On Monday Sarah Palin took to Facebook to ask President Barack Obama to stop playing the race card. She posted, “Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card.” USA Today opined that while Palin did not specify how Obama “plays the race card,” her comments came on the heels of The New Yorker‘s profile of Obama by David Remnnick in which Obama makes reference to the issue of his race. Obama stated that there are surely some people who dislike him precisely because he is black and others who no doubt like him solely for the same reason. Sad though that may be, it is true, and I am not sure I would consider that “playing the race card.” However, that is not at all to imply that the race card does not get played, because it does.
As I reflected on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday I could not help but think that his dream that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” has not been fully fulfilled. What I find most troubling about that–as, I suspect, would King–is that African Americans are just as responsible for that as whites. In some cases perhaps even more so. There are many instances in which African Americans–leaders and non-leaders–make race an issue.
Examples are, unfortunately, not hard to find, but an excellent one can be found just last week. Tamera Mowry is an actress most known for starring, with her twin sister Tia, in the 1990s television show Sister Sister. Mowry is bi-racial; in her interview with Oprah Winfrey she said, “My mom is a beautiful black woman and my dad is an amazing white man, and I grew up seeing a family. I didn’t grow up saying, ‘Oh, that’s a white man.'” Mowry is now married to a white man herself, FOX News correspondent Adam Housely. The two have been married for three years and, Mowry says, ever since the wedding she has been subjected to name calling and all kinds hatred due to her marriage. The UK’s Daily Mail said she has been “remorselessly attacked.” Mowry told Winfrey, “I have never experienced so much hate ever in my life, ever.” Providing specific examples, Mowry said, “I get called ‘white man’s whore.’ The new one was ‘back in the day you cost $300, but now you’re giving it to him for free.'”
This is not the kind of attitude or dialogue that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have encouraged. He would certainly disapprove. The vitriol Mowry describes comes predominantly, if not exclusively, from other African Americans according to her report. What makes the issue ever worse is that the racial hatred spewed at her seems to be intensified because of the fact that her husband is a correspondent for FOX News, widely seen to be the conservative television news channel. During the 2012 vice presidential debate Mowry re-tweeted a Twitter post from Greta VanSusteren referencing her frustration with Joe Biden’s interruptions of Paul Ryan. The Twitter-sphere erupted with comments about Mowry being Republican, being married to a white man, and being “a light skinned hoes boy.” Alfre Woodard is married to a white man, too; as far as I know she has never faced the kind of hatred Mowry describes. Compounding the problem is the fact that it seems widely accepted and even celebrated within the African American community for a black man to marry a white woman. Why the double standard?
There are of course plenty of other examples; sadly, prominent African American political leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton seem to bring race into almost any discussion, even when it does not conveniently fit. I know that Rev. Jackson was a colleague and friend of Dr. King; I cannot, though, help but think that Dr. King would frown at the rhetoric Dr. Jackson so often uses.
Bottom line, I agree with Dr. King’s dream; the content of an individual’s character matters much more than the color of their skin. And as I think about it it is indeed the “content of their character” that shines through when ignorant people attack Tamera Mowry for being happily married to a white man. It is the “content of their character” that shines through when Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton tries to manipulate a legitimate political discussion into a racial issue. Sadly, those individuals often insist on connecting “the content of their character” with “the color of their skin” and the two are really not connected. At the end of the day, there are people of all skin tones that are stupid, arrogant, bigoted or contentious. Likewise, there are people of all skin tones that are intelligent, compassionate, humble and gracious. The best way to fulfill Dr. King’s dream, I think, is simply to live skin color out of it altogether.