Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky). (Shutterstock)

Mitch McConnell Under Fire for Claiming Black Americans Are Not ‘Americans’

As the battle to protect voting rights continues in the nation’s capital — sadly with little success — veteran politician and minority leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, has come under fire for a statement he made that implied Black Americans were not “full” Americans.

Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press reported that “McConnell is drawing criticism for comments he made shortly before the GOP blocked a federal elections bill when he said that ‘African American’ voters cast ballots at similar rates to ‘Americans.’”

McConnell made the statement during a news conference on Jan. 19 while he was defending the Republican party’s stance against a nationwide bill protecting voting freedoms.

“The concern is misplaced because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans,” he said.

According to Schreiner, “The comment implied that Black voters are somehow not American and underscored the concerns of voting-rights advocates that Republicans in state legislatures across the country are explicitly seeking to disenfranchise Black voters. The timing was also notable, coming the same day that McConnell engineered a filibuster to block voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights leaders say is vital to protecting democracy.”

McConnell tried to backtrack on criticism over his statement the following day, claiming he supports all individuals’ right to vote, but opponents weren’t buying his revised stance on the issue.

Charles Booker, a Kentucky Democrat and candidate for U.S. Senate in the state, tweeted, “Being Black doesn’t make you less of an American, no matter what this craven man thinks.” Booker tried unsuccessfully to capture McConnell’s Senate seat in 2020 and is now challenging Sen. Rand Paul for his seat in this year’s election.

Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison, who is Black, joined in the criticism, tweeting: “Hey @LeaderMcConnell. For your information, I’m also an American!”

Schreiner pointed out that “McConnell’s supporters called it an unfair attack, saying he simply left out a word and meant to say that Black people vote at similar rates to ‘all’ Americans.”

Still, that hasn’t stopped the movement of Black Americans replying to McConnell’s offensive statements on social media using the hashtag #IAmAmerican, emphasizing that an individual’s race doesn’t impact their ability to be American or make them less of an American than anyone else.

Bernice King, CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, reflected on how McConnell’s statement showed an increased need to “center” what it means to be “American,” so the term doesn’t only refer to white people.

“A part of creating the Beloved Community is centering humanity and the common good, not categorizing people with one group centered,” King said.

Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League in Kentucky, weighed in on her frustration over the statement, which was made even as voter rights continue to be stripped away, and the federal government unable — or unwilling — to do anything about it. 

“[We are] still not seen as Americans worthy of having our voice heard at the ballot box,” Reynolds said. “Our patriotism, our citizen’s status, should never be questioned. And we are owed an apology, not just for Freudian slips, but for failures to honor the role that we have played in building this great country.”

 

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