A recent tweet by CNN’s Peter Hamby, in which the reporter claimed that presumptive GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan once told a Milwaukee magazine that he’d had a black college sweetheart and had an “African American sister-in-law,” has generated a firestorm.
While some observers are fascinated with what they consider an ironic aspect of the still largely unknown conservative congressman’s personal life, others have argued that Ryan’s alleged past interracial romance is completely irrelevant. Erik Gunn*, a Milwaukee reporter, stands by the story.
“I spoke to him some time ago, but I reported what he said at the time,” Gunn told the Daily Mail.
According the Daily Mail, Ryan’s communication director Kevin Seifart has also confirmed Hamby’s reporting.
However, Ryan’s colleagues and classmates from his college days at Miami University appear to be disputing Hamby’s claims. The Daily Mail interviewed several of Ryan’s classmates and fraternity brothers, and none of them confirmed a Ryan relationship with a woman of color:
Kent Taylor, 40, a sports anchorman in Louisville, Ky., was a student with Ryan at Miami University but does not remember his girlfriend.
Another of Ryan’s fraternity brother’s, Gatewood Atwood, 42, from Kentucky, met Ryan in the spring of 1989 when the pair pledged for Delta Tau Delta.
The two were roommates during their sophomore year. But much like Taylor, Atwood struggles to remember Ryan ever dating a black woman.
He told Mail Online “I don’t recall that [he ever dated a black woman.] It certainly doesn’t ring a bell. I don’t think he has anything against black people in any way shape or form so I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t have dated a woman like that. He is a great guy. But I don’t know that he actually did.”
In a column for The Root, writer Keli Goff questions whether Ryan’s reported eagerness to discuss a black ex-girlfriend is a pandering effort to woo minorities, and she draws comparisons to the ideologically incongruous personal lives of Strom Thurmond and Lou Dobbs:
Here’s a well-known phrase that has virtually become a punch line: When someone finds himself on the ropes facing an allegation of racism, the go-to reflex defense is usually something along the lines of, “but some of my best friends are black!” Translation: “I can’t possibly be racist or racially insensitive because there are black people I like and they like me. So there.”
In a New York Daily News column which dismisses Goff’s “incredibly dumb” piece, writer Derek Hunter counters:
Goff asks the all-important (to no one) question, “is the fact that Ryan has dated interracially a noteworthy detail to consider when analyzing his politics and policies? The simple answer is “no.” But to race-obsessed liberals the simple answer has no place in politics.
However, blogger John Chatz, writing for Chicago Now, thinks there could be more significance to the Ryan revelations even if there shouldn’t be:
Political pundits may wonder how Ryan will use this relationship to advance himself or to make himself more credible. They may also speculate whether it will earn him inroads into the black or other minority voter communities. I, however, am more curious as to how a conservative Republican will respond to Ryan’s dating history in the Alabama deep south or, more locally, in some of Chicago’s most famous all-white, intolerant neighborhoods, when this fact is publicized. And, in an interesting twist, will this fact make this perceived anti-Medicare, anti-abortion candidate more palatable to Democrats or fence-sitters because of his ability to see beyond his race?
But now with the entire relationship’s existence being called into question will this story blow over or has Ryan be forced to acknowledge that he may have misrepresented himself? William Hart, reportedly one of Ryan’s most influential professors, told the Daily Mail, “he was a great student. We didn’t socialize. But talk of an African-American girlfriend back then seems silly to me, quite frankly.”
*Editor’s note: This article has been correctly. Peter Hamby was incorrectly identified as the original source of the Ryan quote.