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Chris Cuomo (CNN)

U.S. POLITICS

CNN’s Racist Defense of Kamala Harris.

Debates about who counts as African-American are not “conspiracy theories.”

Last night, CNN’s Chris Cuomo opened his show with a broadside against Donald Trump Jr., suggesting that “he opened the door to another birtherism-style conspiracy” about Senator Kamala Harris. That follows up on other CNN reporters taking the same, aggressive line against the President’s son. Chris Cillizza suggested that Trump Jr. was “stoking birtherism conspiracies.” And Donie O’Sullivan, in an article that lamented how “Kamala Harris conspiracy theories festered online,” accused Trump Jr. of amplifying “disinformation” about Harris’ racial identity.

How did Trump Jr. do this? By retweeting this tweet from Ali Alexander, which argued that Senator Harris was not an “American Black”:

This must be the first “conspiracy theory” in history where both the proponents and the debunkers agree on the facts.

Kamala Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California, to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.

Everyone — including Wikipedia and Harris herself – agrees that the following sentence is 100% factually accurate:

Kamala Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California, to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.

The question is whether, given those facts, it is proper to call her “African-American.” That question is not a conspiracy theory; rather, it’s part of a challenging, nuanced debate in the black community about African-American identity, with no right or wrong answer. Indeed, that debate manifested itself on CNN in January, between April Ryan and CNN’s own Don Lemon:

It’s not novel for CNN contributors to abandon a previously held position if they can attack Donald Trump Jr.  But there’s something more sinister at work here. 

THE DEBATE OVER AFRICAN-AMERICAN IDENTITY

Cuomo, Cillizza, and O’Sullivan — all white males — seem to think they have the standing to resolve a fraught debate about African-American identity. While one’s identity is *usually* irrelevant in a substantive debate, in this one it’s central; the debate about who counts as African-American really should be resolved by African-Americans. Cuomo and his white male friends not only feel qualified to resolve the debate; they insinuate that those who disagree with them are “conspiracy theorists.” 

The argument that Kamala Harris is not African-American is not a conspiracy theory. It’s an argument about the boundaries of a particular identity. By its very nature, it cannot be absolutely true or false.

This is the height of arrogance.

The proponents of the argument relied upon by Lemon and Alexander to problematize Harris’ identity are a group called ADOS: American Descendents of Slavery. As they explain on their website:, the organization “seeks to reclaim/restore the critical national character of the African identity and experience, one grounded in our group’s unique lineage, which is central to our continuing struggle for social and economic justice in the United States.” In particular, they want “to move the discussion from melanin, and properly center the discussion around lineage.”

Thus, from ADOS’ perspective, if you are descendant of an American slave, you are African-American; but if, your ancestry is Jamaican, you aren’t. The leaders of ADOS see this distinction as important to any discussion of reparations; only those who have lineage that ties them to slavery in the United States, in their judgment, should receive reparations from the United States government. 

The argument that Kamala Harris is not African-American is not a conspiracy theory. It’s an argument about the boundaries of a particular identity. By its very nature, it cannot be absolutely true or false.

To the extent movements like ADOS wish to problematize “African-American” identity, they should be given the space to do so, without their arguments being called “conspiracy theories” by white male CNN contributors. 

Don Lemon (CNN)

Don Lemon (CNN)

RACIST ERASURE

In addition to resolving the debate over African-American identity themselves, this trio of white men erased the arguments of African-Americans from the discussion entirely. All three glossed over the fact that the “controversial” tweet at issue was written by an African-American, Ali Alexander, before it was retweeted by Trump Jr. O’Sullivan didn’t even provide a link to the tweet in his article — the same one where he suggested that this argument about African-American identity originated in a pro-Trump subreddit.

Cuomo, Cillizza, and O’Sullivan owe Don Lemon a profound public apology. It’s one thing to disagree with your colleague’s argument; it’s entirely a different matter to pretend the argument wasn’t even made.

In doing so, O’Sullivan and his CNN colleagues erased the founders of ADOS from this discussion as well. Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore are African-Americans seeking to center African-American identity around the historical oppression of blacks in the United States. But you won’t hear or read their names on CNN.

Finally, they were willing to erase the words of their own African-American colleague, Don Lemon, who made the exact argument that they are now calling a “conspiracy theory.” Say what you will about Lemon’s commentary; his voice should carry more weight on this question than Cuomo’s. And yet? Nothing. For Cuomo, Cillizza, and O’Sullivan, it’s as though Lemon doesn’t exist.

Cuomo, Cillizza, and O’Sullivan owe Don Lemon a profound public apology. It’s one thing to disagree with your colleague’s argument; it’s entirely a different matter to pretend the argument wasn’t even made.

MORE THAN GASLIGHTING

The treatment of African-Americans in the United States is a stain on this country’s history; slavery and Jim Crow immiserated their community and violated African Americans’ fundamental human dignity. Thus, when the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers want to start a debate about their identity, it’s not the place of white men to pretend they don’t exist and mock the debate as a “conspiracy theory” or “disinformation.”

But that didn’t stop Cuomo from launching his frivolous broadside, nor did it stop O’Sullivan and Cillizza from writing their disingenuous hit pieces. A nuanced debate about racial identity becomes “birtherism” if these white men can get retweets and attack Donald Trump Jr.

Yes, it’s hypocritical. Yes, it’s gaslighting. Definitionally, there can be no “conspiracy theory” when everyone agrees on the facts. 

Still, the arrogance and erasure on display mean that these CNN contributors need to be called out for more than simple hypocrisy.

This isn’t just fake news. 

It’s racism.

Will Chamberlain is a lawyer and the publisher of Human Events.

Written By

Will Chamberlain is a lawyer and the publisher of Human Events.

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