He pointed to President Obama’s speech at a Morehouse College commencement last year as an example of how statements made by democrats are sometimes similar to far-right conservatives.

“’No more excuses.’ He wagged his finger at them about personal responsibility. If you go down Obama’s list and you go down Ryan’s list, you see how much they mirror. These are bipartisan attacks that blame people’s conditions for their own moral deficiencies and internal short comings. You have their plight blamed on immoral and cultural issues, but not explaining the problems that they have faced from economic, social, and external factors.”

“It gets us into the complexity of racism in 2014.”

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