Black Democrats Just Dismantled Jeff Sessions' Defense Against Being Called Racist

January 11th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

On Tuesday, Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions discussed his feelings about racism, on Wednesday, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond used the confirmation hearings to talk about the record.

Jeff Sessions

During his own testimony on Tuesday, Sessions said it was "painful" to face accusations of racism and prejudice, and on Wednesday three of the black witnesses that testified did so in favor or Sessions.

Former Chief Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee William Smith, who is black, said that Sessions is not racist. "I know a racist when I see one, and I've known more than one, and Sen. Sessions is not one," he said.

However, Richmond, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, used his to time to highlight an important reality: Sessions' personal relationships and feelings about race don't matter compared to his legislative record.

"Simply put Sen. Sessions has advanced an agenda that will do great harm to African-American citizens, and communities," Richmond said. He listed Sessions' positions on the criminal justice system, which disproportionately affect minorities, and his opposition to the Voting Rights Act, which was largely overturned in 2013, resulting in a host of new voting restrictions for black people.

"He has no track record of fighting for justice for minorities despite the characterizations that you have heard from others today," said Richmond. "He and his supporters have told you that he is a champion for civil rights and equality. Characterizations and revisionist history are not the same thing as facts."

In writing about Sessions' defense, Slate's Jamelle Bouie argued that the lawmaker's strategy was to make the accusations of racism "a referendum on his character, one in which his discomfort with the language of racism matters more than the weight of his choices as a prosecutor and policymaker."

As Bouie pointed out in his article, how Sessions feels about being called a racist matters less than the impact of his past actions.

Studies show that people are highly unlikely to define themselves as "racist." 

A decade-old study from CNN found that 43 percent of white Americans and 48 percent of black Americans reported knowing someone who is racist, however only 13 percent of whites and 12 percent of blacks reported racial bias.

"We've reached a point that racism is like a virus that has mutated into a new form that we don't recognize," University of Connecticut professor Jackb Dovidio told CNN at the time.

University of Southern California law professor Jody Armour told ATTN: in August that some people may not want to admit that institutional racism exists or come to terms with the fact they may hold racial biases.

"It's uncomfortable to admit that our privilege could rest on the oppression of other people," Armour said. "That could make our dinner taste a little funny."

RELATED: Chart Reveals the Problem With the Definition of Racism