In the film The American President, President Andrew Shepard said this: "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”
Representative Steven King (R-IA) must have watched this movie recently and with a strong desire to test the theory of just how much free speech Americans can take.
While on MSNBC with host Chris Hayes the Republican congressman said this:
This whole ‘white people’ business, though, does get a little tired, Charlie [referring to Charles Pierce a writer at Esquire]. I mean, 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’re talking about? Where did any other sub-group of people contribute to civilization?
King’s comments didn’t only make blood boil, but eyebrows raise and heads shake in outrage and disapproval. How is it possible that a sitting congressman can just casually dismiss contributions made to this country while simultaneously making the case for white supremacy? What’s sad is that his sentiments didn’t come out of left field; but instead are deeply held beliefs by members of his party and their angry, white constituency base.
Deeper than his dismissal of non-white Americans to the building of civilization is the fact that unfortunately Rep. King isn’t alone in his miseducation and misunderstanding of history. As far as many textbooks in the United States are concerned, we had slavery for some time, then blacks were set free, Martin Luther King Jr. marched and spoke a bit and all was well.
Not too long ago, Texas schools came under fire for their literal rewrite of American history when they referred to slaves in their texts as “millions of workers.” The word “worker” denotes the idea that these people applied for work, were accepted and then paid for their intensive labor of you know, building the very civilization and economy Rep. King swears only white people contributed to.
It wasn’t until a mother complained did the publishing company McGraw say that they would make changes. Representative King is a byproduct of a society that has bent over backward trying to erase the contributions of African Americans and other non-white populations from not only our textbooks but our landscape as well.
This September, the Smithsonian’s Museum of African-American History and Culture will open its doors on the National Mall. It has taken over a century for this museum to open. The first proposal to establish the museum came in 1915 from black Civil War veterans to celebrate the contributions of African Americans. In 1929 President Coolidge signed a resolution to begin construction, but that went nowhere. The push was made again in the 1960s, and then finally after decades upon decades of work in 2003 when President George W. Bush signed legislation authorizing the building.
Museums aren’t only about celebration but also education, so what does it say about America that it took 100 years to create a national museum dedicated to the overwhelming and often thankless contributions by African Americans?
When you take our education system into consideration, can you blame Rep. King for making such ignorant statements on national television? Yes, actually we can blame him, but he is also speaking on behalf of a group that refuses to recognize facts and has grown up in an educational system that only uplifts the images and influences of whiteness.
Representative King is a symptom of a much more corrosive disease in America—white supremacy.
White supremacy is the belief that white people are superior to all other races. So, when the congressman says, “Where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about?” he is unabashedly making the case for why whiteness is synonymous with rightness and other “subgroups” are well, sub-par.
This distorted logic was the foundation for slavery, the Nazi regime, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and more. It’s this belief in white superiority and authority over civilization that would have police officers believe that they are in the right in killing African Americans for threatening their supreme power, and who cares anyway—we’re just a sub-group right?
As Andrew Shepard lamented in The American President, “people don’t drink sand because they’re thirsty, they drink sand because they don’t know the difference.”
Representative King is intellectually parched. His America IS dying and his remarks are that of a thirsty old man clinging to an outdated belief system like a mirage in the desert we call the Republican Party. If only someone could offer him some of Bey’s LEMONADE to quench his thirst and get him right.