Richard Cohen and the Murder of Willie Edwards

Willie EdwardsYesterday, I had a little fun with Richard Cohen’s reference to the offensive Merle Haggard song “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver).” It was part of Cohen’s own offensive column, Chris Christie’s Tea Party Problem. The thing about the column is that it is effectively an apologia of the most vile of modern racist thought.

Cohen first claims, “Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party…” But then he goes on to say, “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.” That is a jaw dropping statement. In other words: gagging at the thought of interracial marriage is not racist. Ta-Nehisi Coates lays it out exactly right:

The problem here isn’t that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn’t actually racist, but “conventional” or “culturally conservative.” Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn’t racism, then there is no racism.

This made me think of the murder of Willie Edwards, who I discussed this morning (he would be 81 today). He was killed in 1957 in Alabama because some white bigots thought he was having an affair with a white woman. There has never been a greater emotional resonance for white racists than the idea that blacks (and other minorities, most notably Chinese) would have their way with “our white women.” Look at the film Stagecoach where the southern gentleman Hatfield almost kills Mrs Mallory rather than allow her to live as an Indian bride. This is powerful stuff.

What is deeply concerning is that Cohen and his many apologists don’t recognize this. It’s a bizarre world we live in where using racial epithets (rightly) makes one a racist, but breaking out in a panicked sweat over the idea of whites and blacks marrying is not. Richard Cohen needs to take a serious look at his thinking about race in America. But then, we all do.

H/T: Ed Kilgore

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

1 thought on “Richard Cohen and the Murder of Willie Edwards

  1. Wow . . . it’s almost as if these "conventional views" are actually trending backward. Good news for those of us who’d like to see them marginalized as much as possible (they’ll never go away.)

    Maybe the Tea Party types are right, though. After all, our sacred Founders would never have actually MARRIED the women they had biracial children with . . .

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