By Lee A. Daniels and Stacey Patton, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –
Another day. Another outrageous example of how deeply the election of a Black American of mixed parentage has unhinged some conservative White Americans.
And further evidence, thanks to Marilyn Davenport, a Tea Party member who sits on the Republican Party central committee of Orange County, California, that the Tea Party continues to be the organizational refuge for some significant number of them.
Recently a local newspaper reported that Davenport, a longtime party committee member, had sent to some fellow committee members and others an e-mail depicting President Obama as belonging to a family of chimpanzees: his face was superimposed on a chimpanzee that was clearly meant to be the offspring of a male and female chimpanzee - also in the photo.
Underneath the doctored photo, Davenport, who is 74, had typed the words: “Now you know why – no birth certificate!”
Scott Baugh, the chairman of the committee, was one who received it. He e-mailed Davenport that it was “dripping with racism and is in very poor taste.” He and some other GOP officials in the county later said Davenport should resign or be ousted from her committee seat.
The ensuing scenario followed the script that’s become a thoroughly familiar one since President Obama took office.
Davenport at first declared in an e-mail response to the committee that she had done nothing wrong and that it was all “much to do about nothing.
“I’m sorry if my e-mail offended anyone,” she began, her tone of defiance obvious. “I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth.”
The character of Obama? His origin of birth?
Davenport pressed on: “In no way did I consider the fact that’s he’s half black when I sent out the email. In fact, the thought never entered my mind until one or two other people tried to make this about race. We all know a double standard applies regarding this president. I received plenty of emails about George Bush that I didn’t particularly like, yet there was no ‘cry’ in the media about them.”
She added for good measure that she has friends who are Black.
That marked the end of the first act of the drama: the dismissal of the wrong by combining the assertion that it was all a joke with a back-of-the-hand apology to those who took offense, followed by the I-have-Black- friends-so-I’m-not-a-racist declaration.
But, it was clear the controversy was not going be dismissed so easily. Davenport’s words summoned echoes of the racist assertions of late 19th and early 20th-century eugenicists like Charles Davenport (no relation) about the character, traits, and evolutionary origins of Black people. Charles Davenport was one who in the early 1900s warned that American society was in decline because of the presence of too many Blacks, people with disabilities and other people of color.
Former chairman of the California Republican Party Michael Schroeder weighed in quickly that the e-mail was Davenport’s third strike, citing two previous incidents in which she had defended the racist actions of fellow Orange County conservatives.
The first was during President Obama’s inauguration, when Los Alamitos Mayor Dean Grose forwarded an email depicting a watermelon patch on the White House lawn.
According to Schroeder, Davenport also defended Newport Councilman Richard Nichols when he opposed installing grassy areas at a beach. His reason, according to the L.A. Times: “with grass we usually get Mexicans coming in there early in the morning and they claim it as theirs, and it becomes their personal, private grounds all day.”
It’s important to note the similarity of the three incidents: they are all outlandish, and draw on a web of bigoted notions about Blacks and Mexicans that are the more effective because they don’t have to be spelled out.
The weight of criticism — added to undoubtedly via back-channel routes by Republican Party officialdom trying to avoid another racial controversy welling up from its ranks – soon forced Marilyn Davenport to publicly recant. She said, “I wasn’t wise in sending the email out. I shouldn’t have done it. I really wasn’t thinking when I did it. I had poor judgment.” She further said, “I am not a racist, but I do think I need to apologize again with different words.”
She went still further in an apology read for her (she did not attend) at the weekly meeting of the party committee statement Monday night, asking “forgiveness of my unwise behavior. I say unwise because at the time I received and forwarded the email, I didn’t stop to think about the historic implications and other examples of how this could be offensive. I am an imperfect Christian lady who tries her best to live a Christ-like honoring life,” the statement continued. “I would never do anything to intentionally harm or berate others regardless of ethnicity. Everyone who knows me knows that to be true.”
But, of course, though one may accept the sincerity of Davenport’s apology, it’s too late for a “retraction” of an incident and its immediate aftermath, which offer, not a window, but a glass house-look into the Tea Party’s soul as the place where such expressions of bigotry are acceptable. It underscores that, though the Tea Party has stored its racist, anti-Obama placards to don the cloak of political respectability, behind closed-doors it’s still the same old same old. The “monkey” Tea Partiers are apparently obsessed with asserting is President Obama is actually the outward manifestation of their own racial anxieties. The monkey they see is actually the one on their own backs.
Some claim that the depiction of the President and the First Lady as apes and monkeys has no more meaning than the comparisons of George W. Bush to a monkey that populated the internet during his years his office.
But, for one thing, those scurrilous references – which, though they subjected Bush to the ridicule, never included the First Lady or the Bush daughters – were never circulated by Democratic elected officials and party operatives, and they never infected the respectable political sphere. They were never a motivation for action by his political opponents.
In sharp contrast, the controversy that’s erupted about the “Davenport e-mail” isn’t just a matter of partisan bickering, or of some people being “too sensitive.” Not when, the social, and political arenas have been flooded since the Inauguration with venomous posters and cartoons and “jokes” from right-wing pundits, talk-show jockeys, and party operatives and officeholders likening the President and the First Family to monkeys and apes.
Not when the likening of Black Americans to monkeys and apes has always been a bedrock of White-racist thought.
You don’t have to be a psychiatrist or linguistic anthropologist to understand that the function of such language and images has always been to make Whites more comfortable in denying Blacks the rights of citizenship and indeed of simple human decency – as well as supporting a social and political structure that does so, too.
In fact, Scott Baugh, the Orange County GOP chairman, made just this point in saying Monday that, “Depicting African-Americans as monkeys is a longtime, well-known and particularly offensive slur because it denies them their basic humanity.”
Baugh urged party members to consider the reactions Black Americans would have on opening such an e-mail. “I hope for a fleeting moment,” he said, “you can capture the taste of what it feels like to be at the bigoted end of racism. Just reflect on that because that’s what many of them saw, that’s what many of them felt, and that’s how many of them reacted.
Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and Editor-in-Chief of TheDefendersOnline.
Stacey Patton is a writer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
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