Leaked audio shows Tennessee Republicans holding a master class on how to be a pro-racist

OPINION: A leaked recording of Tennesee’s GOP House members holding a white supremacy workshop reveals why people who commit racist acts truly believe they aren’t racist.

Tennessee House Republicans leaked audio, thegrio.com
Student protesters hold up a sign as they wait to enter the State Capitol during anti-gun violence demonstration in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 3, 2023. (Photo by JOHN AMIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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

I’m sure Ibram X. Kendi is shook right now.

The author of “How to Be an Antiracist” probably assumed that the premise of his wildly successful book would go unchallenged. After all, even Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump and the white ventriloquist manipulating the mouth of the Jason Whitlock marionette would say that they don’t have a “racist bone in their body” (to be fair, the Whitlock puppet appears to be stuffed with of souse meat, silly putty and pistachio-flavored Jello pudding). What kind of person is for racism?

Tennessee Republicans that’s who.

The Tennessee Holler (which is not a synonym for a “rebel yell) recently released a recording of members of the state’s GOP leadership discussing their recent decision to oust two Black legislators from the House of Representatives. In the leaked audio, the lawmakers reprimanded their fellow Republicans for not standing with their conservative counterparts while lamenting the fact that they were being labeled as racists just because they did something racist.

“I have never had anybody call me a racist,” said Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville), who once complained about people calling him a racist (to be fair, it was way back in February 2023. “For the last three days, all I have heard from them is how this is the most racist place. One of them said ‘white supremacist.’ Good Lord!”

While the Good Lord did not respond to theGrio’s request for comment, Zachary makes a good point. Why would anyone call a place built with slave labor and prominently displayed a bust of a Ku Klux Klan’s first Grand Wizard until 2021 the most racist place on Earth? Sure, the Tennessee House of Representatives once tried to pass “A Bill for the Expulsion of Free Negroes From the State,” but Arkansas did it, too! At least Tennessee offered free Black citizens a choice between volunteering for slavery and being sent back to Africa. Why do you think they’re so proud of being called the Volunteer State?

Tennessee House Republicans leaked audio, thegrio.com
Greek Revival architecture, Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville. (Photo by: David Underwood/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Zachary goes on to explain how they could have gotten away with it if they had just stuck together, specifically calling out Bryan Terry, the lone Native American in the caucus and one of three who Zachary said “hung [Republicans] out to dry” (The GOP caucus has no Black members, but they have an Indian-American member and a white Jerome). “This would’ve been bad anyway,” anti-Black Zack whined. “But dear God, we were called … we brought the racism into it because you didn’t stay with us.”

The Deer God (Bambi, I presume) could not be reached for comment. 

“If you don’t believe we’re at war for our republic with all love and respect to you, you need a different job,” noted anti-CRT activist Scott Cepicky, who has never been to war for his republic. “You gotta do what’s right, even if you think it might be wrong. You gotta do what’s right and you gotta protect this freaking republic here in Tennessee.”

While Cepicky’s statement might seem like gobbledygook, he and his fellow Republicans live by this mantra. The citizens of Tennesee are more likely to own a gun (51.6 percent) than have employer-provided health insurance (47.6 percent). Tennessee ranks higher in gun violence (10th) than adult poverty (34th), childhood poverty (40th), literacy (39th), education funding (42nd), life expectancy (44th) and non-racist Republicans (52nd). 

But because the Republican supermajority is more concerned with protecting their own authority than improving the lives of their constituents, they can’t be bothered with common-sense gun control. They’re too busy protecting the good people of Tennessee from Black voters, reproductive rights, gender-affirming medical care, the “gay agenda,” drag shows and books that teach civil rights. Instead of listening to the people of “the freaking Republic,” Tennessee passed the strictest abortion law in the U.S. 

To be clear, the “republic” they are protecting is not made up of white people; it’s composed solely of white power. A statewide poll conducted before the Covenant School shooting found 70% of Tennessee parents support universal background checks, and the majority agree with red flag laws and raising the minimum age to purchase firearms. Then again, 63% of Tennesseans support Medicaid expansion and a post-Dobbs Vanderbilt University survey found that most of the people in the state are pro-choice. Instead of listening to the people of “the freaking Republic,” Tennessee passed the strictest abortion law in the U.S. 

There is a commonly held misconception that white supremacy is like an unfiltered form of racism, but this impromptu master class reveals how white supremacy works. According to a book that might violate Tennessee’s CRT law, white supremacy is defined as “the social, economic, and political systems that collectively enable white people to maintain power over people of other races.” The Republicans were simply giving a continuing education class on how to preserve that system. 

And the white people are not blameless. Statistically, no one supports Republicans but white people. Four out of every five Republican voters are white, while the vast majority of every other racial and ethnic demographic in America supports the Democrats. Although it is comforting to believe that rural, southern and non-college-educated whites have been bamboozled into “voting against their own interest,” they haven’t. People who support gun control, health care and a woman’s right to choose will continue to vote for Republicans because they not voting for individual lawmakers …

They are voting for a system.

No one believes that everyone who votes Republican hates Black people. It just so happens that everyone who hates Black people just happens to be a Republican. For the people of Tennessee, and white people in general, investing in a system of inequality that has protected people who look like you for 300 centuries is easier than learning real history. What good is free health care if you’re subjected to the same medical system that Black people must endure? Who cares about school funding if your kids benefit from the disparities embedded in the existing education system? School shootings are terrible, but gun reform seems reasonable until you have to shoot one of those violent Black thugs. In America — especially in places like Tennessee — white skin offers more protection than big government, diversity, equity and all the inclusion in the world. 

And in a state with a political system that historically, currently and every nanosecond in between, has collectively enabled white people to maintain power over people of other races …

You gotta do what’s white, even if you think it’s wrong. 

Class dismissed.

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 September.

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