A few days ago, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen triggered a firestorm of scorn and outrage when he wrote the following about New York mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s family:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
Did he really mean that it was “conventional” to suppress a “gag reflex” in the presence of an interracial family? When I read the piece, my first thought was that he simply expressed himself poorly. Cohen’s no racist, and surely he didn’t mean what he wrote. When one writes hundreds of thousands of words over the course of a career, sometimes one writes something stupid, and sometimes that stupid comment even leaks through editors. So rather than scream for his head, let’s just read his body of work and grant him a bit of grace.
Sure enough, almost immediately Cohen clarified:
“I don’t understand it,” said the columnist, who lives in New York City. “What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea party people. I don’t have a problem with interracial marriage or same-sex marriage. In fact, I exult in them. It’s a slander” to suggest otherwise. “This is just below the belt. It’s a purposeful misreading of what I wrote.”
So, Mr. Cohen, you’re not a racist, but the “extreme right-wing Republican tea party people” are?
I’m a lawyer for the Tea Party. In fact, I (along with my ACLJ colleagues) represent 41 tea-party and other conservative groups in 22 states as we sue the IRS in response to its systematic targeting of conservative groups. Arguably, it would be tough to find a conservative litigator who represents and works with more tea-party groups. In other words, I’m “right-wing.” Even worse, I’m Evangelical right-wing.
Oh, and my family is interracial.
In 2010 we adopted Naomi, our beautiful youngest daughter. She’s from Ethiopia.
For those who have not adopted, it’s difficult to fully communicate the immediate intensity of the connection. I remember looking at her sleeping in her crib the night we arrived back in America and feeling indescribably blessed — the same feeling I had with our older, biological kids (just with more jet lag). And she is one incredible, joy-filled little girl. We grow more thankful for Naomi every day. She is the light of our lives, and we pray every night for the strength and wisdom to be the parents God intends for us to be.
And we include her in almost everything we do. We’ve taken her with us to CPAC, she’s met Mitt Romney, she’s been to my wife’s book-signings with Bristol Palin, and she was right up there with us on stage when I was honored to receive the American Conservative Union’s Ronald Reagan Award.
The response? Love and acceptance. In fact, within the conservative movement, we’re not unusual at all. Interracial adoption is so common within the Evangelical community, it’s triggered a bizarre backlash from the Left. In my own (quite conservative) church, adoption has transformed a historically-white congregation into a veritable rainbow coalition.
What about the response from the left? Well, we were audited (along with roughly 70 percent of other adoptive families) by the Obama administration’s radical IRS, and we’ve been subjected to vile comments online, hateful private messages, and crazy in-person statements from self-described progressives who believe that white Christians can’t be trusted to raise a black child. I detail some of these incidents here, and the frequency of the comments caused my wife to write her own defiant statement. Here’s the bottom line:
During years of activism prior to adoption, no one questioned our suitability to raise our biological children. But we treat Naomi exactly the way we treat Camille and Austin [our biological children] and we get hateful messages claiming that we can’t raise her, threatening to call child protective services, and accusing us of actually adopting her as some kind of perverse trophy or symbol. Why do they single out Naomi? One reason: her race.
Of course not every liberal reacts this way to our family, and our liberal friends are every bit as loving and accepting as our conservative friends, but we’ve still experienced first-hand the fury the Left directs at those who don’t follow its prescribed racial script.
In other words, Mr. Cohen, when it comes to racial intolerance and “gag reflexes” in the face of certain kinds of interracial families, look to your own allies — not the Tea Party. To defend yourself from slander, you’ve slandered us.