Herschel Walker, the football star turned Georgia Senate candidate, is an animated caricature of a Black person drawn by white conservatives. Walker is what they think of us, and they think we’re big, ignorant, and easily manipulated. They think we’re shady or criminal. They think we’re tools to be used. The Walker campaign exists as a political minstrel show: a splashy rendition of what white Republicans think Black people look and sound like.
There is no doubt that Walker, currently leading in the Republican primary for Senate in Georgia, has been promoted by conservative forces because he is Black. Georgia Republicans aren’t in the habit of nominating Black people for the US Senate. The state’s Grand Old Party didn’t even nominate a Black person for the Senate during Reconstruction—when Republicans were progressives and Confederates were barred from government. Not a single Black person was elected to the Senate in Georgia from either party, ever, until Reverend Raphael Warnock ran as a Democrat—and won—in 2020. It is in direct response to Warnock and the emerging power of the Black vote in that state that Republicans dredged up Walker.
Nor is Georgia in the habit of electing football players who starred at the University of Georgia.... The “it’s the football, not the racism” argument fails its first contact with reality.
Mystal is correct in ascribing much of the motivation to race, though I think he underplays the role of the returning football hero in this drama. However, this did not in recent decades start with the Republican Party.
When presidential candidate Barack Obama improbably vowed “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal ...," few of us Democrats, drunk on the "hope and change" mantra impelled by the possibility of the first black President, questioned his vision. And when President Obama failed to deliver on the hope and change promised, few liberals or centrists ever suggested that it may have been foolish to invest so much faith in a leader simply because his election would be historic.
Facing elimination in the presidential race, Joe Biden assured South Carolina Democratic primary voters in January, 2020 that he would nominate for the US Supreme Court someone remarkably qualified, who has demonstrated dedication to social and economic equality, and young enough to serve for many years to come. Just kidding; Biden promised merely to nominate a black woman, whereupon he surged to an impressive victory in South Carolina and sailed onto the nomination.
In August, 2020 more than 100 black men signed an open letter to the nominee nearly demanding he pick a Black woman as his vice president because "'failing to select a Black woman in 2020 means you will lose the election.'"
This had nothing to do with winning the election, given that vice presidents rarely have such an impact on a presidential race, especially the case in the election which was upcoming. Nonetheless, there was hardly a peep of protest about excluding from consideration individuals unlucky enough to have a chance of being a heartbeat from the presidency because they were born male, white, Latino, or Asian.
Kamala Harris had in an early presidential debate weaponized race, much to the justified displeasure of Jill Biden, in order to characterize Joe Biden as a racial bigot. Democrats cheered her selection.
For many years and especially in the last fifteen, Democrats have rejected class-based interests in favor of a racial narrative. Borrowing from them, Republicans have learned the value of promoting candidates on the basis of their black skin while the Party has become more ideologically radical. Now they are boosting the senatorial candidacy of a clearly unqualified black man probably suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
It's a dirty business, leaning into racial preference, one Republicans have joined, as Elie Mystal has noticed. In Georgia and elsewhere, it looks an awfully lot like racial prejudice.