The Republican National Convention (RNC) kicked off Monday night with some controversial moments, many of which were punctuated by a seeming theme of white anger and pride—but none as explicit as a statement by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who said during a panel discussion on MSNBC that whites have contributed more to history than "any other subgroup."
Responding to Esquire's Charlie Pierce that the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, where the RNC was taking place, was "wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people" ready to shut down signs of protest, King said, "This whole 'white people' business does get a little tired, Charlie. I would ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people you are talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"
Anchor Chris Hayes asked, "Than white people?"
King continued, "Than Western civilization itself, that's rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world."
The panel—comprising King, Hayes, Pierce, and April Ryan, the Washington bureau chief of the American Urban Radio Networks—broke into a brief argument as Hayes said, "We're not going to argue the history of civilization," and Ryan countered, "Let's argue the history of this country, okay?"
Hayes then ended the discussion telling King, "Let me note for the record, that if you're looking at the ledger of Western civilization, for every flourishing democracy, you've got Hitler and Stalin as well." (After coming under fire for his lack of response, Hayes later tweeted that he may have mishandled the moment by not letting Ryan respond to King.)
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King's statement set a "white supremacist tone" in Cleveland, wrote Robert Mackey for The Intercept, adding that his assertions "were not well received on social networks by non-racists or those with even the slightest grasp of history."
"King's frank defense of the disproportionately white makeup of the Republican party came just days after Speaker Paul Ryan inadvertently drew attention to the same problem, by posting a selfie on Instagram showing the lack of diversity in the party’s current crop of Capitol Hill interns," Mackey wrote. Ryan's photo is here.
And the Des Moines Register reports:
State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, who is black and a Muslim, said King's remarks were "asinine" and displayed an ignorance of history and a lack of sensitivity for race relations. He suggested King lacked knowledge about the contributions of African-Americans and slaves, Chinese people who helped to build American railroads, and of women. "Let’s talk about the contributions of Africa that actually brought Europe out of the Dark Ages," he added.
At Quartz, correspondent Josh Horwitz compiled an article titled "Dear Steve King: Here are some things not invented by white people." The list includes mathematics, music, and the compass, among other things.
"King could use a history lesson," Horwitz wrote.
And as Juan Cole also explained, "There are lots of basic things wrong with King's statement, even just starting with his category of 'whiteness.' Whiteness is not 'natural'—it is an invented category.... If by civilization is meant urban society with high rates of literacy, scientific and technological innovation, role specialization and division of labor, and high levels of collective government, then northern European Christians did not invent it. Iraq, Iran, India, China and Egypt did."