So if I am to believe select political journalists, Paul Ryan can employ racist tropes to promote policy with racist outcomes, but none of us can call him racist.
There was a bit of an online debate over the Think Progress headline “Paul Ryan Blames Poverty On Lazy ‘Inner City’ Men.” During an appearance on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” on Wednesday, Ryan discussed legislative proposals that would focus on creating work requirements for men “in our inner cities” and deal with the “real culture problem” among its inhabitants. Raise your hand if you can see where I’m going with this. Now bury your face in to your palms because of that realization.
We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.
Ryan went on to cite the work of Charles Murray, a conservative social scientist who believes Blacks collectively are less intelligent than Whites due to genetic differences. As outlined by Think Progress, Murry believes poverty remains a problem given “a lot of poor people are born lazy.”
So let’s refresh. Paul Ryan recently discussed the cycle of poverty, but noted that “in particular,” there is a “real culture problem,” where men living in the “inner city” don’t want to work or even think about work. What is the definition of “lazy” again? Something about “not liking to work hard” or an unwillingness to do so?
Okay, a little word math problem. What’s a synonym for lazy? Shiftless, right? What kind of man lives primarily in the inner city? Reminder: Don’t let those new gentrifiers fool you. Alright now, take Black men add the coded language for lazy and what do you get? Shiftless Negro! I see what you did there, Paul Ryan, no matter if certain reporters want to pretend otherwise.
I’ve read comments like, “And I think things can play on racial stereotypes without someone intending to demean others.” Never mind the fact that by playing on racial stereotypes to make a point, you essentially are already demeaning others.
Then there are whitesplaining articles that counter Think Progress’ summarization of Ryan’s appearance with:
Ryan’s problem, it seems, is that he’s talking about inner cities while being 1) a Republican who is 2) about to unleash poverty legislation heavy on work requirements. If you’re a Democrat, you can talk about the inner city in the same way Ryan does.
Slate’s Dave Weigel then tried to conflate Ryan’s remarks with those made by President Barack Obama. The difference, though, is that Obama offered a nuance take on the nihilism that exists in inner city communities as a result of the cycle of poverty where as Ryan insinuated that
Black men “inner city men” don’t value work and have no desire to work. More importantly, Obama never cited the work of a known racist to lend credence to his point of view.
Meanwhile, others who call a spade and spade (and probably play spades at holiday gatherings), are not trying to excuse the racist sentiments in a clearly racist statement. To wit, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, issued the following statement: “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) categorized Ryan’s comments as “shameful and wrong.”
Paul Ryan is now defending himself, claiming he never, ever thought of race when he made those pointed remarks:
This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It was a long talk and he asked about the culture and I just went off of that. This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever. This isn’t a race based comment it’s a breakdown of families, it’s rural poverty in rural areas, and talking about where poverty exists — there are no jobs and we have a breakdown of the family. This has nothing to do with race.
You know, bringing up rural areas in response to criticism over comments made about inner city men — and again, coupled with the citing of a known racist — isn’t a good defense, Paul.
But then again, you’re not the wonk you purport yourself to be. Not to mention, your college Black girlfriend aside, you have a history of using coded language to describe all things Black. Such as using the words “urban areas” to describe unprecedented voter turnout that contributed to the Romney/Ryan ticket losing.
Ultimately, the bigger problem is that Paul Ryan doesn’t understand poverty and the systematic factors at play that hurt the very people he’s pretending to want to help. Nonetheless, if you’re going to blow your racist dog whistle, stand tall. And no offense to some of you White people out there who are ready, willing, and able to explain racism to the people most affected by it. Us Blacks have the basics already, but cute for you trying to explain why stereotypes that never affect you are much ado about nothing.