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Racist politicians make a joke of Tampa

Republicans hoping for an image overhaul to jump-start support for the party can thank one of their own for causing the GOP, as well as the entire Tampa Bay area, embarrassment — again.
Carol Carter, state committeewoman for Hillsborough County, resigned Thursday, making her the second local Republican to jump ship in the wake of scandal over racist e-mails sent to political cohorts.

Carter’s Jan. 30 e-mail contained a joke comparing black people who attended Barack Obama’s inauguration to those stuck in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

“I’m confused,” the message read. “How can 2,000,000 blacks get into Washington, DC in one day in sub zero temps when 200,000 couldn’t get out of New Orleans in 85 degree temps with four days notice?”

Oh, Carter, that’s a good one. It’s totally funny to liken people who had months to plan a vacation in our nation’s capital to scores of impoverished people trying not to die in a flooding, dysfunctional metropolis during a hurricane. Zing!

Extra points for assuming that only black people attended the inauguration and were affected by Hurricane Katrina. And all while invoking the oldest, most sinister stereotypes about black people? Double-zing!

However, it seems some of Florida’s other Republicans just can’t take a joke. State GOP Chairman Jim Greer chastised Carter for her comedic genius and said he considered removing her from her post.

“Carol Carter has been a hard-working, loyal Republican for many years, but this action I have no tolerance for, regardless of the circumstances or intent,” he said. “I’m just done with it.”

More offensive than the joke’s use of a clearly racist stereotype is Carter’s defense of her e-mail malfeasance. Several hours after sending the initial e-mail, she sent another to Hillsborough’s Republican executive committee to “apologize” for her actions.

“I have been asked to send this apology for my earlier e-mail. I am sorry that it was received in a negative manner. I do hope that we are going to be allowed to keep our sense of humor,” she stated.

In addition to disingenuously apologizing, Carter blamed those who objected to her behavior, saying she only sent the e-mail to about eight people and was “sorry to learn that some of these persons are not real team players.”

Carter’s timing couldn’t  be worse, either for Florida Republicans or the Tampa community. Ironically, on the same morning Carter sent her blatantly racist e-mail, the Republican National Committee selected its first black chairman, Michael Steele.

Furthermore, it was less than four months ago that former Hillsborough County GOP Chairman David Storck was criticized by party members for sending his own racist e-mail just days before President Barack Obama’s historic election.

On Oct. 29, Storck forwarded more than 400 GOP members an e-mail titled “The Threat,” which warned of “carloads of black Obama supporters coming from the inner city to cast their votes for Obama” in Temple Terrace. The message stated: “This is their chance to get a black president and they seem to care little that he is at minimum, socialist, and probably Marxist in his core beliefs. After all, he is black — no experience or accomplishments — but he is black.”

Storck summoned a defense as reprehensible as Carter’s, claiming the message was supposed to be internal and that whoever reported it to the media was trying to “sabotage the Republican Party.”

Storck’s replacement, Deborah Cox-Roush, told the St. Petersburg Times the controversy surrounding her predecessor’s e-mail was overblown.

“The idea that the Republicans are not inclusive is just not true,” she said. “But we need to do a better job of getting rid of this perception.”

If Republicans have any desire to be — or at least appear — inclusive, ousting people like Carter and Storck is vital. Defending their actions only reinforces the idea that such “joking” is OK and that those offended are simply oversensitive, as Carter suggested in her “apology.” Protecting party members who make racist comments renders any GOP proclamation of inclusion ridiculous and deepens anti-Republican sentiments.

More importantly, the Tampa community should declare its opposition to racism and individuals who make racist remarks.

While it is troubling that many residents are rationalizing and justifying the contents of Carter’s e-mail on message boards and other online outlets, those who strive for social justice and equality must be more vocal.

Given the shameful actions of local politicians — and a certain flag waving above I-75 like an embarrassing banner of backward thinking — it is essential for the Tampa community to take a strong anti-racist stance.

With all the attention Tampa is garnering, and the national discourse on race and social progress more active than it has been in years, the city must not stand for the propagation of such shameful, reductive stereotypes and bigotry.

Renee Sessions is a senior majoring in creative writing.