Finish Rep. Cubin's Thought!
A reader contest.
An April 11 Washington Post editorial titled, "Where's the Outrage?" denounced a little-noticed racial comment made April 9 by Rep. Barbara Cubin during House debate over a bill to indemnify gun manufacturers. A conservative Republican, Cubin is the sole House representative from Wyoming, where less than 1 percent of the population is African-American. The Post editorial complained that Cubin displayed more "bald racism" in her remark than Sen. Trent Lott had late last year when he jovially endorsed the 1948 Dixiecrat platform. Why, the Post asked, was there no correspondingly furious protest?
To Chatterbox, the answer is clear. There was no protest because Cubin was interrupted before she could finish the offending sentence. Let's review the facts. Cubin was criticizing a Democratic amendment banning gun sales to drug addicts. Here's what she said:
My sons are 25 and 30. They are blond-haired and blue-eyed. One amendment today said we could not sell guns to anybody under drug treatment. So, does that mean if you go into a black community, you cannot sell a gun to any black person, or does that mean because my …
Chatterbox would have to agree that it sounds as though Cubin was in the process of equating black people with drug addicts, which would certainly be racist. But Rep. Mel Watt, a North Carolina Democrat, made a mistake no self-respecting journalist would ever make. He didn't let her finish:
Mr. Chairman, I demand that the words of the gentlewoman from Wyoming be taken down [i.e., ruled out of order by the chair].
Cubin immediately proceeded to "apologize to my colleague for his sensitivities." This was obviously a nice way of saying that Rep. Watt, who is black, and whose state is 22 percent black, was imagining things. Watt called her on the non-apology, but the Republican chair refused to "take down" Cubin's remark, a decision that was backed up in a floor vote in the (Republican-dominated) chamber. But Cubin wasn't about to settle for merely muzzling Watt's objection. She wanted vindication:
I do appreciate the chair's ruling and the fact that it was upheld, but this is not something that I can just leave as it is. … My words intended to state, and if I had been able to finish my sentence and my thought, they would have stated, that I do not believe in stereotyping anyone, any time, ever, for anything. That is what I believe, and I believe that from the bottom of my heart.
Cubin's bizarre claim that her unfinished statement was wending its way toward a denunciation of racial stereotyping, rather than racial stereotyping itself, was a bold play, and it worked. No great furor ensued. It obviously helped that there was a war on, and the Dada reference to her "blond-haired and blue-eyed" boys added just enough incoherence to pull it off.
But there remains one problem: Cubin never did explain how she'd intended to finish that sentence. Chatterbox therefore proposes a contest. Readers are invited to finish Cubin's unfinished statement in such a way as to render it a ringing declaration against racial stereotyping. Please submit entries to email@example.com with the subject heading, "Cubin." The least-nonsensical entry will be declared the winner.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.