The Black Republican Stereotype

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., at the Values Voter Summit, Oct. 11, 2013.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, the president of the North Carolina NAACP insulted Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. “A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy,” said the NAACP boss, William Barber. “The extreme right wing down here finds a black guy to be senator and claims he’s the first black senator since Reconstruction, and then he goes to Washington, D.C., and articulates the agenda of the Tea Party.”

Scott, taken aback, said he had never met Barber. The senator told the Daily Caller:

I did not meet him when I was failing out of high school. I did not see him on the streets of my neighborhoods where too many of my friends got off track and never recovered. I did not meet him when I was working 85 hour weeks to start my business, nor did I meet him when I was running for Congress against long odds.

This week on Meet the Press, Scott was asked again about Barber’s comments. The senator shrugged, “You just can’t really respond to someone who’s never taken the time to get to know you.” Then he talked about bills he was working on to promote job skills and school choice.

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the policy disputes between Democrats and the Tea Party. You may think, as I do, that most of the Tea Party is wrongheaded, and that much of it is unhinged. But that’s not the point here. The point is that William Barber has never met Tim Scott. And none of Barber’s reported comments address Scott’s legislation or his career.

To put it in terms any NAACP leader should understand, Barber has prejudged Scott. He has prejudged him as a puppet based on the senator’s color and his party. This prejudgment fits a long tradition of epithets: Uncle Tom, house negro, oreo. The fact that these epithets tend to be used more by black people than by white people doesn’t change what they add up to: a racial stereotype.

We can argue all day about the Tea Party, Republican policies, and what Martin Luther King would have stood for today. To me, the core of his message was the right to be treated as an individual. His dream was, in his words, a nation in which his children would be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Tim Scott has that right, too. Everyone does. If what you want is the advancement of black people, and all people, take the trouble to get to know each person before you dismiss him. If you’re going to criticize him, at least criticize him as an individual. You owe him that.