On Wednesday morning The Root’s political editor, Jason Johnson, appeared on MSNBC Live, as he often does, alongside Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union. Johnson is a veteran political analyst, writer and politics professor at Morgan State University. (Although I have no idea how he does all of this, because every time I turn on my TV, he is a guest on various news shows explaining politics to the audience. My personal theory is that there is a group of highly intelligent Jason Johnson clones who study politics by night and educate the public by day.)
Everything was going along swimmingly until they delved into the April Ryan-Sean Spicer controversy. Then this happened:
Stop shaking your head.
This exchange is a perfect illustration of an argument The Root tries to make daily: White people do not get to determine whether something is racist or not, and Johnson tries to make this point before the discourse turns into a boxing-match promotion. (By the way, Vegas has 3-1 odds on Johnson in the fifth round.)
Unlike most of the White House pool, April Ryan ain’t scared of the Trump administration, and “Scrappy-Doo” Spicer doesn’t like that. For context, we should remember that Ryan is the same correspondent who confronted Donald Trump about dodging the Congressional Black Caucus, and Donald Doll-Hands responded by asking her to set up a cookout for him to meet them. Ryan is the same reporter whom the Trump administration’s secretary of black stuff—Omarosa Manigault—threatened by telling Ryan that the White House had a dossier on her.
Anyone who thinks that telling an adult human being what she should do with her body has nothing to do with her sex or race should refer to the time NBC’s Peter Alexander told Trump his Electoral College boasts were lies, and Trump told him to stop smiling. You should stream the video of how condescendingly Spicer treated CNN’s Jim Acosta when Acosta asked the same question about Russia that Ryan asked. Maybe Johnson didn’t see the clip when Spicer told another correspondent to sit down, or to stop acting like that.
Oh, right. That has never happened—except to April Ryan.
Whenever the Ronald McDonald of presidents is confronted on his racism, anti-Semitism or xenophobia, he always responds with, “I am the least racist person you know,” and moves on to the next subject of his incompetence. In his mind, painting black people as poorly educated victims of inner-city crime or in need of “law and order,” or insinuating that all Muslims are terrorists-in-waiting, isn’t racist because it’s not what he meant. Many Caucasians don’t hate people of color, and since they don’t get on their knees and ask strawberry-blond Jesus to wipe black people off the face of the earth, nothing that they ever do could possibly be racist.
Schlapp’s writing off of Sean Spicer’s act as not racist or sexist would be the equivalent of his watching Spicer run over Ryan with a truck and explaining it away by saying, “She can’t be hurt because he didn’t mean to hit her. Come on, Spicer has a lot of stuff going on when he drives, but he drives like this all the time. Stop complaining just because he crushed her internal organs.”
That’s not how this works. That’s not how anything works.
Racism and sexism are measured by their impact, not their intent. You don’t get to punch people in the mouth and tell them whether or not they should bleed. Jason Johnson tried to explain this to Schlapp, but the conservative water carrier took exception to Johnson because—of course—Schlapp understands that the white-privilege emergency kit comes with explicit instructions on deflecting racism: Never admit to its existence.
And that is the problem.
Schlapp yelled at, turned his back on and interrupted Johnson for the same reason Spicer reprimanded Ryan: because Spicer and Schlapp can’t bear to hear anyone contradict their lies. Spicer is apt to get plum-faced and confrontational with anyone, as is Schapp—but the disrespect of Johnson and Ryan is indicative of Spicer’s and Schlapp’s privilege. Their whiteness endows them with enough arrogance to tell another human being to shut the hell up. How dare April Ryan question Sean Spicer just because she is paid to ask questions during a question-and-answer session? What gives Jason Johnson the right to comment on racism just because MSNBC invited him to specifically comment on racism?
Johnson knows that the only reason anyone would tell a grown-ass woman what she could do with her body is sexism or racism. Perhaps neither Spicer nor Shlapp even realizes that their actions are subtle acts of reductive supremacy. During this entire exchange, I couldn’t turn the channel or scream at the television because I couldn’t believe that in 2017, Johnson actually had to sit on national TV and explain why a white man telling a black woman what she can do with her body, emotions and gestures wasn’t acceptable.
I was even more flabbergasted at the sight of a white man telling Johnson—and I’m paraphrasing here—“You don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to racism, but I do.” I wanted to scream or at least have Johnson’s clone invite him outside.
But I couldn’t stop shaking my head.