Yesterday, a Twitter fight exploded when Ebony senior editor Jamilah Lemieux dismissed RNC deputy press secretary Raffi Williams as “a white dude trying to tell me how to do this Black thing.” However, Raffi is not a “white dude,” as those of us who know him can attest, but is African-American. Lemieux later offered an apology of sorts for not checking his Twitter profile more closely, but as Twitchy noted, that was hardly the salient issue at hand.
Today, the RNC decided to escalate the situation. RNC chair Reince Priebus wants an apology from Ebony, and has published an open letter to editor-in-chief Amy Barnett to demand one:
Over the years, the writers and editors at EBONY have done great work in promoting civil rights and diligently covering issues of race and politics in America. That’s why I was shocked to learn that one of your senior editors, Jamilah Lemieux, repeatedly attacked black conservatives on Twitter yesterday for their political views.
When one of the Republican National Committee’s staff members challenged her assumptions and attempted to engage in a dialogue, she dismissively referred to him as “a white dude.” That staffer, our Deputy Press Secretary Raffi Williams, is black. She went on to deride those who were criticizing her as “a house full of roaches.”
Attacking someone for his or her race, heritage or political views is the very thing EBONY has worked to discourage, and actions like those of Ms. Lemieux are far below the basic standards of journalism. She did not even attempt to show journalistic objectivity. And I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s unacceptable to refer to those who disagree with you as “roaches.”
Raffi deserves an apology from Ms. Lemieux and from EBONY—not just for making assumptions about his race but more importantly for dismissing black Republicans and the validity of their opinions in public discourse.
In their Twitter exchange, Ms. Lemieux said she had “no interest” in a conversation about encouraging diversity of thought. I’m hopeful, however, that she does not speak for the entire magazine and that we can use this unfortunate episode as a catalyst for greater engagement and understanding between the Republican Party and the black community.
Some might wonder how wise it is for the RNC to escalate a fight with Ebony, but there are a couple of points in Priebus’ favor. First, as Lemieux’s outburst shows, the risk of alienating Ebony readers is probably minimal. Second, it’s a good idea to defend African-American conservatives and to make a point of doing so now, rather than slog through an entire election cycle having media outlets demonize and degrade them. It may not win Priebus and Raffi an apology, but it draws attention to the marginalization and demagoguery that these conservatives experience. If nothing else, it demonstrates in public manner that any failure in engagement of African-American media and voters does not entirely originate within the GOP.
Yesterday, I interviewed Raffi (a friend of mine) onto The Ed Morrissey Show to discuss the kerfuffle. Rather than focus on the issue of racial authenticity as Lemieux attempted to frame it, for which I have no particular expertise, we chose instead to talk about the impulse to demonize rather than engage. Raffi, whose father Juan Williams serves as a frequently dissenting voice on Fox News, has plenty of experience engaging those with differing political perspectives, at home and at work — as does his father, for that matter. That’s the greater issue in this sterling example of “ignorant demonization,” as I described it on Twitter yesterday, more so than just the basis for this particular ignorance. Here’s the segment in its entirety:
Update: Give Ebony credit for responding positively:
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. In part of the exchange, Lemieux responded to an attempt at discourse from Williams with words that curtly dismissed him and his suggestion that she be interested in the “diversity of thought.” She also misidentified him, unintentionally, as White. Williams is Black.
EBONY strongly believes in the marketplace of ideas. As the magazine of record for the African American community, Lemieux’s tweets in question do not represent our journalistic standard, tradition or practice of celebrating diverse Black thought. …
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.