One Senate Race, Two Black Men. Patterns: The Use of Negative Stereotypes

“If you are Herschel Walker and don’t understand how the racists are using you to give cover to their racism, then you are not qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate at this time." Kevin Harris, Former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus

One Senate Race, Two Black Men. Patterns: The Use of Negative Stereotypes
Photo by Arthur Edelmans on Unsplash

Patterns of Undermining  

There was a pattern in southern states during desegregation that cousins and friends who spent their childhoods in the deep south told me about. As schools integrated, Black and white schools merged, Black principals of high schools were automatically sent to elementary and middle schools, or became vice principals, while white principals were named to the top jobs. This was my introduction to the tendency for those with white supremacist leanings to ignore or fully disregard the qualifications and contributions of Black people. The message was, your race is all that we see and acknowledge because through the lens of racism, it’s all that matters for our purposes.

Shortly after I joined the working world, I experienced instances in which I would make a suggestion and when the suggestion was later referenced, it was attributed to someone else. It became Frank’s, or Bill’s, or some other white guy’s suggestion. It went like this, “I like what Frank suggested.”  Not wound to be a quiet person, I would speak up and say, “Frank didn’t suggest that Myra did.”  Crickets….  

I have had fortunate and well-earned professional positions, but in nearly every instance, there was one person who used my skin color to ignore my credentials or doubt my abilities. At a major oil company, a colleague once came into my office and blurted out, “you’re just here because you’re Black.”  I went on a two-minute rant sharing my resume’s range of experience from multiple television stations to politics, to the world’s largest PR firm, and compared that to his one job since college. We became friendly after that.

The Pattern of Ignoring Credentials and Accomplishments

When you connect the dots on the spirit of these statements and actions, you begin to realize that the most vehemently racist among us are uncomfortable with educated and qualified Black people. And they nurture that discomfort by disregarding Black intelligence, or worse, assuming Black people are interchangeable and share the same qualities.

Look at what has happened to Black History Month. In most practices it is not exposing people to the wide variety of historical contributions of Black people in America. Organizations often honor contemporary people (duh, it’s HISTORY), and fall back on the familiar go-to’s of athletes, entertainers, and social program advocates---the roles that prop up stereotypical images. Nothing against any of them, but there are literally thousands of patents and accomplishments in technology, science, and medicine by Black Americans---- throughout U.S. history. Do you ever wonder why U.S. history books have excluded those contributions? Because the books are designed to comfort and support a myth of superiority. I call it the ‘stay in your place,’ approach. After all, the word, ‘uppity,’ applied to educated and cultured Black people was used to imply there was something wrong with intelligence and sophistication if you’re Black.

A Familiar Pattern in the Georgia Senate Race

During the administration of one of the most outwardly racist former presidents of modern times, Donald Trump, we saw a president who spoke and acted according to racial and ethnic stereotypes; from calling Black people lazy and unintelligent to labeling Mexicans as rapists, and those who practice the Islamic religions, terrorists. And as we all saw, he promoted those beliefs in speeches and policies.

In one of his few appointments of a Black person to his administration, Trump nominated retired neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, to lead Housing and Urban Development, (HUD). Who could ignore the credentials of a world-renowned surgeon to that extent? Former HUD official, Mark Linton called Dr. Carson’s nomination offensive. He said, “It confirms a double standard in our society, especially among our politicians and the press. Imagine: Washington would have come to a grinding halt if Trump had nominated a renowned chef as Defense Secretary, or a famous poet to run the Treasury Department. But somehow, for the federal agency that serves the elderly and disabled, homeless individuals, communities of color and many working-class and rural families, it’s fine to appoint a Housing Secretary with absolutely no housing experience.”

I am no fan of Dr. Ben Carson or any Black person who supports bigots, but Trump’s behavior followed a familiar pattern of ignoring Black achievement by placing a Black professional in a role outside of their expertise. The chances of success are slim to none.

Now Trump has positioned a comically, unqualified Black man, Herschel Walker, against one with stellar credentials, Senator Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator from the state of Georgia. Warnock was born in Savannah, earned a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College (the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). He received a master’s degree, and PhD in divinity at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He is the senior pastor of Dr. King’s former church, Ebenezer Baptist and has a track record in Georgia of community activism for health care, the issues of low-income residents, and voting rights.

The Trump-backed candidate, former NFL player, Walker doesn’t have those credentials. And as news reports revealed, his campaign managers had to edit his biography to remove claims he graduated from college. Walker earned a Heisman Trophy but not a degree. He has been called, “embarrassingly unqualified” to be an elected official -—  at any level.

Walker claims he started a charitable program to help veterans. It was later revealed the program is not an actual charity. There are allegations the program forced veterans into mental health facilities so the organization could collect insurance money.

Walker attempted to publicly paint Warnock as soft on crime by using what amounts to a promotional special deputy sheriff’s title and ID card. It’s like the plastic wings kids receive on flights. Honorees don’t have the powers of a deputy. Walker had posted the honorary badge when challenged about false claims he worked for law enforcement and as an FBI agent. The FBI requires agents to have bachelor’s degrees, at a minimum.

While under-qualified candidates are a Trump signature, when it’s done according to race, it is particularly appalling.

Lies and gaffes can be amusing, but there is no humor in this mockery of our system of elections and the use of dog-whistle racist ploys to manipulate elections for a senate seat. There is no reason for Walker to be in the race other than to take Black votes from Warnock and to provide a modern-day Black minstrel show of negative caricatures and stereotypes for bigots. He is a non-threatening Black man. He was a great football player, but his statements on the campaign trail defy logic and reality and show us a man who has no knowledge of the position he’s been propped up to seek.

“Don’t we have enough trees around here?” ~~ Georgia senate candidate, Herschel Walker on the climate, health care and deficit reduction bill signed into law by President Joe Biden.
“Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So, it moves over to our good air space. Then now we got to clean that back up, while they’re messing ours up.” ~~ Walker on Clean Air and the Green New Deal.

Point made.

Myra Jolivet is a storyteller. First a TV news anchor and reporter. Then came PR work and consulting. That's where she is today - banging her head against the wall - trying to help CEOs and political candidates tell their stories well. Myra writes a series of murder mysteries She was a kid with an imaginary friend. That says it all.