If 2020 was the year when well-meaning white people approached their Black friends about finally recognizing the pervasiveness of racism after the police killing of George Floyd, 2021 was certainly the year their cousins, uncles, and aunties insisted on getting America back on track on the train of ignorance.
Closing out the year strong was a peak performance of not only ignorance, but weaponized victimhood by Rhode Island state representative Patricia Morgan.
In an unprovoked tweet that was roundly ratioed, the legislator went on Twitter Wednesday to proclaim that she had “a black friend” who she once liked, but the anonymous friend was now “hostile and unpleasant.”
“I am sure I didn’t do anything to her, except be white,” the representative states. “Is that what teachers and our political leaders really want for our society? Divide us because of our skin color?” And of course, the obligatory “#CRT” closed out the tweet for good measure.
CRT— “critical race theory”— is a body of legal scholarship that influenced other areas of academia that examines racism and imbalances of power in legal decisions and public policy. But what does it have to do with a self-pitying tweet that should have either stayed in the drafts or in Rep. Morgan’s diary? Well, it turns out the state representative did quite a lot beyond just “be white.”
The 71-year-old Republican is the prime sponsor of legislation she introduced this year that would ban “the teaching of divisive concepts and shall prohibit making any individual feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of their race or sex.”
Basically, Morgan introduced what conservatives have deemed anti-critical race theory legislation that effectively bans discussing America’s racism in public K-12 schools.
The Rhode Island law, which she introduced in March this year but has yet to pass, follows a string of similar laws that have popped up throughout the country in a form of protest against what has been referred to as a year of “reckoning,” as more non-Black people began grappling with America’s racial inequalities.
The saga got a bit more complex, as a queer Black Rhode Island state senator Tiara Mack shared the tweet and noted that she was the subject of Rep. Morgan’s comments. They are also colleagues in the Rhode Island General Assembly, the state’s lawmaking body.
Senator Mack tweeted that they haven’t actually met each other in person.
As she told ESSENCE, it was a “tongue-in-cheek response” after Morgan called Mack arrogant and “disgusting” for challenging the initial mandate to resume student loan payments in February before Biden extended it.
“Last week, knowing that that is how she speaks to young Black queer women, and knowing that— as someone who has never talked to her but works in a professional space— that is how she spoke to me,” Mack added, “I know for a fact that she does not have any Black friends or any Black people in her life who would consider her a friend because of the treatment that she has shown towards me and other marginalized communities of color in Rhode Island.”
Morgan claims the “friend” became distant at a Christmas party, hinting at an in-person exchange, so it’s unclear who is the actual subject of the tweet.
But whoever this “friend” is (and yes, these are all air quotes), there is so much to unpack here, and Rep. Morgan checked in a whole 6-piece Tumi luggage set.
Of course there’s her subtweet starting with her calling out “a black friend,” so you know it could only get worse from there.
Like, why mention her friend’s race at all? Does Rep. Morgan subtweet all her other friends and highlight their race just because they fell out over the casserole recipe? While proclaiming to be against division, she made the purposeful decision to contrast this “black” friend with whoever else she associates with based on an unfounded assumption— that the fallout was merely because of her race and nothing else.
And of course this “black friend” exemplified the common stereotypes of Black women being unpleasant and hostile in our relationships and in the workplace, compared to her, the innocent, good-natured lawmaker.
And while the most impactful issue here is that Morgan is likely censoring free speech that could deny accurate and honest discussions about, and potential solutions for, racism in America, there is also something a bit more pernicious happening.
Morgan went on the offensive in drafting this law while portraying herself to be a victim when talking about it. She’s not a victim because of any actual harm, but because of a perceived harm that she has concocted. This is weaponized victimhood.
While the Kyle Rittenhouses of the world proudly brandish weapons to intimidate those who oppose racist oppression, the Patricia Morgans of the world are in state legislative halls open carrying legislation that would teach more generations that this oppression doesn’t exist.
And when they are challenged, this bravado folds into a self-inflicted victimization that silences actual victims at best and kills them at worst.
It’s the victimization of Trump supporters who spend months begging for a civil war, and then cry about being questioned for it.
It’s the victimization of mega-billionaires like Elon Musk amassing wealth through tax breaks and subsidies and then throw a tantrum when they’re asked to contribute a fraction of their wealth in taxes to benefit the workers they exploit.
It’s the victimization of white Americans holding disproportionate wealth and political power, while increasingly believing society is more racist against them than Black people.
The victimization has no logic. It’s a feeling. And elected officials have the power to pass laws based on these feelings.
As incoming NAACP LDF President Janai Nelson told ESSENCE, “conservatives and extreme ideologues have converted that well-established body of scholarship [of critical race theory] into a boogeyman for all things race. And that has the effect of stifling the ability of a whole new generation of people in this country to understand the historical underpinnings of racial inequity.”
“All of this is a way to silence and erase the voices of Black and brown people in this country and to erase this country’s racist and white supremacist past,” Nelson added. “Rather than reckon with it, rather than resolve it, the people who are sponsoring these laws, the politicians who are engaged in this fight, would rather not only sweep it under the rug, but stamp it out entirely and criminalize the discussion of it. And that’s a very, very dangerous place to be. That’s a descent towards authoritarianism.”
For people like Rep. Morgan, who often provide the dominant narratives consumed by judges, juries, and the general public, it is they who are the victims, not the authoritarians. And they have the power to codify this weaponized victimhood.
“As a young, queer Black woman trying to pass legislation that impacts people like me who come from formerly low-income and other oppressed identities, that’s why we need more Black, queer, young people in office to combat some of the ideas that folks like her think are okay to have,” State Senator Mack told ESSENCE.
It is likely this development that is causing people like Rep. Morgan the most angst. A “black friend” doesn’t have to be merely subjected to subtweets and microagressions; but they can, in fact, challenge them as a peer with equal power in legislative halls, whoever that “friend” may be.
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