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April 11, 2006
Making Excuses For McKinney

In the contretemps over the (latest) Cynthia McKinney incident, one could see a predictable dynamic play out. First would come the denunciations of the Congresswoman for attacking a police officer doing his duty at a security checkpoint. Next would come McKinney's claim to have been victimized by official racism. After that, people would chide McKinney for making race an issue ... and then would come the meme that McKinney's race-card exploitation has a point. Ruth Marcus carries the ball for the unconscious-guilt lobby in today's Washington Post:

Even before the latest altercation, McKinney was known -- accurately -- as a hotheaded conspiracy theorist inclined to play the race card at the drop of a congressional ID pin. The details of McKinney's run-in with an officer who stopped her as she walked around a security checkpoint aren't yet known, but it's already obvious that McKinney needs to read "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Congressional Edition," with a focus on: Let's use our words. Or, we don't hit. Especially not with our cellphones. Especially not police officers.

McKinney's response, flinging accusations of "racial profiling" and "inappropriate touching," with its smarmy sexual overtones, was as outrageous as it was predictable. She was, her lawyer said, yet another "victim of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials because of how she looks and the color of her skin." Please, this is not Rodney King Goes to Washington.

And yet, race and, to a lesser extent, gender are unavoidably entwined with the incident. Few of us consider ourselves racist or sexist, but few, if any, of us are immune from seeing things through the prism of race and sex. If McKinney looked like Congressman Bob Forehead -- tall white man with dark suit and helmet hair -- would the officer have been more likely to wave her through -- and less likely to forcibly stop her? Would he have been more likely to recognize her in the first place? To suggest that his reaction might well have been different is not to accuse him of bad motives but to recognize the deeply embedded role that race and gender play in perception and judgment.

Did you get that? Marcus manages to touch all the bases here. McKinney's an idiot, this isn't Rodney King Redux, but Capitol Hill police (as well as you and I) are all racists at heart. Why? Marcus sets up an absurd hypothetical and then challenges us to say we would have stopped a "tall white man ... with helmet hair" for running a security checkpoint without properly identifying himself.

"Tall"? Now we're introducing heightism as well as racism?

Marcus wants to build an excuse for McKinney and tries to find it in some inherent, unconscious racism that purportedly exists in all of us. That's just another version of the same tired, liberal excuse for crime that lays blame on the society rather than the perpetrator. It's absurd, it's meaningless, and all it does is absolve people of any responsibility for their own actions. In Marcus' world, McKinney cannot shoulder any blame because as a short African-American woman, the deck is stacked against her. She's incapable of avoiding harrassment.

Actually, I tend to agree with that last statement, but not for the reasons Marcus espouses. McKinney gets harrassed because McKinney is an idiot and an egotist, none of which has to do with her race, her gender, or her height. McKinney has plenty of control over her idiocy and egocentrism but chooses not to address them. Therefore, it's hardly surprising that she feels as though she can breeze through security checkpoints -- everyone should recognize her, after all! -- or concoct a deep conspiracy against short black women within the ranks of the Capitol Hill police when she gets momentarily detained to identify herself properly. The fact that she was dumb enough to take a swing at a cop should have given everyone a clue about McKinney's intellectual capacity.

In the meantime, Marcus should consider the impact of her admitted latent racism on her column this morning. What exactly is it about a security checkpoint that she feels people of color cannot handle? I'm sure that the thousands of non-white people who manage to make it through security checkpoints every day -- as well as those who staff them -- would love to know the answer to that question.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 11, 2006 6:46 AM

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