Here’s the problem with Rand Paul: He doesn’t seem to want to listen to black people, but he wants them to listen to him.
On Wednesday, Paul appeared on Fox’s Sean Hannity Show and proposed a different strategy for how Black Lives Matter organizers and protesters should sculpt their movement. “I think they should change their name, maybe, if they were ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘Innocent Lives Matter,’” said Paul.
“I am about justice, and frankly I think a lot of poor people in our country, and many African-Americans, are trapped in this war on drugs and I want to change it,” he continued. “But commandeering the microphone and bullying people and pushing people out of the way, I think, really isn’t a way to get their message across.”
So, Rand Paul doesn’t like Black Lives Matter, at least the slogan. But he also indicated to Hannity that black people are “trapped” in the criminal justice system. Coincidentally, harsh sentencing and the drug war, problems Paul frequently campaigns on, are also issues taken up by Black Lives Matter.
Rats, this is so confusing! What is Rand Paul’s problem with Black Lives Matter if he’s concerned with a lot of the same issues? Semantics, maybe? No, it’s a fundamental problem in Paul’s approach to courting potential black voters. And it’s not new.
In his interview with Hannity, Paul pointed to the fact he has visited Howard University, a historically black college in DC, to establish himself as an ally of the black community. “I’ve appeared with many members of the Congressional Black Caucus to talk about criminal justice, I’ve been to Howard University, I’ve discussed it in Chicago and other cities, and so I’m more than willing to discuss it,” said Paul.
But his speech there in 2013, seemed more like a bad lecture than an attempt to connect. Talking to a group of students, Paul tried to highlight the much healthier pre-civil rights era relationship between black Americans and Republicans. Rand asked the students if they knew the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded by Black Republicans. Yes, they did. He also name-dropped the nation’s first black senator elected since Reconstruction, Edward Brooke, a Republican. But oops, he called him Edwin Brooke.
Paul went back to Howard this spring, and he said he learned from the first visit. But after last night’s interview, in which he chose to focus on the way a few black protesters delivered their message rather than the message itself, he drew some of the same criticism.
“Instead of #Randsplaining on Fox News, the senator should focus on policies that actually uplift all Americans," said Michael Tyler, the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) black media spokesman.“His hurtful rhetoric is awful but his policies, like his legislation to end birthright citizenship, are even worse for America’s minority communities." Paul's campaign didn't return requests for comment for this story.
"All lives" have always mattered. It's just that black lives matter much less in America. #BlackLivesMatter Understand it now Rand Paul?
— Jonas Grumby (@Scytherius) August 27, 2015
“[Saying] white lives matter / all lives matter is like saying, ‘The sky is blue,” Alicia Garza, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, said in a previous Fusion post. Garza continued: “White lives are the standards to which people of color are held accountable, and those to which people of color are taught to strive to obtain.”
Rand Paul wants black Americans to vote for him. According to CNN, the Kentucky senator spent a long time assembling a group of black advisers. But if Paul continues refusing to hear aggrieved black people, he has not a hope in the world to change the hearts and minds of a staunchly Democratic voting bloc.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.