Last week, the Republican National Committee demanded an apology from Ebony because they felt that the magazine’s senior digital editor Jamilah Lemieux had attacked the RNC’s deputy press secretary Raffi Williams for his “race, heritage or political views.”
From reading the letter penned by RNC chair Reince Preibus, which featured words like “civil rights” and “journalistic objectivity,” one would think that Lemieux had somehow created an alternative universe where wealthy white people were enslaved and systematically oppressed by black people. But no, the impetus of the indignant letter was a brief Twitter exchange between Lemieux and Williams.
In short, Lemieux tweeted her lack of enthusiasm for a new black conservative magazine anchored by Dr. Ben Carson and Armstrong Williams. Raffi Williams bemoaned Lemieux’s disinterest in “diversity of thought” and Lemieux having mistaken Williams for a white person tweeted, “Oh great, here comes a White dude telling me how to do this Black thing. Pass.”
After being informed that Williams is black (he is the son of author and political analyst Juan Williams), Lemieux apologized, but insisted that she did not wish to engage in a dialogue with Williams.
“I was looking at your avi without blowing it up. I apologize for that. However, I care about NOTHING you have to say,” she tweeted.
Williams was respectful throughout the entire exchange, but his “supporters” filled Lemieux’s mentions with hateful tweets, some including violent, racist imagery. So much so that writer and Ebony.com contributor Feminista Jones started a hashtag called #StandWithJamilah. Lemieux exited the conversation soon after and has not mentioned the incident since on Twitter.
The day after the RNC demanded an apology, Ebony issued one online. Citing the mission of Ebony’s founder John H. Johnson to affirm a sense of “somebodiness” to African-Americans, the apology’s byline was attributed to #TeamEbony and titled “Diversity of Thought.”
“Yesterday, the spirit of this mission was disregarded by EBONY.com Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux in a personal Twitter exchange between herself and RNC Deputy Press Secretary Raffi Williams,” read the statement. “EBONY acknowledges Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux’s lack of judgment on her personal Twitter account and apologizes to Raffi Williams and the Black Republican community.” Williams and Preibus have accepted the apology.
Not everyone agrees that an apology should have been made.
During a panel discussion at the National Black Writer’s Conference over the weekend, author and professor Jelani Cobb said, “Ebony magazine, the same publishing company that published the picture of Emmett Till’s desecrated body, kowtowed and apologized to the Republican National Committee. What I said to them on Twitter was that ‘You apologize to the Republicans when they apologize for gutting the Voting Rights Act,’” said Cobb.
Williams has been on Fox News segments twice since the Twitter fallout, both times saying how much it meant to him that people came to his defense on Twitter. But what is missing from Williams’ statements, Preibus’s letter and Ebony’s apology is an acknowledgment of the attacks sent to Lemieux in the wake of the incident. If everyone is concerned with having a healthy, respectful dialogue, then we must not gloss over a knee-jerk reaction to be racist when race is brought up in conversation. If name-calling is not to be tolerated (Lemieux likened conservatives to roaches at one point), then call out everyone’s name calling.
Was Lemieux dismissive of conservative viewpoints on her personal Twitter account? Yes. Did she misidentify the race of Williams? Yes, and she apologized for that. As far as Twitter “beefs” go, this was minor to say the least. So, it was interesting that the RNC found it necessary to issue a letter about the situation to a publication that it views as having a black liberal agenda.
If the DNC were to publish letters every time a conservative outlet such as Fox News did or said something racially insensitive or class biased, there would not be much other work being done at DNC headquarters.
If RNC members are so concerned with having “greater engagement and understanding between the Republican Party and the black community” as Preibus’s letter stated, then perhaps they should focus their energy on the legislation and media they support that is in direct opposition to those goals.