The underlying racism of John Cornyn’s question

For those of you who missed it, during the confirmation hearing for assistant Attorney General, Republican Senator John Cornyn tried to trip up nominee Kristen Clarke with a question from her past. At the age of 19, Ms. Clarke wrote a satirical op-ed piece for the Harvard Crimson about the “Bell Curve,” a racist book that supported a discredited theory that equated race and intelligence. In her editorial Ms. Clarke seemed to suggest that people of color were intellectually superior to people of other races. Since Cornyn is a Republican (and therefore a humorless idiot) he missed that her piece was satirical.

As Cornyn so aptly demonstrated, lack of intelligence is a quality available to all races, including his. The visible disappointment on his face is priceless when Ms. Clarke, a highly intelligent woman who is clearly brighter than he, set him straight on the matter. It was a moment he was hoping to prove a fundamental hypocrisy, not just of the nominee, but of people of color in general. You could tell how disappointed he was in the split second where, after being set straight, he hung his head, bit his lip and moved on to his next failed trap, a question about voter fraud. You could read in that moment a deep anger. Pity the member of his staff who is going to catch holy hell for that one.

Cornyn began his interrogation by attempting to whipsaw Ms. Clarke with the words of Martin Luther King Jr, by saying, “Miss[sic] Clarke, Martin Luther King famously said that he had a dream of the day when his children would be known by the content of their character not the color of his skin. Do you agree with that?” First of all, that’s not what Dr. King said. He said that he had a dream of the day when his four children would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In other words, Cornyn got the quote in reverse.

This may seem a small thing to some of you, but in misquoting the great man Cornyn reveals his underlying contempt for Dr. King’s original words. Stated in their original form the words have a majesty and a poetry that is simply not open to casual rearrangement. It would be like saying, “Shakespeare once said, ‘to not be or to be, that’s a big question,’ right?”

I happen to be of the opinion that Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech is the greatest collection of words ever assembled by any human being on any subject. The words are our modern equivalent of holy writ, and not to be twisted and reimagined in the mouth of a racist clearly intent on savagely derailing the nomination of a woman of color.

Cornyn’s contempt for the words of Dr. King didn’t stop there. It’s a common trope among racists to use the words of MLK to try to control people of color. It disgusts me every time I hear a racist say something to the effect of, “Didn’t Martin Luther King once say …” To racists, and here I’m going to use a highly offensive phrase for which I apologize in advance, brothers and sisters, Dr. King was a “good Negro.” Cornyn has no business quoting him at all, and he certainly has no business misquoting him in the service of his ugly and patronizing goal.

I think Dr. King would have very much approved of his sister Kristen Clarke, and he would have been deeply offended at Cornyn’s partisan hack attempt to undermine her nomination. Kristen Clarke is a graduate of two Ivy League universities, Harvard and Columbia. Cornyn went to St. Mary’s in Texas and the University of Virginia. She clearly outclassed him. But watch him vote against her nomination anyway. He just won’t be able to do it with the obvious self-righteous glee he was hoping for. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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