Who’s the GOP (Grand Old Party) Kidding with Its See We’re Not Racist Stunts

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

First, it was Juneteenth. Now it’s Willie O’Ree. Let’s take both and then try to see what the GOP is up to. Remember seeming from nowhere all fifty GOP senators enthusiastically signed off on legislation that made Juneteenth an official national holiday. That’s the day that slaves in Texas got word and celebrated emancipation. The GOP senators back patted themselves as if to say, see we’re not the bigots that Blacks, Hispanics, and the Democrats relentlessly rip us for being. 

Now there’s its latest stunt. All fifty GOP senators again made it unanimous and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to former NHL hockey player Willie O’Ree. O’Ree was the first Black to break the color barrier in the NHL with the Boston Bruins in 1958. And as with Jackie Robinson O’Ree caught Holy hell, there were the usual boos and taunts from fans and players. to again whine that the party is wrongly miscast as racist villains. Now six decades plus later the GOP senators reach way back into time and suddenly discover that O’Ree deserved one of the nation’s highest civilian awards for the hell that he caught as a player and for his pioneering role for Blacks in the sport. Again, the GOP can whine that the party is wrongly miscast as racist villains.

It’s thrilling that Juneteenth gets the recognition it deserves and becomes another reminder of America’s horrific and shameful racial history that some at least are finally coming to face up to and reckon with. It’s equally thrilling that O’Ree is getting the much-deserved honor and is still alive, at age 85, to receive the award and for his family and friends to bask in the glow. 

But sandwiched in between the GOP’s approval of the Juneteenth federal holiday and the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to O’Ree was the bold declaration from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that not one Republican senator would support HR1. The bill would expand protections on voting rights that are under ferocious assault from GOP governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures with their wave of blatant voter suppression laws. The ploys are the thinnest of disguised racially motivated ploys to scrub as many Black and Hispanic voters as possible from the polls. 

This is not an unfamiliar tact by the GOP. That is to make and back pat itself for claiming not to be racist. And assuring that there is absolutely no racial animus or intent in any of its political or legislative stances on issues that even remotely touch on racial or social justice. 

Trump set the template for this shell game when he was called out in June 2018 for making hideous, over-the-top, outrageous racist cracks about Nigeria and Haiti. A flustered Trump loudly declared “I am not a racist.” He didn’t stop at that and piled on with the declaration that he was probably the least racist person around. It was just talk, and bluster, no more. This is exactly what the GOP has made into a studied art on the issue of race. The GOP leaders now will quickly denounce a GOP leader for using the N-word or making racially derisive cracks. In recent years, the GOP has loudly distanced itself from the likes of the hard right, loose cannons such as Ted Nugent, and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy for their offensive remarks about Blacks. 

In 2012, the GOP even went on a bit of a noisy campaign against racism when then-Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus unveiled a hundred-plus-page blueprint last year on how to dispel the public’s image of the GOP as a haven for unreconstructed bigots and professional Obama haters. A centerpiece of that campaign was to call on the party to immediately blast anyone in or affiliated with the GOP who pops off about minorities or gays. 

The GOP’s overt racial name-callers and baiters are the softest of soft targets, and it’s easy to make examples of when they go off the racial deep end. A swift and seemingly indignant rebuke of them makes good PR copy. They serve to burnish the image of the GOP as a party that will not tolerate bigotry and is no longer afraid to call out those who spew it. Yet the hard political reality remains that the party’s race-baiters will not suddenly disappear. 

They certainly didn’t on January 6 when tens of thousands of them stormed the Capitol Building for Trump. Many according to Black Capitol Police officers said they were reviled with racial epithets from the Trump mob. GOP House leaders doubled down by flatly refusing to appoint members to the select committee investigating the riot. And even worse have refused to utter a peep of condemnation of the Trump fueled insurrection in the Congressional Record.

So, conjuring up a dramatic, but largely symbolic gesture such as backing the Juneteenth holiday and the medal for O’Ree hardly signals a Damascus Road epiphany for the GOP on race. As McConnell made abundantly clear on every big-ticket, crucial, public policy issue such as firm protections for voting rights, the GOP, is still and will remain the same old race malignant GOP.