Is Allen West being smeared with the 'angry black man' brush?

OPINION - While Rep. West went a tad over-the-top in his response, there is a larger issue here about racial and gender stereotypes of black men...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

The “angry black man” is one of America’s most enduring racial and gender stereotypes. White fear of the “aggressive” black man has been an undercurrent in our nation’s politics, and the controversy surrounding Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is no different.

The conservative Republican voted for his political party’s “Cut, Cap, & Balance” deficit-reduction plan to deal with America’s troubling finances. Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) — the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who has a history of over-the-top political rhetoric — took to the U.S. House floor to single him out for allegedly wanting to cut Medicare.

Upset with Rep. Wasserman-Schultz’s claim that he wants to put Grandma out on the streets, Rep. West sent an email to her and copied other legislators. In the letter, he called Rep. Wasserman-Schultz “not a lady”, “vile”, “despicable”, “unprofessional”, and to “shut the heck up”. While Democratic female lawmakers are calling on him to apologize, Rep. West claims that no apology will be forthcoming.

Even by Congressional standards, this is tame. However, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has long targeted Rep. West’s swing district in its “Drive To 25” campaign for the 2012 election cycle. Thus, the feigned outrage.
The Wasserman Schultz-West feud has a long history, dating back before Rep. West’s election.

Here is a man who had his Social Security number “accidentally” released by Rep. Wasserman-Schultz’s Florida Democratic allies in a campaign mailer, the Congressional Black Caucus campaigned against him and initially snubbed him even though he is a voice for the 21percent of black Americans who support limited government.

Yet, he was still victorious in unseating Democratic incumbent Rep. Ron Klein (in the process raising the most money of any Congressional challenger in the 2010 election cycle).

In discussing his feud with Rep. Wasserman-Schultz, Rep. West stated on conservative commentator Mark Levin’s radio show that ”[t]he thing that really most aggravates me is that there’s this double standard in that the people on the hard left can continue to attack conservatives and especially minority conservatives and female conservatives, but yet when all of a sudden you stand up and you say that you will not tolerate this anymore, then they claim to be a victim, which I find just absolutely laughable.”

While Rep. West went a tad over-the-top in his response (he calls liberalism the “21st century plantation”), there is a larger issue here about racial and gender stereotypes of black men. Rep. West is being depicted as a buck-wild Mandingo type who must be tamed. The Daily Beast calls the married father of two daughters “volatile”, and claims that he “hates women”.

Meanwhile, Lois Frankel — a liberal Democrat who is running against Rep. West – has set up a website, and associates Rep. West with domestic violence. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) compares Rep. West to the Koran-burning preacher, simply for expressing his views.

Letters to the local newspaper in Rep. West’s district claim that Rep. West’s verbal disagreement with Rep. Wasserman Schultz could lead to thuggery on Rep. West’s part. Liberal commentator Keith Olbermann asserted on his new show that Rep. West may shoot someone “live on TV”. Outside of military combat, the former Army lieutenant colonel has no documented history of physical conflict. Nevertheless, white liberals’ first instinct is to associate this black politician with wife-beaters and deranged psycho-killers. It serves as a tactic to trivialize both the man for defending himself and his political agenda which threatens their orthodoxy.

A black man — especially a conservative one — is never supposed to get angry in the public square. Black conservatives are supposed to be quiet, and defer to liberals. They aren’t supposed to challenge the impact of liberalism on black communities or question Democratic policies, as Rep. West does.

Despite their ideological differences, it is ironic that Rep. West represents the sort of black man that many liberals claim that they want President Obama to be — expressive, a staunch advocate of his views, and a person who is willing to directly address adversaries. Yet even the Congressional Black Caucus is castigating Rep. West for displaying exactly these qualities, because of his political ideology.

Meanwhile, whites who have expressed themselves much more harshly get a pass. Before he left Congress in January, former Rep. Alan Grayson was infamous for rants that included referring to other Congressional members as “foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging, Neanderthals” and referring to former Vice President Dick Cheney (then in office) as a blood-sucking vampire.

Then there are former Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s (D-Ill.) actions such as sending a dead fish to a pollster, his profanity-laced tirades at other Congressional members, and other infamous antics that have earned the former White House chief of staff the nickname “Rahmbo”. Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) has a well-documented history of angry outbursts.

Whereas white men have the luxury of being angry with little or no sanction no matter how outrageous their conduct, the double standard results in a similarly situated black man who has even a mild emotional response risking far more sanction.

In the future, Rep. West will have to better reconcile some blacks’ frustration with Democratic policies and tactics with white liberal fear of any black person who challenges their orthodoxy. As controversies involving Professor Henry Louis Gates, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Juan Williams have shown, black liberal men have also had to deal with the “Angry Black Man” double standard. It’s high time that black males are treated as individuals possessing the range of personalities found in black America.