Memo to the Washington Post: If Seeing an Interracial Couple Makes You Gag, You Don’t Have a ‘Conventional View’


You can learn a lot about yourself from reading the op-ed page of the Washington Post. For instance, I just learned from columnist Richard Cohen that as a miscegenating bisexual, I provoke, by my very existence, a gag reflex in regular Americans of conventional viewpoints. Even if it were true, that might not be enough to chasten me, but it’s not; the facts prove Cohen wrong.

You see, Cohen has a strange notion of what constitutes a “conventional view.” For instance, he believes that if you feel like you might vomit at the thought of a white man and Black woman knowing each other in the biblical sense within the bonds of matrimony, that means you hold a “conventional view” of interracial marriage. And if you hold that view, according to Cohen, you’re not necessarily a racist.

This is what Cohen argued in a justly pilloried column published Tuesday. The columnist sought to opine on the pitiful state of the Republican Party, dragged ever rightward by its Tea Party wing, but he wound up revealing more the state of his own prejudices than those of the reactionaries in tricorn hats.

And how does Cohen know what “conventional views” real Americans hold? He’s ridden “the Internet Express to Iowa.” Translation: He’s read a few things written by Iowans on those newfangled website things.

Selected for widespread mockery on the Internet Express is this paragraph from Cohen’s piece:

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.

If that finds you scratching your head, you’re not alone. Even among Beltway reporters in Washington, the land where “conventional wisdom” frequently emerges from views that bear no resemblance to reality, that paragraph left the wags momentarily speechless.

In the course of five sentences, Cohen manages to give Tea Partiers a pass on prejudices against interracial couples, biracial children, lesbians, and, generally speaking, non-whites.

And this from a writer who poses as a centrist—a near-liberal who likes to poke fun at real liberals. However laughable Cohen’s execrable prose, it’s actually dangerous, for it’s “moderates” like Cohen who are best situated to perpetrate the fiction that Tea Partiers represent the “real America,” which they most assuredly do not.

Let’s start with the most arguable of Cohen’s claims: that the Republican Party is not racist, even though the civil rights activist and singer Harry Belafonte claims the Tea Party is. Right there, Cohen obfuscates, conflating a remark about the Tea Party with a condemnation of the entire Republican Party. So let’s join him in the conflation.

Is the GOP racist? A 2012 poll conducted by the Associated Press found that “Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79% among Republicans compared with 32% among Democrats).”

The poll also found that when measuring what is known as “implicit racism”—often unconscious attitudes that add up to racial prejudice—the gap between the parties narrowed on questions that revealed anti-Black attitudes, with 64 percent of Republicans showing implicitly anti-Black opinions, compared with 55 percent of Democrats. Bottom line? Members of both parties are racist, but Republicans appear to be more so.

When you drill down to the Tea Party faction, anti-Black and anti-Latino racial attitudes are more strongly stated. For instance, in a 2010 survey on race and politics by Christopher Parker of the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality, 73 percent of respondents who strongly identified with the Tea Party agreed with the statement “If blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites,” compared with 56 percent of all whites.

Add to those results such anecdotal evidence as the unfurling of a Confederate flag in front of the White House at a Tea Party protest during the government shutdown (and the absence of repudiation by Tea Party leaders) and the support for George Zimmerman during his trial last year, and it’s hard to see why Cohen is at such great pains to paint the Tea Party and/or the GOP as just a little old-fashioned.

But that assertion is nothing compared to the lies Cohen advances with regard to the attitudes of most Americans toward queer folk like me, or toward interracial couples and biracial children.

Where Cohen sees revulsion at interracial unions as a “conventional view,” most Americans apparently shrug their shoulders at the sight of such. A Gallup poll conducted in July found that 87 percent of Americans said they approve of interracial marriage. And a Pew poll conducted a year earlier found that 43 percent of Americans actually regarded interracial marriage as a sign of improvement in U.S. society.

While surveys on the acceptance of biracial people by the population at large are harder to come by, one might consider one major poll, taken in 2008 and again 2012: the U.S. presidential election, in which a majority of voters selected a biracial man as the nation’s commander in chief.

Then there’s Cohen’s slam against Chirlane McCray, whom the columnist defines as someone who “used to be a lesbian.” Actually, although she is married to a man, McCray has never said she’s not a lesbian, only that she once identified as such. But I’m sure just trying to fit that thought—a lesbian married to a man—into Cohen’s inflated head might just make it explode.

So let’s move on to how most Americans say they feel about LGBTQ people in general. Here’s the actual “conventional view”:

  • Seventy-three percent of respondents to a 2011 survey of likely voters show support for protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals from workplace discrimination.
  • Fifty percent of respondents to a 2013 survey expressed approval for allowing gays and lesbians to marry in same-sex unions; 43 percent opposed marriage equality.

You can learn a lot from reading the op-ed page of the Washington Post—a page dominated by white, male columnists. You learn, for instance, that a self-styled white-guy contrarian is granted a prime piece of real estate in one of the nation’s most important newspapers to affirm racists for their nauseating ideas, only to be lauded by his publisher as “brilliant” for having done so.

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  • Dorothy N.

    Thanks so VERY much for writing this!

    I recently signed a petition regarding this bizarre expression of mental sickness presented in the form of an editorial???!!! on which comments were not an option.

    While I can certainly understand why the public might not have been encouraged to express the outrage felt following our gag reflex in response to this ugly display of pathology within what was once a newspaper, reading this memo made me feel better about having had to repress the boiling disgust within, something which bothers me still, despite lacking adequate words (not involving swearing) to adequately express my feelings on the matter.

    If the US had a civilized health-care system, perhaps therapy might help people like Cohen at least understand the conventions of modern society and democracy sufficiently to function within them, without offending not only his targets but every sane person sullied by exposure to his mindless hate speech, and concerned about his – and, more importantly, a newspaper’s – support of others with the same mental issues.

    Hate speech, discrimination, insult, incitement of contempt and hatred against identifiable groups of pacific, law-abiding people – such attacks do not form free speech, but impose upon the rights of others to live and love in the pursuit of happiness – and to keep their lunch down when encountering it.

  • CJ99

    Why would a known established newspaper even consider publishing blatant racism as op/ed? Not only should the writer of such drivel be sacked the editorial staff should join them in unemployment. I’ve known 4 couples of different cultures (all visibly different) and all are certainly very normal.