That’s not what conventional means

Willy Wonka meme about Richard Cohen column.

Everything’s better when Willy Wonka asks it.

Are you old enough to remember when the Washington Post was on Richard Nixon’s enemies list? Those days are certainly over.

If, somehow you missed the background story, you can check it out here: Washington Post Writer: Interracial Couples Make ‘People With Conventional Views’ Vomit.

So, Richard Cohen wrote an editorial at the Washington Post trying to prove that the Republican party isn’t racist. And in the course of that op-ed piece, he said:

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. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

This caused an uproar. The Post‘s editorial board has gotten defensive. Cohen has since claimed that he wasn’t describing his own feelings, but the feelings of some people.

Let me explain just how wrong that is…

Cohen has been writing op-ed columns for years. Words are his livelihood. If he had meant that only “some people” felt that way, he would not have used the phrase “people with conventional views.” That phrase “conventional views” means something that conforms to agreed upon social norms. Calling something conventional means that it is orthodox, standard, normal, or run-of-the-mill.

In other words, calling a viewpoint conventional means that you believe it is the prevailing or common opinion. It means you think that a vast majority of the population feels that way.

So no, he wasn’t describing what he thought were the viewpoints of some people. Saying that now is just an attempt to backpedal because he didn’t expect so many people to object.

There’s more, though. There’s that parenthetical statement, “Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?” Read that aloud. You can just picture him leaning in, looking both ways to see if anyone with delicate sensibilities is within earshot, and then saying it much quieter than the previous sentence. As if he is deeply embarrassed to have to mention such a sordid thing as a lesbian in polite conversation.

That line there gives it all away. Not only does he think he is describing the opinions of the vast majority of people, but he’s admitting that he is one of the people who is repressing a gag reflex. So not only is his defensiveness now backpedalling, it’s an outright lie.

The real rub is at the end of that last sentence in the section I quoted, “this doesn’t look like their country at all.” The people who have to repress the gag reflex, including Mr Cohen, say that their country doesn’t have interracial couples. Their country doesn’t have biracial children. Their country doesn’t have lesbians. All of that is foreign and un-American.

It isn’t just their country. It’s my country, too. It’s Bill de Blasio’s country. More importantly, this country belongs to the children of Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray just as much as it belongs to the racist columnist who tries to prove he’s not racist by saying that seeing an interracial married couple and their biracial children forces him to repress a gag reflex.

The last bans against interracial marriage were struck down more 45 years ago. Even in 1967, there were only 16 states that prohibiting interracial marriage. Most of the New England states had never banned interracial marriage, and 22 states either never had such bans, or had repealed them before the beginning of the 20th Century. So interracial marriages have been a thing that happens for a whole lot longer than the Supreme Court case that struck down those bans.

That term, interracial, is a pretty slippery one, too. Back in the 19th Century, conservative newspaper columnists wrote about the Irish Race, about how the immigration of so many Irish people was disrupting the culture and destroying “our” country. They argued in favor of businesses being able to exclude Irish people. They called non-Irish white people who sympathise with the Irish “traitors to their race.” On the other side of the political fence, there were pro-Irish newspapers that referred to Irish people who married non-Irish white people “race traitors” as well.

That’s right, if a white-skinned person of Irish descent married a white-skinned person of Italian (or German, or English, or…) descent, it was considered an interracial marriage by a lot of people in 19th Century America. And that seems outright laughable to most people now.

Most people don’t have to repress a gag when they see an interracial married couple and their biracial children. And we shouldn’t. My ancestry isn’t as obviously mixed race as the de Blasio’s kids is, but Americans have been mixing up the ethnic gene pool for an awfully long time.

As the White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi who learned on air this last week that he is actually 14 percent Subsaharan African, found out to his chagrin.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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