If you’re going to get into a battle of words on race, one person you shouldn’t come for is Rep. Barbara Lee, the sharp-tongued Democrat from Oakland, California.
After going after Rep. Paul Ryan for his remarks about inner-city culture that she called “deeply offensive” as well as “statistically inaccurate,” Lee yesterday responded to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who twice called Lee a “race hustler.”
O’Reilly first used that term on Monday, when he read Lee’s statement calling Ryan’s words a “thinly veiled racial attack” and said, “Ms. Lee, by the way, a notorious race hustler.”
On Tuesday night, when Ryan himself appeared on O’Reilly’s show, the host told him that “hustlers” like Lee have no interest in the real problems the Black community faces.
“These race hustlers make a big living, and they get voted into office by portraying their constituents as victims, and it’s all your fault and my fault, it’s the rich people’s fault, it’s the Republicans’ fault,” O’Reilly said. “So, no matter what you say, congressman, you’re gonna be branded, because the race hustlers don’t want to solve the problem.”
Lee said she wasn’t surprised by O’Reilly’s name-calling.
“Unfortunately we’ve come to expect language like “welfare queens,” “food stamp president,” and now “race hustlers” from the right wing and Mr. O’Reilly,” she said. “It is disgusting and divisive and should never be accepted in our national discourse. For us to achieve the American dream for all, we must engage in this conversation that has been sparked about race and poverty, even if it is difficult for some. Racial discrimination, poverty, and income inequality remain issues that must be debated and addressed, and these kinds of ‘code words’ only get in the way of solving the real problems.”
This is what Ryan originally said that kicked up such a ruckus: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”
In response to Ryan, Lee issued a statement that said, “My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘Black.’”
Lee added, “Instead of demonizing ‘culture,’ and blaming Black men for their poverty, Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America. His uninformed policy proposals continue to increase poverty, not solve it.”