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Rev. Bill Owens: Calling Ron DeSantis a Racist Is Nonsense

Rev. Bill Owens
Bill Owens

I’m elderly, but I’m not crazy. But the world is going crazy, at least as I can see it from my perspective of eight decades.

Supposedly level-headed people in responsible positions are acting like fourth-grade children. They’re saying things they know aren’t true, throwing libels at the wall like handfuls of spaghetti, to see what will stick. That happens on both right and left, but much more often these days on the left, and the media won’t hold the left accountable.

The latest outrage? The charge of racism that’s being leveled at Florida governor candidate Ron DeSantis. The pretext for this accusation? His use of an expression, “monkey up.” In his acceptance speech after winning the GOP primary, DeSantis pointed to his opponents’ stated views. Not his background, his ethnicity, or his personal appearance — remember when Joe Biden “praised” Barack Obama as “clean”? — his views.

DeSantis noted that Andrew Gillum openly sides with the most radical leftists in today’s Democratic party, with self-styled “socialists” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. He pointed out that Gillum wants to jack Florida’s taxes by 40 percent and institute a Cuban-style singer payer health plan. DeSantis pointed out that policies like that are breaking states like New York, and he warned against trying them in Florida, because they would “monkey up” the economy.

Now I think I know what might have happened. Mr. DeSantis was tired, maybe grumpy, and he almost used the “f-word.” At the last minute, I think he caught himself, and tried to say “muck up” instead. But that sounded too close to the profanity, so he used “monkey up” instead. As a preacher, I know the importance of not saying the wrong thing, believe me. You don’t want to blurt out a bad word in the middle of a sermon!

Now critics are claiming that using that statement was racist, that it was a “dog whistle” to Floridians to stop them from voting for a black man. Never mind that if you look up the closest phrase, “monkey with,” in Merriam-Webster, it mentions no racial connotation whatsoever. Yes, black men were once called “porch monkeys” when I was a kid. We were also called “jungle bunnies.” Does that make the word “bunny” racist? If you say that a black man “chucked” something, should we assume you really meant “spear chucker”?

There’s a ludicrous aspect to this, the smell of desperation on the part of Democrats, who have taken our people for granted for many decades, while doing us little but harm. If Tallahassee, where Mr. Gillum is mayor, is anything like Baltimore or Chicago, the Democratic party there fobs black people off with government programs that trap them in poverty, while “monkeying up” the economy with anti-business rules and heavy taxes. Which is what Mr. Gillum promises to do for the whole state of Florida.

Now Mr. De Santis isn’t some uneducated hack from a dodgy background. He’s a Yale and Harvard graduate, a Navy veteran, a former JAG attorney who questioned terrorists at Guantanamo. He has served for 10 years in Congress. In all of those environments, racism is strictly and rightly forbidden. Do we really believe that he coasted through all of those years, under scrutiny, while holding racist views, but managed to keep them hidden until now? If DeSantis had any track record of racial animus, if there were a single real incident, don’t you think we’d have heard all about it? On prime-time news on every network?

I grew up in the Jim Crow South. When I was in college, a solid bloc of white Southern senators opposed anti-lynching laws. In just my home state of Tennessee, between Reconstruction and 1950, there were 233 group killings, mostly of young black men.

In Memphis, my home town, black people could manage to vote. But they needed to watch out not to anger our dictatorial white mayor — or else he’d have them driven out of town. All the schools were segregated, and the black schools grossly neglected. At restaurants, we were banned altogether, or expected to pick up takeout in the back, at the service entrance. We were relegated to the back of public buses, and the balconies of theaters. Even bathrooms and drinking fountains were strictly labeled, lest our blackness somehow taint the white folks. I remember the casual disrespect we suffered every day of our lives. I was thrilled to fight against it, joined Rev. Martin Luther King’s movement to desegregate lunch counters and other public places, and took his non-violence training so I could do it.

I will never forget the real, nose-to-nose racist treatment we suffered. I remember when a white insurance collector came to our home and asked for my mother. He didn’t call her “Mrs.” or even take off his hat—as he would have for a white woman customer. Instead, he stood there and called her by her first name as if she were his maid. (She worked as a maid, there’s no shame in that, but she didn’t work for him — he worked for her!) You see, I’d been away at college in Nashville and was home for the weekend. Because of my involvement in the civil rights marches in Nashville, I was evolving into a different young man. I had gained a deep respect for black people. The insurance man’s blatant disrespect of my mother in her home was a light bulb moment for me.  I jumped up and told him off six different ways from Sunday. He never tried that again!

So, I have zero patience for genuine racism, and I know it when I see it. I have even less patience for people who trivialize that evil by pretending to find it everywhere and nowhere. Especially when they do it for naked political gain. It’s worse when they falsify and weaponize the charge of racism on behalf of some radical candidate like Gillum, whose biggest donors were out-of-state billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros. Steyer is a man obsessed with impeaching President Trump, and he’s trying to flip the Congress in order to do that, regardless of what Robert Mueller finds. And George Soros is the sponsor of dozens of different hardcore left-wing groups. They promote open borders, which devastates young black men seeking jobs. They push for socialist health care, more abortions in black neighborhoods, lax policing, the kid-gloves treatment of terrorists, and a crippling boycott of the State of Israel. It’s telling that Mr. Gillum was Soros’s candidate of choice.

Just one more thing. I find it … interesting that Democrats listening to DeSantis use an innocuous expression to condemn socialist mismanagement, and the first thing they think when they hear the “monkey” is … black people. What does that say about them?

Bill Owens is President/Founder of the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP), which promotes Christian values and religious liberty by educating the clergy about important issues of our day.

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