Most state senators do not receive national attention, but Oklahoma State Senator Anastasia Pittman has plenty now. Whether it is the kind she wants is debatable, but she does at least have the spotlight.
Earlier this week, Pittman organized a press conference to allow Levi Pettit (one of the fraternity brothers in that disgusting viral “ni**er” chant video) to make a public apology. The setting looked like something out of a Chappelle Show skit. Pettit’s tall, white and pale frame stood amongst a backdrop of black people as he apologized for gleefully singing about ni**ers and lynching. There was a woman, a college-aged looking guy and for good measure, a few stodgy old black dudes.
Pettit offered a carefully worded apology and vowed to do his part to prevent an incident like that from occurring again (though he declined to divulge where he learned the awful song). As expected, many people were less than impressed with the press conference. There’s not much a person could do to redeem himself after so clearly and so publicly becoming the face and voice of racism and white privilege in America.
But Pettit wasn’t the only person to gain a new wave of negative attention following that nationally televised apology. State Senator Anastasia Pittman (the black woman standing next to Pettit at the press conference) has received quite a bit of criticism.
Pittman, who has been a state legislator since 2006, posted an announcement about the press conference on her Facebook page and that’s when the tough typers of social media revealed themselves. People called her every name, but the one her mother gave her. Many of the harsher comments have now been removed, but “coon” and “Uncle Tom” were in many of the tirades. One commenter said “Why your dumb ass stood up there and help vindicate a racist you know nothing about. Maya Angelou says it best, when someone shows you who they are believe them, most racists will die racists and your dumb ass speaking on his behalf made you look like uncle tom trash.” Ouch.
While, I agree that the press conference was odd and made the black people look like decoration for Pettit’s apology tour, calling Pittman old timey racist names for her participation, kind of defeats the purpose of the criticism. Being upset with Pettit for using the word nigger and then calling Pittman a coon, just doesn’t match up.
There has been some support for Pittman too though. A Dallas Morning News editorial offered effusive praise. “We need people like Pittman in our public life. We need leaders who are willing to unite us, who are willing to see past our mistakes and our differences to see that we can be something better than we are. And we need leaders who won’t leap to every opportunity to point out how wrong the other guy is to show how right they can be.”
Meh. That’s too far on the other side. Calling out racism is not a cheap shot, it’s a necessary activity in order to have an honest conversation about how we can better relate to each other as decent human beings. The people who called Pittman derogatory names and the people who praise her for not being a “race baiter” are all being extreme.
Pittman can step up and be a an even keeled leader on this issue, but she does not have to literally hold Pettit’s hand to do so. Nor is she deserving of being called ugly names. Hopefully, everyone involved will be able to gain value from this situation beyond being the hot social media topic of the moment.