Yesterday multiple media outlets and websites reported on a racist email sent out be a member of the Orange County Republican Party central committee. The email in question (seen on the left) features a picture of President Obama’s face superimposed on a small chimpanzee that is being held by two adult chimpanzees with a caption reading, “Now you know why — No birth certificate.” The email was sent out by Marilyn Davenport, who is also a Tea Party activist. The condemnation of the email has been nearly universal (special emphasis on the word nearly), including Scott Baugh who is chairman of the Orange County Republicans. Baugh has called on Davenport to resign, and also said he intends to launch an ethic investigation. While the email is newsworthy in itself, the response of the parties involved may be even more revealing.
When the OC Weekly called Davenport to inquire about the email she stated,
“Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people–mostly people I didn’t think would be upset by it.”
Davenport’s response follows that of many Republicans and Tea Party members who are accused of racism. The message goes something like “It is the media’s fault for being too politically correct. Why can everyone not just see this as joke.” Davenport’s also reiterates another common false defense which essentially states, “If I did not intend anyone to be upset by comment/poster/actions then no one has a right to be upset.” As if everything would be “OK” if the media would just stop paying attention to these kind of stories. It follows the same kind of reasoning of segregationists in the South in the 1950’s, who claimed that all these “problems” were actaully caused by civil rights workers who were making a big deal of nothing.
What may be especially troubling is the denial from Davenport that any problem exists. Most people, if they are truthful with themselves, can look back at some inappropriate actions in their life dealing with race and/or gender. Most people would acknowledge that at the very least they have some racist prejudices in their mind. The best way to fight these prejudices is to be aware of them, to educate oneself, and to keep racist thoughts from becoming racist actions. Davenport’s attitude, and that of many Tea Party activist, is that they can not possibly be racist, because they have friends who are black. This denial is exactly what leads to the kind of email Davenport sent out.
Davenport is also not alone. Davenport actually had some people from her own party who supported her. Tim Whitacare, an active conservative supporter of the Orange County Republicans, said of Davenport,
“Marilyn Davenport is a staunch, ethical Republican lady. There is nothing unethical about this from a party standpoint because it wasn’t sent out to the party at large with any racist statements and it wasn’t signed as a central committee member. As a private individual, she is just real big on Birther stuff. One of her passions that drives her is the president’s lack of forthrightness about where he was born. Marilyn believes that nobody knows where he was born and so this picture says a thousand words.”
Whitacare went on to describe Davenport as “pleasant, loving person, and it kills me that she is being attacked by this non-story knowing her mindset.” Such is the response of many Republicans and Tea Party members when one of their own is accused of racism. Whitacare cannot fathom that this old, sweet lady he knows could be capable of racism. What Whitacare fails to recognize is the great duality of all humans. If one looks back at the segregated South, or the various wars the United States has fought, they will see individuals who act like both an angel and a demon within the same 24 hours. Davenport, by all reports, is a loving person on most occasions, but that does not mean that she is not capable of racist actions on other occasions. The two descriptions are not mutually exclusive.
When Davenport found out the email was going to become a news story she was furious, but Davenport’s anger was not pointed at herself, or even the media, but instead at the “coward” who had leaked the email to the press. It seems that the number one rule within the party is to protect their own, even if one member sends out an outlandishly racist email to the rest.
Michael Schroeder, the former chairman of the California Republican Party, stated that this is actually the “third strike” for Davenport. In the past, Davenport defended another member of the Orange County Republican Party who sent out email which showed the White House surrounded by watermelons ahead of President Obama’s arrival. Davenport also defended another Republican who attempted to pass a new ordinance on the rationale that there were “too many Mexicans” on the beach.
Davenport has now officially “apologized,” but even her apology sounds more like a non-apology. After saying she was sorry, Davenport went on to blast the “liberal media” and went on to defend herself saying,
“I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth. In fact, the thought never entered my mind until one or two other people [Scott Baugh, Orange County GOP boss, and this writer] tried to make this about race.”
Again, Davenport goes back to the same defense. It is not about what she did. It is about those damn liberals. It was never even about race until other people brought up race. It is their fault.
Such is the dilemma the Tea Party and Republican Party now finds itself in. The more reasonable among them know that they, like every large organization, has some racist elements inside which must be disciplined and dealt with. The less reasonable, sees the racism as a media fiction. Rather than confront the racism and deal with it appropriately, the response of the less reasonable is to hide the more blatant racism from the media, and protect your own at all costs.