Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen: Black People Are Scary
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If he did, he might remember the lesson of his 1986 Washington Post Magazine column justifying racist treatment of black men. In it he defended shopkeepers who deny black men entrance into their stores. “As for me,” he wrote, “I’m with the store owners, although I was not at first. It took Bernhard Goetz, of all people, to expose my sloppy thinking.” Bernhard Goetz was a man who shot four young black men on a New York City subway car after he became frightened that they were going to rob him. (It was never actually proven that theywere going to rob him.) Because this column ran in a newly relaunched Washington Post Magazine featuring a cover story on a young black rapper accused of murder, black Washingtonians protested, and eventually earned an apology from Post executive editor Ben Bradlee.
They did not receive an apology, at least not right away, from Cohen, who instead wrote a newspaper column headlined “‘Accused of Racism,’” in which Cohen complained of being accused of racism. In this column he defended cabdrivers who refuse to pick up black people. (Two years later, as Tom Scocca reports, Cohen acknowledged that his critics were “mostly right.” He acknowledged this after he went to Atlanta and met rich black people.)
That lesson, apparently, was short-lived. In an interview with Politico about this week’s column, Cohen explained how racial profiling isn’t inherently racist, because everyone does it:
“Now, a menace in another part of the country could be a white guy wearing a wife-beater under-shirt. Or, if you’re a black guy in the South and you come around the corner and you see a member of the Klu Klux Klan.”
This is Richard Cohen defending his position — that “young black males” dressed in “hoodies” deserve to be targeted not just by the police but by armed idiot civilians pretending to be the police — by invoking the Klan. For Richard Cohen, a young black person dressed in not just politically neutral but also omnipresent attire is basically the equivalent of a guy dressed in the actual official uniform of a terrorist organization dedicated to the violent establishment and maintenance of white supremacy. Richard Cohen just has a pathological fear of black men, and he wants not just to espouse and justify this view, but also to be allowed to do so without anyone calling him racist.
Richard Cohen is obsessed with the notion that no one in America is ever brave enough to talk about race, or at least brave enough to talk about it in the way he would like to talk about it, bearing in mind that he probably doesn’t actually read anyone outside his immediate professional sphere, or anyone below the age of 50, or probably women or writers of color. “In the meantime, the least we can do is talk honestly about the problem,” he says in this week’s column. (“The problem” is the black male crime wave.) “Crime where it intersects with race is given the silent treatment,” he says. He complains that instead of addressing the fears of white people like Richard Cohen head-on, Barack Obama has instead sold out his own grandmother for being racist, a malicious misreading of his 2008 Philadelphia speech that is common among right-wingers complaining of reverse racism. (Cohen does not add, as FAIR’s Peter Hart notes, that in the same speech, Barack Obama did explicitly say that “wish[ing] away the resentments of white Americans” as “misguided or even racist” is unfair, because “they are grounded in legitimate concerns.” It’s not clear that Cohen bothered to read the speech before quoting the bit about the grandma.)