Byron Donalds taught Joy Reid a thing or two about politics and hard work

The House Republican gave the MSNBC host a valuable lesson on how conservatives managed to dispel one of Black America's biggest myths.

Joy Reid speaks to Rep. Byron Donalds
Joy Reid, left, speaks to Rep. Byron Donalds on "The ReidOut." (Screenshot via MSNBC/YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.  

There is one African-American maxim that has withstood the advances of modern technology and the passage of time. 

Computerized smart thermostats now make it possible for Black children to “run in and out that door” without increasing their grandmother’s light bill. Numerous manufacturers make child-safe products that allow children to run at full speed while holding scissors. Walmart and Waffle House are both open 24 hours a day, proving that “legs” are no longer the only thing open after 2 a.m. And on Tuesday night, MSNBC host Joy Reid finally laid to rest an African-American adage that has echoed through Black households for more than a century:

“A Black person has to work twice as hard to get half as far as a white man.” 

It is not just a saying; it is a fact. Variations include being “twice as good” or “twice as smart” as a white man to get “half as much.” And for generations, this proverb has been held as scripture in Black America because it is generally true. 

Thankfully, Joy Reid has found a loophole.

On Tuesday night’s episode of “The ReidOut,” Reid welcomed Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. Days before Donalds became one of the few politicians to appear on the left-leaning network, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., famously called Donalds a “prop” after Donalds became one of a handful of GOP insurrectionists nominated to serve as speaker of the House. Although many Black people agreed with Bush’s assessment, Donalds took umbrage with being essentially characterized as a token to highlight his party’s lack of diversity. Instead of avoiding the conversation, Reid pointed out Donald’s actual political positions on critical race theory, voting rights and democracy. 

But the most contentious exchange between Donalds and Reid came when Reid challenged Donald’s qualifications to leapfrog his House colleagues to third in line for the presidency of the United States. 

Reid: You were nominated for speaker. You’ve been in Congress one term. What were your qualifications to be speaker of the House? 

Donalds: Well, look, I think my colleagues recognize my leadership, and they’ve seen it in many leaps and bounds …

Reid: Can you give specifics. 

Donalds: Secondarily, I’ve served before at the state level, now here at the federal level. 

Reid: What were your specific qualifications to be speaker? 

Donalds: I actually understand budgets. I understand what the long-term ramifications …

Reid: You’ve been there one term. And you’re saying that you would be prepared after one term to do the job that Speaker Pelosi and others who were in leadership, you ran for leadership and you lost that leadership race to a congresswoman who ended up being in leadership. You were not elected to leadership, but you believe that though you’ve never served in leadership, ever. And you’ve only served one term. Yet, you believe you were qualified. Because you got into it back and forth with a fellow congresswoman who was critical of the nomination because it definitely looked like they were looking for a response to Hakeem Jeffries in you. 

Donalds: Uh, no. That was not … 

Reid: You’ve literally been there for one term, so you’ve never been in leadership. I’m asking you the question. 

By questioning Donalds’ credentials, Reid was asking a crucial question. Even if the GOP caucus knew Donalds would never gain enough votes to become speaker of the House, why would they nominate a one-term member of Congress with no leadership experience to lead the legislature of the government they supposedly love so much?  Every other Republican nominee had also voted to overturn a free and fair election. So, If Byron Donalds’ skin color did not factor into his nomination, what made him more special than the other more experienced, more qualified Republicans in Congress? 

Before you answer that question, let’s examine Donalds’ resume without prejudice:

  • Byron Donalds has less experience: Donalds’ legislative peers have served an average of nearly nine years (4.9 terms) in office. Donalds is beginning his second term in office after serving four years in the Florida legislature. 
  • Byron Donalds is less educated: Those who don’t know the gospel of “twice as hard” are often surprised to learn that Black members of Congress are, on average, more educated than their white counterparts. Eighty percent of Congressional Black Caucus members have earned educational degrees beyond a bachelor’s, compared to 67% of all members of the House. Donald holds a bachelor’s degree. 
  • Byron Donalds is Black: Of the 59 Black people serving in the House of Representatives, only four are Republican (Donalds, Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah; Rep. Wesley Hunt of Texas and Rep. John James of Michigan). Of those four, none have served more than one term. Two have earned advanced degrees. Even when their Senate counterpart (Tim Scott) is included, not only are Black Republicans less experienced and less educated than Black Democrats, they are less experienced than most people in Congress.

Had Donalds won, he would have become the least experienced speaker of the House in American history. Even Frederick Muhlenberg, the first speaker of the House, had previously served in the Continental Congress and was the first person to sign a little thing called the Bill of Rights. Plus, Muhlenberg was white (To be fair, had Donalds been alive back then, he might have been nominated as speaker of three-fifths of the House). There is only one logical reason why Republicans would nominate someone as unqualified as Donalds to serve as America’s third-in-command.

Byron Donalds found the loophole. 

It took two centuries for Black people to gain half the citizenship rights of white Americans. After fighting for another century, we gained a half-measure of voting rights. Most Black children attend majority-Black schools in districts that get less funding, receive fewer academic resources, and even have fewer library books than majority-white schools. Black workers earn less than whites with the same experience and education. Black people must work harder to vote, find medical care, eat food, drink water and even breathe air. However, Byron Donalds proves that not all Black people have to work twice as hard.

You can just be a Black conservative.

Donalds and his fellow Black conservatives are willing to conspire with the Caucasian conspirators to amplify anti-Black rhetoric because it is the path of least resistance. Being a Black conservative doesn’t just come with fame, money and adoration; it also requires less effort. 

Think about it: Candace Owens does not have a college degree, experience as a journalist or a single ounce of political experience. Formal education isn’t the only prerequisite that qualifies someone for the political arena. However, these are the same bootstrap advocates who dismiss claims of institutional racism by suggesting that racial disparities persist because “Black culture” doesn’t value education and hard work.

Yet, among Republicans, Owens’ airheaded opinions have as much weight as the consensus of Black scholars, politicians and activists who are twice as educated and have double her experience. Clarence Thomas became a Supreme Court justice after serving as a judge for little over a year and receiving an American Bar Association rating described as “one of the lowest, if not the lowest, ever given to a Supreme Court nominee.” Kanye made beats before he became an expert on slavery. Jason Whitlock covered sportsball before conservatives made him the chief correspondent to “da culture.” Aside from serving as an imaginary undercover cop, Herschel Walker’s sole qualification for Senate was that he doesn’t fall down when he runs into things. 

This phenomenon isn’t just unique to Black conservatives. One of the commonalities among Boomerang Blacks is how easy it is to echo white supremacist narratives without showing facts or using critical thinking. Even when challenged, these Black “free thinkers” can simply reply: “That’s what they want you to believe.” It’s easy to point out that Joe Biden authored a crime bill or the Democratic Party is racist, as if Black people are too dumb or lazy to know these things already. It’s twice as hard to come up with an alternative viable political strategy for Black voters navigating the reality of the two-party system. Ultimately, they are saying that white people’s political and social conclusions are more legitimate than the collective scholarship, opinion and scholarship of Black people who know things.

But Byron Donalds is right about one thing. The MAGA version of Florida Man is not a token, nor should he be described as a prop. A token is defined as “no more than a symbolic effort” or something that shows “the absence of discrimination.” A prop is a fake representation of something real. Black conservatives are neither fake nor used to disprove that Republicans don’t like Black people. They are used because they don’t like Black people either. 

Because, in America, hating Black people is easy.

Being Black is twice as hard. 

Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in 2023.

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