The controversy over Congressman Mark Meadows’ denial of racism claims leveled against President Donald Trump made national headlines. But what do constituents of color in his own district think of Meadows words?
Two weeks ago, North Carolina Republican Congressman Mark Meadows got himself into hot water over testimony from President Donald Trump’s former longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who said he wished he’d never worked for Trump.
“I am ashamed,” Cohen said, “because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist, he is a con man, and he is a cheat.”
Quick to jump to Trump’s defense on the racism claim was Meadows.
“Mr. Cohen, do you know Lynne Patton?” asked Meadows, introducing a Trump organization employee. “You made some very demeaning comments about the president that Ms. Patton doesn’t agree with. In fact, it has to do with your claim of racism. She says as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist.”
Meadows added that he’d spoken with Trump more than 300 times and never heard the president say anything racist. But once Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib got her chance, she let Meadows have it.
“Just to make a note Mr. Chairman, just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them, does not mean they aren’t racist,” Tlaib said. “And it is insensitive, the fact that someone would use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself.”
Meadows went on to cite his friendship with House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, and also said he had people of color in his own family. But that reaction was considered insensitive by some constituents, and constituents of color in particular – like Waynesville native Tausha Forney.
“As a whole, I think it is a typical response right now,” said Forney. “A lot of people feel attacked and instead of taking the time to listen to what the person of color is trying to say, they just all of a sudden kind of rush to this place of, ‘well I didn’t mean …’ and then try to prove how they’re not racist, by mostly pointing out their black friends.”
Sylva resident Kelly Brown had harsh words for Meadows, and for Patton.
“Using a black person as a puppet is not fair or okay and I’m really upset that she allowed that,” Brown said. “I hope that none of my friends are ever using me as a puppet in that way, “Well I got a black friend named Kelly, so I’m okay and I’m not a racist.’ If you only quantify me as your friend because I’m your black friend, then we’re really not friends.”
Walter Bryson is pastor of Shiloh AME Zion Church in Asheville, and also head of the NAACP’s Haywood County Branch. After mentioning Sally Hemmings, along with late South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond’s secret interracial love child, Bryson said that having people of color in one’s family doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
“All of my kids are biracial, and although they’re biracial, some of the families they really didn’t care about us at first, but they grew and changed to love us,” said Bryson. “But before, just because you’re saying that you’ve got blacks in your family, I’ve seen where people disown their kids or whatever because they have a biracial relationship.”
Despite the controversy, it’s not likely to hurt Meadows at the polls. His gerrymandered district is 90 percent white, heavily Republican, and less than 4 percent black. It’s also home to the Qualla Boundary and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who’ve given Meadows more than $15,000 since 2012.
Meadows has already drawn a challenger for 2020, Pisgah Forest Democrat Steve Woodsmall. Meadows’ 2018 opponent Phillip Price, who lost to Meadows by 20 points, is rumored to be contemplating a run as well, but all comers are relative long shots.
That means there’s only one thing left to do, according to Pastor Bryson.
“I just pray for him. That’s the only thing we can do, because America is in dire straits with all these things that are happening – this racism, and bigotry, things of that nature,” Bryson said. “Not only America, but the world is in trouble.”
Through a spokesperson, Meadows declined to comment on this story.