Race makes people stupid.
You wouldn’t think we’d need a fresh illustration of that truism, but here it is anyway, needed or not. For which we can thank the Democratic representative from the 4th District of Georgia.
If you haven’t heard, well I’m sorry your TV blew up and your hard drive crashed. And that your telephone is on the fritz and you don’t get out much. And that your paperboy was eaten by wolves.
Those of us who are still connected to the outside world know all about Cynthia McKinney’s confrontation recently with a Capitol Hill police officer. According to police, she was attempting to enter a Capitol office building when she was stopped by an officer who didn’t recognize her. McKinney, who was not wearing the lapel pin given to all 535 members of Congress, reportedly failed to heed requests that she stop and identify herself, whereupon the officer grabbed her and she allegedly jabbed him with her cellphone. CNN reports that prosecutors have decided to seek charges against her.
You would, under other circumstances, consider this a rather minor contretemps. But McKinney is black, which brings race into the picture. And where race enters, stupid is seldom far behind.
The first injection of which comes from McKinney herself. She has said she was a victim of racial profiling. It seems the pin she failed to wear, which allows legislators to circumvent the metal detectors, frequently goes unworn by congresspersons because they are known to Capitol police on sight. She questions why the cops find it so hard to remember her and why she is frequently assumed not to belong in hallways of power.
Those are good questions. But you know what? You still don’t hit a cop. That’s Black 101, something we instill in our boys to when they get pulled over for the crime of being. Heck, it’s Common Sense 101. Even if the cop is rude, wrong or racist, stay cool and complain through channels.
But hitting? After you’ve ignored commands to stop? That’s stupid. And stupid is like kudzu. Once it gets a foothold, it just grows wild.
So you had Tom DeLay, the ethics-challenged representative from Texas, popping up on Fox News to call McKinney a “racist.” And we have to take that seriously because as everyone knows, DeLay has worked tirelessly for the cause of racial justice and even got his nickname “The Hammer” from his fondness for the old folk song that promises to “hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.”
And you had white guys e-mailing black columnists – i.e., me – taunting them about what McKinney did because, you know, we’re just as much to blame as she is because all us colored folk think alike.
And you had Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover backing McKinney at a press conference – not, said Glover, to judge the facts of the case, but “to support our sister.” Because you know, even if she were found smoking crack with Osama bin Laden, you still have to support a sister.
And you had the GOP pushing a resolution commending the police because, you know, everybody else despises cops with a passion.
And you had Democrats maintaining a studied silence because, you know, even stupid has its limits.
Which may explain why McKinney issued a belated apology.
But a better woman would have nothing to apologize for.
A better woman would never have trivialized racism to gratify her ego.
And a better nation would be less susceptible to such spasms of stupid.
At about that same time, somebody was beaten because he was black. Went hungry because he was black. Died because he was black. Yet the face of racial injustice was Cynthia McKinney being asked for ID. You think there’s something wrong with that picture?
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.