White people don’t need black folk to comfort them and their white tears. U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings apparently didn’t get the memo.
During Michael Cohen’s congressional hearing Wednesday, GOP Representative Mark Meadows pushed back against the former Trump lawyer’s assertions that President Donald Trump is racist. He did so by trotting out Lynne Patton, his token black person and Trump appointee.
“She says that as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist,” Meadows told Cohen, as if racist white people can’t be cool with one Negro while being anti-black to others. Later in the hearing, Tlaib correctly took Meadows to task.
“Just because someone has a person of color, a black person, working for them does not mean that they aren’t racist,” Tlaib said to Meadows. “And it is insensitive ... the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself.”
Meadows cried a river of white tears, suggesting Tlaib called him racist—she didn’t—and then said that his nephews and nieces were people of color. This compelled Cummings to make a very big mistake: to cuddle Meadows’ fragile white feelings. Calling Meadows “one of my best friends” and saying that he didn’t believe Tlaib was calling him racist, Cummings asked Tlaib for clarity. In return, the congresswoman apologized if Meadows took her thoughts the wrong way. In effect, Cummings indirectly positioned Tlaib as the wrong party—not Meadows, even though he tried to protect a well-documented racist president by using Patton’s black face as cover.
Cummings failed Tlaib. It was disheartening and disappointing to watch.
This was a seminal moment in U.S. political history for several reasons. It’s rare that a black person chairs the Oversight Committee, one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. Making Cummings’ position more consequential are the times in which we find ourselves. House Democrats have extraordinary power to investigate Trump’s possible criminal acts during the 2016 election. To boot, a record-breaking number of women of color elected during the 2018 primaries made way for three of them (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Tlaib) to be appointed to the Oversight committee that yesterday questioned Cohen, the person who knows more about Trump than most.
Cohen outlined some of Trump’s racist behavior over the years, which is crucial to understanding the type of head of state who’s running our country into the shitter. With a black man presiding over the hearing and Democrats in control of the House, it is crucial that the issue of race and how it affects our democracy be taken head-on, and those who are elected to call truth to power must be given space to do so. Tlaib called truth to power by challenging Meadows’ faulty assertion that a white person’s black friend or colleague absolves him from being racist.
Cummings undermined Tlaib in doing so, and here’s why.
For starters, if a person is accused of being or doing something racist, that person should at least be able to stand on their own merits and refute the charge. Meadows didn’t and instead used one of the oldest tricks in the white supremacist handbook: pull out the token Negro and take cover behind them. But that didn’t seem to offend Cummings. No, the “grandson of sharecroppers,” as he called himself—as if all black people don’t have sharecroppers somewhere in their family tribes—seemed to react more sensitively to Meadows’ fragile white man feelings than a woman of color who felt offended by the racist act of tokenizing a black woman.
Reminder: Tlaib is from Detroit, one the biggest, black cities in the U.S., so she would be just as sensitive as anyone to how black women can be used for political theater.
Indeed, a Palestinian woman did what a descendant of sharecroppers failed to do: defend a black woman against Meadows’ tokenization of her agency. And I wonder if Cummings was as concerned about Barack Obama back in 2012 when his “best friend” said that the nation’s first black president should go back “home to Kenya or wherever it is.”
Tlaib can’t say it, so I will: Fuck Mark Meadows and his mayonnaise-ass white tears.
Black women have long demanded that the Democratic Party support black women for elected office and this 2018 cycle produced the most diverse class of congresswomen in the country’s history. But it appears the party is ill-equipped to handle what it means to have outspoken women of color in their ranks. Ocasio-Cortez has been criticized by people within her own party for being too outspoken. Pressley made news for using her first speech on the House floor to call out Trump and his kleptocratic administration. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, whom the Democratic Party has done a horrible job of supporting publicly, was forced to apologize for highlighting legitimate concerns over AIPAC’s role in lobbying Congress for favorable policies towards Israel’s anti-Palestine government.
Cummings’ handling of Tlaib yesterday is part of a larger problem the Democratic Party has with this new class of women of color: Democrats want women of color in Congress, but they can’t seem to handle their truth-telling.
I do not believe Cummings meant to underline Tlaib, nor do I believe this is a major blow to his character. But he messed up and needs to apologize to Tlaib nonetheless—publicly. Otherwise, Republicans will take Meadows’ cue and cry a river of white tears each time a woman of color dares to call them out on their racism.
Cummings would be wise not to repeat the same mistake of providing them cover.