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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

How Not To Prove That Your Friend (Or Your President) Is Not A Racist

Tommy Tomlinson

Let’s set aside, for today, the question of whether President Trump is a racist.

Instead, let’s talk about the ways you should not go about trying to prove otherwise.

This came up the other day during Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee. Cohen, who was Trump’s personal lawyer for a decade, said in his opening statement that his former boss was a racist.

Mark Meadows, the Republican congressman from western North Carolina, countered by inviting a special guest: Lynne Patton, an official with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Meadows introduced a statement from her that said there’s no way she would work for a racist.

That seemed to pretty much settle the question for Meadows. A black person said it. So it must be true.

This argument is familiar to any of us who have been at a party where some white person drops the N-word or tells some terrible racial joke. The defense is always the same. “I’m not racist! I’ve got black friends!”

Those black friends never seem to be around when the white guy says his racist thing. But they’re out there somewhere.

Let’s be clear. Some co-worker you have lunch with once in a while, or an old high-school buddy you run into at the mall now and then … you don’t get to count them as friends for absolution of your sins.

You don’t get to say you don’t have a racist bone in your body, because that’s probably not true. You don’t get to say you don’t see color, because then nobody in the world takes you seriously.

You don’t get to say “Actually, YOU’RE the racist,” because that move lost its power somewhere around sixth grade.

What struck me in particular about Meadows’ defense – and by extension, I guess, the president’s defense – is how much it missed the opportunity.

President Trump has spent a life in business, entertainment and politics. He has worked with literally thousands of important people. Mark Meadows and his staff knew what Cohen was going to say. In theory, they should’ve been able to pack that hearing room with friends of all colors and creeds willing to stand up for the president.

Instead, they got one political appointee most of us had never heard of.

It was a textbook example of how to make an unconvincing argument about race in the 21st century.

And it didn’t help that within minutes after the hearing, people were posting two different videos of Meadows from 2012 where he said he would work to send President Obama “back home to Kenya, or wherever it is.”

One last thing. I’m not sure of the rules in the House Oversight Committee. But what I do know is that Lynne Patton didn’t get to speak to the committee members. Mark Meadows just put a statement of hers into the record while she stood behind him.

In other words, the white man spoke while the black woman stood silently in the back. Optics, apparently, is another of the many things Mark Meadows doesn’t know much about.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.