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Photo Illustration: Images from a vide of congressional candidate and January 6th participant JR Majewski rapping
MSNBC / Twitter

White Republicans love to mimic Black culture. Why?

Despite the GOP's attacks on Black people and Black culture, Republican officials are obsessed with performing Blackness.


For a party that is doing everything in its power to rescind Black people’s rights and erase Black history, the GOP is remarkably infatuated with Black culture, and lately, it has sought to mimic it whenever possible. 

Republicans are clinging to their claims of victimization by performing the actions of a truly oppressed group. 

We see a prime example of this in many GOP officials’ response to the Jan. 6 rioters. In some cases, we’ve seen Republicans literally compare the mostly-white group of extremists to the largely Black-led antiracist protests against police brutality in 2020

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has suggested the antiracist protesters in 2020 were guilty of insurrection, yet she’s called Jan. 6 defendants “political prisoners” and had decried their treatment in detainment.

Many other Republican members of Congress — from Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — have also made comparisons between the Jan. 6 rioters and the 2020 protesters, essentially placing the causes of anti-Black fascism (what Jan. 6 was about) and antiracism (what the 2020 protests were about) on the same plane. Here, the GOP is trying to appropriate the valor of righteous, pro-Black protest and assign it to mostly-white insurrectionists. 

But the swagger-jacking doesn’t stop there.

We’ve also seen the conservative movement go all-in on stealing Black slang. Conservative activists like Christopher Rufo have been overt about their attempts to commandeer and toxify the word “woke,” originally used by Black people to reference knowledgeability. Like rock music, white people adopted “woke” as their own and gave it an impermeable definition that seemingly only they control. “Woke” is now used to define virtually anything that could potentially benefit Black people, from lesson plans to infrastructure spending

On top of stealing Black language, Republicans have also tried to steal Black icons.

It’s become a tradition to mock Republicans for continually (and improperly) invoking the only Martin Luther King Jr. quote they seem to know — about judging the content of one’s character and not their race. But some right-wing figures have taken their King appropriation a step further. As my colleague Jarvis DeBerry wrote last month, failed GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel of Ohio filmed an ad on Alabama’s historic Edmund Pettus Bridge and invoked King’s name to attack antiracist school teachings. When King’s daughter Bernice rightly condemned the ad for misusing her father’s legacy, Mandel told her to “study your history better.” 

And we’ve seen yet more embarrassing performances of Black culture, embodied perfectly by this QAnon-linked Ohio Republican’s absurd, anti-Biden rap video. 

That guy secured the Republican nomination in his district's U.S. representative race, by the way. And I should note: We’re just over a decade removed from the GOP’s hysteria over then-President Barack Obama inviting the rapper Common to the White House.

In hindsight, the underlying truth has shown itself in many ways: Republicans don’t despise Black culture or Black history — they envy them and want to claim them as their own.