In the Ebony-GOP Twitter Beef, Republicans Need to Toughen Up

Personal insults are never a good look—full stop. But once black Republicans decide to get in the fray, they have to be able to take the heat as well as dish it out.

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Jamilah Lemieux; Raffi Williams

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Right off the bat, let’s be clear: Insults don’t elevate the dialogue. So there’s no way to condone it when a black Republican gets called a “sellout” or an “Uncle Tom.”

And by that same standard, it’s equally uncool when left-leaning African Americans are referred to as “low information voters” stranded on the Democrats’ “plantation.”

Sadly, though, it’s stuff you hear all the time. Particularly if you hang out on Twitter.

Which is why I’m puzzled that the Republican National Committee is making such a big deal about Thursday’s Twitter scrap between Ebony’s Jamilah Lemieux and RNC Deputy Press Director Raffi Williams, in which none of those aforementioned insults were hurled, but Lemieux—who was lamenting the launch of Dr. Ben Carson’s new black conservative magazine—mistook Williams (who’s black) for white and said:

To which Williams responded, in the exact manner that he should have:

And when Lemieux realized her error, she apologized—with a side order of “scram”:

That’s pretty routine Twitter business, and that should have been the end of it. But then the RNC demanded an apology from Ebony, and Fox News ran with the story:

But to rise to that level of umbrage about Lemieux’s tweets is sort of like a basketball player taking offense if he takes a hard foul when he drives the lane.

Because for better or worse, Twitter can get pretty rough—and despite best intentions, sometimes elbows do get thrown. Back in 2012, for instance, in the heat of the presidential election, a black conservative commentator with a large Twitter following looked at my picture and mistook me for white in the middle of our exchange, leading to this wayward tweet:

I wasn’t offended, though—I was sort of amused. It was, I’m sure, an honest mistake, but—and here’s the key point—I didn’t ask for an apology. I kept right on debating with him about Obama vs. Romney until he finally figured out his mistake for himself.

So when Republicans come along and escalate the Lemieux-Williams beef to the level of a national outrage, I’m wondering if they just need a little toughening up.

Yeah, Lemieux got a little raucous—and maybe a follow-up tweet in the spirit of sisterly-brotherly love was in order. She should have expected, once she put her thoughts out in the Twitterverse, that folks would jump on her timeline to respond and react.

But in a spirited exchange between journalist and political flack, Republicans’ suggestion that Williams could, would or should be genuinely wounded just doesn’t add up, considering that part of his job is winning over converts to the GOP cause—and part of her job is offering opinions. 

We’re forever being chided, after all, by conservatives—including, especially, Carson, the country’s most prominent black conservative—about the perils of “political correctness” and “PC police.” In the land of the free, he says, unvarnished talk shouldn’t be squelched. I agree.

And until Twitter starts playing by Marquess of Queensberry rules, folks who jump into the fray—left, center and, in this case, right—should be prepared to dish it out ... and also to take it.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.