Chris Timmons: This is typical Jeb Bush tone-deafness on race

So Jeb! didn’t know.

Mr. Wonky, details-oriented, well-briefed, bureaucratic slayer of 500-page white papers just didn’t know. (And that’s reading past the executive summary. Take that, George W., MBA-style prez!)

According to The Root, a magazine dedicated to black news and culture, now formally announced candidate for president and dynastic-heir wannabe, Jeb Bush, told the news media he didn’t quite know if Dylann Roof was making a racial terrorist attack, or had any racial animus whatsoever.

It may have been religion driven for all we know, says Bush, who didn’t himself know.

Don’t miss the fact that — well, one, Roof himself states his mission. Let’s suppose he’d know: “They are raping our women” and “Taking over our country.”

Perhaps that’s not definitive enough when you’re running in a Republican primary where South Carolina is usually the decisive first test case of your conservative bona fides — and where clear-eyed honesty about race is just racial grandstanding. So race denialism remains in vogue.

Perhaps, though, the third-person pronoun “they” is so detached from an ostensible subject that the fanatical grammarian in Bush had a moment of genuine confusion. So race denialism remains in vogue.

Perhaps, too, the black AME church along with the whole of black Methodism has been so effective in proselytizing the Southern Baptist-minded South that certain white women are running in droves to black AME churches.

Thus, metaphorically speaking, “raping our women.” So race denialism, again, remains in vogue.

Lastly, perhaps, there was a fundamental lack of information. You may take your pick.

But nevertheless, this is typical Jeb Bush tone-deafness on race — which is, by the way, legendary. (And the GOP, but let’s stick with Jeb!)

One crisp day in Miami two weeks ago when Jeb! announced his presidential run may have confused observers: Rare for a Republican, he had a black guy, the Rev. R.B. Holmes, who had, along with another black leader, T. Willard Fair, endorsed him in 1998. Notice 1998. The Jeb! black coalition needs refreshing and expanding. What happened to that famous Bush Rolodex? WASPs only?

Insofar as black support is a serious matter for Bush, there is a whole legacy of dubious statements and actions to overcome:

–In his 2000 State of the State address, after thousands marched to the Capitol in protest of his One Florida Initiative, designed to eliminate affirmative action in “higher” education and set-aside preferences in state contracting (according to some sources around 25,000 to 80,000 marched), Bush declared the initiative a resounding success.

To quote him, “The One Florida Initiative creates a university system with greater diversity, where minority students get both the access and finances they need based on their talent and work, not the color of their skin … at Florida State University, you will find a university that has already increased its acceptance of minority applicants by 18 percent this year over last, as a result of the outreach efforts encouraged under the One Florida Initiative.”

Fifteen years later, according to The Washington Post, Florida State University’s black enrollment is down by 15 percent.

–During the 1994 gubernatorial race, Bush told a curious black voter, after the voter asked what Bush would do for blacks: “Probably nothing.”

Bush received 5 percent of the black vote.

–According to a lengthy Vox profile of his gubernatorial term, Bush had no relationship with black politicians. Which is indicative of his go-it-alone approach to public policy issues.

He tends to eschew consensus. During the lead-up to the unveiling of his One Florida plan, no black politicians were consulted.

This, according to Bush, was the most successful policy of his administration. And, largely for certain blacks, devastating.

–After the obvious lapse of sense on Dylann Roof, Bush conveniently called for the removal of South Carolina’s Confederate flag from its Capitol dome on Twitter, according to USA TODAY, citing his own removal of Florida’s flag, after the contentious presidential election of 2000.

Actually, some Florida black lawmakers speculate that Bush’s removal of the Florida Confederate flag was largely a calculated boost for his 2002 re-election campaign.

On the other side is Rev. Holmes, who says his Bethel Missionary Church congregation had made the quiet case for its removal. So Bush approved.

Please note, though, he issued no press release — according to press accounts — nor held a press conference after the flag’s removal from the State Capitol. Take that anyway you like.

If this is what Bush has learned after his two terms as Florida’s governor about mending the fences with or attracting black voters, then to steal from rapper Kanye West, he really doesn’t care about black people as a political constituency.

Someone call Rev. Holmes and tell him he’s been terribly used.

Chris Timmons is a writer based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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