By Jeffery Robinson
Last week, U.S. Rep. Steve King, Republican from Iowa, posed a question to a New York Times reporter that laid bare his racist ideology: “White nationalist, white supremacist, western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” He didn’t stop there. In the same interview, he expressed resentment toward the record-breaking gender and racial diversity of the 116th Congress: “You could look over there and think the Democratic Party is no country for white men.”
His words were not taken out of context, as he now argues. Nor is such racism new for him. During the Republican National Convention in 2016, King responded to a critique about older white men dominating the Republican Party by questioning the contributions that people of color have made to civilization. “I’d ask you to go back through history, and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about – where did any other sub group of people contribute more to civilization?” he said on an MSNBC panel.
“Than white people?” host Chris Hayes asked.
“Than western civilization itself that is rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world,” King replied. He was clear about his beliefs then and now.
I won’t waste space rebutting his ignorance by describing the incredible advances and discoveries made by people from African, Asian, and other cultures that were not white or Christian. These facts would not make a difference to King, who has chosen the path of deliberate ignorance. But he cannot use his ignorance to hide who he is.
In response to King’s overt racism, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Republican Party is no place for racism. Really? Since when?
In 1981, Republican strategist Lee Atwater gave an interview and described how Republicans can appeal to racists without sounding racist. After asking not to be quoted, he said:
“You start out in 1954 by saying “nigger, nigger, nigger’ – by 1968 you can’t say nigger. That hurts you. It backfires. So you say stuff like ‘forced busing’ and ‘state’s rights’ and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things … if it is getting that abstract and that coded then we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other, you follow me? Because obviously sitting around saying we want to cut taxes, we want to cut this, is much more abstract than even the bussing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘nigger, nigger’, you know?”
President Trump says that those in Charlottesville who carried Nazi flags and Confederate flags and shouted “you will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us” included very nice people. He has made numerous racist statements about Black people, Mexicans, Muslims, Native Americans, and his presidency has thrilled white nationalists.
Removing King from committees is public relations, so let’s be real. The Republican party has never been a stranger to racist appeals, from their support of former Alabama senator Roy Jones, even after he expressed a fondness for the days of slavery, to their backing of Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith after her joke about attending a lynching. McConnell’s suggestion that King should find another job rings hollow in light of the agenda of this administration and the support for it from Republicans.
King left no doubt about who he is. He claimed that the decision to remove him from committees “is a political decision that ignores the truth.” The truth is that King is a government official who uses his platform and influence to advance a white supremacist vision of America. Unfortunately, there are more like him enjoying the highest seats of power.
Jeffery Robinson is the ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality