Beto O'Rourke Has Slave-Owning Ancestors, Weirdly Does Not Blame Obama
Beto O'Rourke is not Mitch McConnell. You can tell by the lack of horns and cloven hooves. When it was revealed last week that McConnell's ancestors owned slaves, the Senate majority leader tried to blame Barack Obama for having made being descended from slave owners cool in the first place. However, O'Rourke has confronted his own shameful inheritance like an actual human being.
O'Rourke posted on Medium Sunday that his paternal great-great-great grandfather, Andrew Cowan Jasper, held two women, Rose and Eliza, in bondage. His maternal great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Williams, "most likely" owned slaved in the 1860s. O'Rourke's wife, Amy, also had a slave-owning ancestor, according to personal records, and another one who served in the Confederate army.
The point of the post wasn't just to "fess up" and move on. Unlike McConnell, who wonders why you keep bringing up "old shit," O'Rourke understands that the present is greatly informed by the past, and we can't truly move forward if we just ignore what's always behind us.
O'ROURKE: Ownership of other human beings conferred advantages not just to Andrew Jasper and Frederick Williams, but to Jasper's and Williams' descendants as well. They were able to build wealth on the backs and off the sweat of others, wealth that they would then be able to pass down to their children and their children's children. In some way, and in some form, that advantage would pass through to me and my children.
That those enslaved Americans owned by my ancestors were denied their freedom, denied the ability to amass wealth, denied full civil rights in America after slavery also had long term repercussions for them and their descendants.
Kirsten Gillibrand masterfully broke down white privilege to broke-ass white people. O'Rourke casts himself in a remake of Roots, depicting and clearly contrasting the two parallel paths for the descendants of slave owners and slaves. He boldly links the wealth "earned" from stolen labor and broken lives to the wealth his family enjoys today.
This next passage is also really good. It's like our boy has read his Ta-Nehisi Coates.
O'ROURKE: Rose and Eliza were denied their freedom and the benefits that their labor produced; they and their children were then denied their civil rights after the end of Reconstruction; and their descendants endured open terrorism, economic exclusion and racism in the form of Jim Crow, lynchings, convict leasing, voter suppression, red lining, predatory lending, and mass incarceration. Everything their descendants have accomplished in their lives is despite having all of these odds stacked against them.
The last line is key. Republicans ranging from McConnell to David Frum love to point to the Obamas or a random Beyonce as proof we don't need reparations. Isn't there a white person starving somewhere while Oprah sweetens her coffee with unicorn milk? O'Rourke supports reparations and also consider it his "responsibility" to resolve the racial wealth gap. His specific plans include addressing the $23 billion (with a "b") in underfunding for majority-minority public schools and investing $25 billion in minority- and women-owned businesses. He proposes solutions to reverse the trend in maternal and infant mortality rates for women of color. He also vows to end the drug war, increase police accountability, and expunge arrest records for nonviolent drug crimes.
During his 2018 Senate campaign, O'Rourke often spoke movingly about race and used his privilege to directly confront racial injustice. When Donald Trump crapped racist diarrhea on Twitter this weekend, O'Rourke called him out for it.
However, O'Rourke's former rival, Ted Cruz, was "true to form" and responded to his post in the most Cruz-way possible.
You believe this asshole?Twitter
This doesn't even make sense. Every Republican president and nominee in our lifetime has been wealthy. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were the true "American dream" success stories. Lobbing class warfare grenades at O'Rourke is petty even for Cruz. O'Rourke's willingness to own up to his past and use it as a motivation for good works isn't "hashtag guilt," it's leadership. That's something Trump's personal hemorrhoid cushion would never understand.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.