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Social Studies

Steele Away

By Vincent Williams | Posted 3/11/2009

My wife and I were looking at Michael Steele on television the other day, and we came to the conclusion that he's actually a fairly good looking guy and, with one or two small cosmetic changes, he could be a really smooth brother. For instance, we think it would do wonders for him if he cut that George Jefferson receded hairline deal that he has going on and opt for the straight bald head. Getting into real Married Eye for the Goofy Guy mode, we then opined that growing out his mustache into a salt-and-pepper goatee would further go toward giving the Republican National Committee chair a chiseled, distinguished look. But you know the bad thing? Both of us also quickly came to the conclusion that our mental exercise was just that, because there was no way Steele could navigate the halls of Republican power with a bald head and a goatee that sexualized him. As young, urban, middle-class, home-owning, educated, and, frankly, fairly conservative African-American voters, we intuitively believe that the GOP only wants emasculated people of color in their ranks. And this speaks to the fact that, for all his talk about expanding the base of the Republican Party, so far Michael Steele has shown that he's not really that good at it.

The fact that he's spent the last month transforming into the Poochie of the Republican Party doesn't help. There's those garish zoot suits that he's always wearing that make me think he's about to burst into "Minnie the Moocher," the bizarre non sequiturial manner in which he peppers his speech with slang, the awkward at best, vaguely racist at worst, interactions he's had with the folks around him, e.g. his giving "Slum[dog] love" to Bobby Jindal. Speaking as the person he's been trying to reach out to, it's been painful to watch. Michael Steele is the living embodiment of Guy Trying Too Hard.

And then, yes, there's how quickly Steele kowtowed and apologized to Rush Limbaugh after telling D.L. Hughley that Limbaugh was "an entertainer" and his show was oftentimes "ugly" and" incendiary." To give Steele any benefit of doubt that I can, I hasten to point out that apologizing to Rush Limbaugh for telling the truth about Rush Limbaugh is not a black thing, it's a Republican thing. Apparently all of them have to kiss the ring of that troglodyte, although it does sting a little bit more to see a black man bow down to someone who once told a black caller to call back when he'd taken the bone out of his nose.

But I think there's something much more subtle and infinitely more important that happened in that incident vis-à-vis Steele's blackness and his ability to reach out to other black voters. Steele failed what I call "The Farrakhan Test." Since childhood, I've observed black folks commenting on what we see as the mainstream's testing of black people, specifically, black men in the public eye. As I always say, when you're black you've got to repudiate someone at some point that's going to hurt you to let the white folks know you're OK. I call it the Farrakhan Test because, all through the '90s, Louis Farrakhan was the repudiation of choice. And, more often than not, people have buckled and bent and failed the test.

When Barack Obama got going, we all waited for the Farrakhan Test. Obama's Farrakhan Test wasn't Farrakhan himself, of course, but Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And when seemingly the entire white community demanded he repudiate Wright, Obama stood by him. I remember the disgust my father and uncles expressed over the way Jesse Jackson turned his back on Farrakhan, and I'm still heartbroken over the way Chuck D had to cut loose Professor Griff, so that was a special moment. I watched that man outmaneuver the greatest political machine of the 21st century, snatch the Democratic nomination, and win the office of president of the United States, but as one black man to another, I've never been as proud of Obama as I was at that moment. Regardless of what eventually happened when Wright, y'know, lost his damn mind and started ranting like a homeless guy in the park talking about Atlantis, at that moment, I knew Barack Obama was worthy of my allegiance.

In contrast, when Steele folded. Listening to black talk-radio shows like Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden and through the conversations I've had with my friends and family over the past week, the sentiment is that Steele "got bitched" by Limbaugh. And that's not a good look. How can I possibly respect you as a leader if I don't respect you as a man?

Truth be told, I want Michael Steele to be successful in reorganizing the Republican Party into a viable choice for, well, me. Yes, I would follow Barack Obama into the gates of hell armed with a bucket of gasoline, but I'd still like a choice, y'know? Sliced turkey breast and pepper jack cheese on marble rye is my favorite sandwich, but sometimes I like a cheeseburger. Right now, my choice is either that turkey sandwich or a "The Foundation of the Culture of the Modern Iteration of This Party Is Open Hostility Toward Black People" hoagie. So I need Steele to be a better messenger. And a haircut would be a good start.

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