You’ll never get a white Republican to admit how heavily they rely on dog-whistling in order to be racist while, in their own mind, maintaining plausible deniability that they’re, indeed, racist. For example, “thug” is not the n-word, it’s just a word that commonly comes out of white people’s mouths when talking about things involving Black violence—like civil unrest during anti-police protests—and a word that is noticeably absent when talking about white violence, like the Jan. 6 White Rage Against the Voting Machines rebellion.
In fact, you’ll rarely, if ever, hear a Republican official refer to a Washington D.C. Capitol rioter as a “thug” or imply that the schools they went to are likely “inmate factories” even though many of the rioters are literally inmates right now. But one Republican legislator had no problem at all referring to public high schools in D.C., which, according to NBC News, are nearly 60% Black and only 17% white, as such.
Meet GOP Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.)
Palmer doesn’t represent D.C., but he sure thinks he knows enough about its schools and their dropout rates to characterize them as school-to-prison pipeline facilitators—and you can bet that Palmer will deny to his last breath that he would have said the same thing if he were talking about underprivileged white kids.
“You’ve got crappy schools. Your schools are not only dropout factories, they’re inmate factories,” Palmer told D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday titled “Overdue Oversight of the Capitol City Part 1.” (If Republicans are really concerned with overdue oversight in D.C., then certainly “Part 2” will be about siting D.C. officials spreading demonstrably false voter fraud propaganda in order to undermine the democratic system causing Americans from “inmate factories” to attempt an overthrow of the government, right? You know what—don’t answer that.)
He went on to say that adolescents who commit crimes across the country are largely high school dropouts, telling D.C. Councilman Charles Allen he could shake his head in disagreement “all you want.”
Mendelson asked for a chance to respond, saying, “I don’t agree that the D.C. public schools are inmate factories.”
Palmer, who as House Republican Policy Chairman is a member of GOP leadership, cut in: “I’m not saying all of them are. I’m saying you have some crappy schools. So you’re telling me all of them are excellent?”
Mendelson said no, “but I would not say that they are factories for crime.”
Following the hearing, Mendelson said in a statement to NBC News, “The suggestion that DC Public Schools are ‘inmate factories’ is racist and offensive to our parents. It overlooks the dedicated teachers, and it typecasts our children as if they cannot learn.”
Mendelson is right to call what Palmer said racist, of course, but it really doesn’t matter. Republicans really only need to convince themselves and their constituents that their racism is really just straight talk and that anyone saying otherwise is putting feelings over facts. And that’s like convincing a child that they need more toys than clothes for Christmas.
Palmer has used “inmate factories” in the same context before, and he’ll undoubtedly use it again. Because if a Republican can’t intentionally use racially-coded language and then pretend it had nothing to do with race, are they even a Republican?
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