Over the past two days, some Florida voters have received robocalls from a white supremacist group in which the speaker, claiming to be Andrew Gillum, launches into an archaic form of Black dialect, exclaiming “Helloooo der (there), I is Andrew Gillum and I’se be the May-yore of Tallahassee. I’se calling you asking you to make me your Gub-er-noor of dis here State of Florida.” In the calls background, the listener can distinctly hear the sounds of monkeys yelping in the background. The deplorable caller goes on for little over a minute inanely talking about black crime while mocking the disproportionate incarceration rates of black defendants.
To be clear, neither Mayor Gillum nor any of his supporters want this gubernatorial race to be about race, but the racists are doing what racists from time immemorial have always done–which is to quickly race to use race as a cudgel to erase or invalidate black achievement, and as a clarion call to both latent and overt racists to “take America back” to its Jim Crow past.
You see, one of the pervasive narratives of conservative commentators in what they falsely deem the “Post-Racial era,” be they well-educated types like George Will and Bill O’Reilly, or college drop-outs like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, is the idea that “middle America” (read–whites) are fatigued by the issue of race or being deemed racist. But as I often write, if some whites are tired of hearing about race, blacks are even more tired of being subjected to racist invectives, innuendo and policies.
(The Gillum family)
Systemic racism is when a man like Gillum can enroll at prestigious Florida A&M University during the same period that Time/Princeton Review named it “College of the Year,” become arguably the most powerful Student Government Association presidents in Florida history by leading the push against then Governor Jeb Bush’s attempts to roll back affirmative action, become the youngest person elected to Tallahassee’s City Commission at the age of 23, get elected the city’s leadership mayor at 35 as a prelude to becoming the first black major party gubernatorial nominee at 39–and still have some wretched souls create robocalls sounding like Al Jolson in blackface pretending to be an uneducated sharecropper.
Being an erudite man with humility and grace, Gillum has taken the high road with regards to the deplorable, racist cretins who are playing the race card from the bottom of the deck. But the simple truth is that Gillum is subjected to these attacks for one simple reason: he frightens the living daylights out of the Republican Party. Whether it is the ever-growing Trump conservative wing, or the self-styled “Never Trump” moderate core, the GOP fears Gillum because Gillum can win!
While Florida has not had a Democratic governor since Buddy McKay assumed the duties upon the death of Lawton Chiles in 1998, and has maintained a Republican dominated legislature since the same year, the prospects of a Democratic governor endowed with executive privileges and a trenchant line-item veto pen is the Republican Party’s worst nightmare. A Gillum governorship would see former felons automatically granted the right to vote by executive order, a move that could add to the numbers of men and women registering as Democrats across the state. A Gillum governorship could see any and all budget requests that do not balance business and public interests stricken via veto. A Gillum governorship would find racially diverse and ideologically progressive judges appointed across the state–even to a Supreme Court where the next governor may make two or three appointments. And yes, a Gillum governorship would find an executive who pushes for higher minimum wages, better pay for teachers, common sense gun control measures, expanded Medicare benefits for both the working poor and those wallowing in abject poverty, while pushing back against those in Florida and the Washington who would denigrate, detain and demonize immigrants in our state.
For those reasons, the next nine weeks will find Gillum subjected to outright racist attacks, like this robocall, and coded attacks, like his opponent Ron DeSantis’ appeal for voters to elect him so as not to “monkey it up” earlier this week. While the DeSantis team denied any racist intent in that comment, and has issued a statement condemning the robocall, the sad truth is that DeSantis and the Republican Party simply exist in the new normal, one in which the party’s “Big Tent” is largely white homogenous, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and dominated by both virulent racists and those to whom racism in public dialogue and in public policy simply are not deal breakers. Whether those Republicans who recognize that they face the Manichaean choice of following the racist status quo, or voting for Gillum to send a message that racially divisive politics should cease, remains to be seen.