Scurrilous Charge or Outrageous Racism?


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© Jack Cashill - March 21, 2010

When I first read the words attributed to my congressman, Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), that he heard “a chorus" of people yelling n*****” as he walked through the protester’s gauntlet at the nation’s capitol, I was immediately suspicious.

Here is why. I grew up in the playgrounds of America’s most racially charged city at its most racially charged moments—Newark, New Jersey in the 1960’s—and I heard a white kid drop the n-bomb only once directly on a black one.

So shocking was the moment that I remember where I was, the name of the n-bomber (Bruno), and the startled look on the black kid’s face. In a scarily transitional neighborhood where racial tension was a constant and confrontations an everyday occurrence, this simply did not happen.

Yes, white people used the n-word among themselves the way they might use any expletive: that is, not in polite company. In those circles where the f-word was used regularly there was a high likelihood that the n-word would be too. Those rare occasions where the n-word leaked out in a racially mixed crowd were excruciating for everyone.

Thus when Bruno, a kid I barely knew, called out his black opponent at the beginning of a fight, jaws dropped all around. We talked about it for years afterwards. In the 15 years or so I have been actively involved in conservative politics in Kansas City, I have not heard the word used in any public forum ever, let alone directed at a black person.

So when I hear any black person my age or younger who grew up in the north recount how they were frequently called the n-word growing up, I disbelieve them. When I see charges of overt racism being leveled at Tea Party-type protestors, I am at the very least suspicious.

When I heard the accounts of Cleaver, Congressman Lewis and others, I did not necessarily disbelieve them, but I decided to check the source, a piece in the notoriously liberal McClatchy papers by one William Douglas, and I began to see how the record was being twisted.

“Cleaver,” Douglas reported, “said he was a few yards behind Lewis and distinctly heard ‘nigger.’ ‘It was a chorus,’ Cleaver said.”

I presumed that the available videotaped evidence would support Cleaver’s claim. It has not. The “chorus” of the people in the video is clearly saying “Kill the Bill.” Chances are that Douglas edited his comments to suggest that the “chorus” was shouting racial epithets. If Douglas did this, he should be fired.

As to Cleaver’s claim of hearing the n-word, if true, I suspect a provocateur planted by the left. As the lawyers ask, cui bono? Who benefits? To this point, however, the videotapes do not support Cleaver even on this. To be charitable, I will attribute his response to paranoia and blame McClatchy for a deliberately dishonest political provocation.

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