Aug 21, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
By way of example…
Excerpted from The Root: Shortly after it was announced that Rep. Paul Ryan would join the Romney ticket as this year’s Republican vice presidential candidate, I wrote a piece titled, “What We Know About Paul Ryan and Blacks.”
Well, I recently learned of another significant addition to this list.
As reported on Twitter by CNN’s Pete Hamby, Ryan said he has a black sister-in-law, but perhaps even more interesting, his “college sweetheart” was African American.
So here is the million-dollar question: Is the fact that Ryan has dated interracially a noteworthy detail to consider when analyzing his politics and policies?
Here’s a well-known phrase that has virtually become a punch line: When someone finds himself on the ropes facing an allegation of racism, the go-to reflex defense is usually something along the lines of “But some of my best friends are black!” Translation: “I can’t possibly be racist or racially insensitive because there are black people I like and they like me. So there.”
Certainly, having a relationship with someone of a different race does not automatically make someone more racially sensitive and enlightened. Throughout his lifetime, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina financially and emotionally supported the daughter he fathered with an underage black servant. In addition to paying for her education, he was also known to play the part of proud parent by visiting her college campus and make inquiries to faculty about her educational progress.
Yet at the same time he was doing this in private, he was publicly advancing policies that would have rendered his daughter’s education virtually useless. If those policies had succeeded, she and her children, with whom he also maintained a relationship, would have remained second-class citizens. Does this mean that Thurmond’s relationship with his daughter was not genuine? From her recollections regarding the lengths he went to in order to remain a part of her life, I doubt it.
So then, how could he genuinely care for his black daughter and promote policies that would harm African Americans, and therefore harm her? Research has shown that those who hold stereotypes about a particular group of people are unlikely to have those stereotypes altered merely by encountering someone who defies that stereotype. Instead, they are likely to view the individual defying said stereotype as an exception. In other words, it is possible to have a black friend, Asian friend, Hispanic friend or Muslim friend or wife and still exhibit prejudice toward that group. The friend or wife is simply viewed as the exception who is not like the others.
For the record: No, I am not calling Ryan a racist. I am saying, however, that if you want to know where a politician’s heart lies when it comes to a particular community, it may be best to look at that person’s policies — such as his or her record on civil rights — rather than personal relationships.