With the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan Republican ticket polling at zero percent among blacks, now comes word that Rep. Paul Ryan had a five-year relationship with a black cheerleader in college.
Deneeta Pope and Ryan became an “item” in the 1990s on the campus of Miami University of Ohio. Pope, a 5-foot-6-inch intellectual technology major, and Ryan, 6-foot-2-inches and carrying a double major in political science and economics, dated for her entire college career and half of his -- and for close to two years thereafter. They have remained “friends” since college, with her (a Democrat) making at least three donations to Ryan’s political campaigns. And, just three months before his nomination to the Republican Party’s VP spot, Ryan and his wife attended Pope’s second wedding.
Ryan makes no bones about the relationship, admitting to Milwaukee Magazine in 2005 not only that, “My college sweetheart was black,” but that he also has a black sister-in-law. Ryan has also indicated that the relationship with Pope helped shape his views on “race,” and that he became a “big, big fan” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, he pointed to the many “negative” reactions he claims to have received from fellow white students while dating Pope. “I just experienced some ugly comments, some racist views from people who I thought were friends of mine,” Ryan said in that 2005 interview.
After college, Ryan’s political trajectory is fairly well known and will not be covered here. It must be asked, however, whether his relationship with Pope informed or influenced that trajectory. If so, how? If not, why not?
For her part, after college Deneeta Pope took a completely different path. She was indicted by a grand jury in November of 1999, and pleaded guilty two years later to manufacturing and using false receipts and expense reports amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. She served five months in federal prison, and was released in 2005. The scheme against her employer, accounting giant Ernst & Young, involved transferring the fraudulent funds to a secret Chicago bank account (where else?).
But this report is not about Deneeta Pope or her criminal history. My concern is how a white Irish Catholic male who as a young(er) man had a fairly serious relationship with a black woman, and whose own brother is, in fact, married to a black woman….how can such a person so completely affiliate himself with the obviously anti-black history, sentiments, policies and practices of the Republican Party?
There are several possible answers here – most of them psychological, and at least a couple based on mythologies about the physical charms and allures -- the "exoticism" -- of all women of color, but especially of black and African women. For example, I have noticed that when traveling in certain villages in Africa, far from the urbanity of the big cities and towns, some "native" women are routinely topless. The black and brown men and women on tour with me might make an occasional remark. But most of the white guys on the tour seem to go absolutely, completely berserk -- pointing, whistling, catcalling, etc. -- at the mere sight of a black female breast. Back in '91, Spike Lee produced and directed a box office hit movie about this phenomenon, featuring a rising young star named Halle Berry. Lee named this strange behavior and his movie: "Jungle Fever."
From Thomas Jefferson right straight through to Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and now Paul Ryan, white men taking advantage of black women (whether coerced or otherwise) has never been discussed in any “mainstream” political journal I know of – beyond those “minority-focused” ones. The Ryan/Pope connection was obviously consensual. Still, questions of power and priviledge of white men abound here. And, at some point, must be addressed. Just like the whole matter of “race” in America is studiously avoided, especially now in color blind America, this particular aspect of "race relations" is virtually never spoken of aloud, it is hidden, whispered about, but never seriously, openly confronted, analyzed, addressed.
Perhaps if the Romney-Ryan ticket wins, Ryan will have Pope and her new husband at the Inaugural Ball, after which we can get down to some serious discussions about this apparently intractable problem. We would certainly like to ask him and his running mate how and why they promote policies which would keep people like Deneeta Pope out of places like the University of Miami in the first place.
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