WASHINGTON—Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released the statement below in response to a recent Washington Times editorial caricature of Debo Adegbile, the pending nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. The cartoon is reminiscent of a genre known as “darky iconography” prominent in the 19th century that stereotyped African Americans:
“Until today, we’ve ignored the race-baiting and dog whistle politics that form the basis of opposition to Debo Adegbile’s nomination to head the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. We’ve disregarded the distortions about Adegbile’s efforts to ensure that all Americans can live and work free of discrimination.
But this buffoonish and racially tinged caricature is beyond the pale of acceptable mainstream debate. This cartoon is reminiscent of the racist iconography of late 19th century America designed to dehumanize and stereotype African Americans who were only beginning to throw off the shackles of chattel slavery.
Debo Adegbile is one of the preeminent civil rights lawyers of his generation with broad and bipartisan support for his confirmation. He’s the son of immigrants who worked his way through law school to defend American democracy in the U.S. Supreme Court. But to the Washington Times, Fox News, and others, he’s a buffoonish caricature and a ‘cop killer.’ The American Bar Association has debunked this lie, and wrapping it in racially charged rhetoric does not make it any more true.
This type of character assassination harkens back to the baseless and unrelenting attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s McCarthy hearings, which led counsel Joseph Welch to ask Senator McCarthy, ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?’
The head of the civil rights division is a vitally important office charged with defending the rights of all under the U.S. Constitution. There is no longer room for the dog whistle politics of yesteryear in a 21st century debate about an extremely well-qualified nominee to an important position such as this. We’re calling on all of Adegbile’s critics to tone down this rhetoric and have a reasoned and substantive conversation on this important nomination.”
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.