African American Addresses Republicans Whose Leader Compared Obama to Chimp

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about Brexit at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University i
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about Brexit at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Derrick Wilburn, founder of Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives delivered a keynote address Saturday at the annual Lincoln Day dinner of the Delta County Republican Party, whose leader, Linda Sorenson, found herself in the national spotlight this month for sharing a Facebook Post comparing Obama to a chimpanzee.

After Sorenson's promotion of the racist meme came to light, the local NAACP and Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance (GMDMA) called for her resignation.

But while state GOP leaders, like Rep. Scott Tipton, denounced racism in general, they did not join in asking Sorenson to go. After meeting with Sorenson, GOP State Chair Steve House promised racial sensitivity training.

Before the speech, Wilburn, who's African American and also the vice chair of the Colorado Republican Party, told me his keynote address to Delta Republicans was planned long ago, and he would not push for Sorenson's resignation. He pointed me to his June 8 Facebook post addressing Sorenson's situation:

Wilburn: Typical procedure in these situations is to fire the person or request they resign, let the dust settle & smoke clear and then, having added another body to the scrap heap, move on. And what have we really accomplished?

Is Ms. Sorenson "a racist?" I don't know her but I tend to doubt it. But can a person who is not a racist be guilty of saying or doing something racially insensitive or offensive? Absolutely.

This time rather than demanding a head, how about we say, "This has been going on for too long, let's use this as an opportunity to teach, edify, grow."

We can get her canned, everyone's happy, we move on. But then what's really changed? What have we affected? Then the next time someone does something similar get rid of them too. As concerned as I am with what happened last week, I'm more concerned with next. And the one after that, and after that... How do we affect those??

Outside of the understandable hurt and justifiable anger -which I do feel, I don't like the President's POLICIES but he nor any black man should EVER be compared to a chimp-perhaps we have an opportunity here. We can send one (who may be deserving) to the gallows, or we can use this as an opportunity for advancement. I vote for the latter.

Wilburn's post promises more information "very soon" about what he's going to do, but his Facebook page states that he's talked with the GMDMA and Denver Urban League officials about it.

As for his presentation Saturday in Delta County, at Zack's BBQ in Hotchkiss, Wilburn did not plan to make the Chimp-meme issue a "focal point" of the presentation, but he was planning to "communicate to the people in Delta County that there are very real disconnects in America, and you have to learn to be sensitive to those," Wilburn said.

"If you do something that is insensitive or offensive, you have to own it," Wilburn told me. "You can't just sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn't exist and hope it goes away."

Wilburn's approach may be greeted with  hostility from some Delta Republicans themselves.

Here's what one Delta Republican, Tom Huerkamp, had to say in a letter-to-the-editor of the Delta County Independent:

As a 76-year-old lifelong registered Republican and fiscal conservative, I am totally mortified to think that Linda Sorenson is speaking for me. I, too, am very unhappy with our current U.S. administration. However, she not only needs to step down, our elected county officials need to publicly and collectively disavow what has taken place. Furthermore, those members of the Central Committee who will not vote to replace Linda also need to step down and make room for a more responsible representation of our party.

Another letter writer, Delores Wilson, opined:

The fact that Linda Sorenson is "stunned" at the vitriol and hatred directed at her for posting a racist meme on Facebook points to her obvious need to educate herself on the history of civil rights in America. Her suggestion that she is somehow the victim in this incident would be laughable if it wasn't so pathetically sad. The fact that she resorted to using Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous quote in defense of herself is appalling under the circumstances.

While Ms. Sorenson may call racist imagery "silly" it is anything but "silly." Imagery has the power to promote fear, prejudice, discrimination and hate. There is a long history in this country of blacks being depicted in art, advertising, greeting cards, sheet music, cartoons, etc., with extremely grotesque exaggerated features. Printed material depicting them as intellectually inferior, lazy, ugly, etc., was the accepted norm.

Depicting a black person as a primate is nothing new; it is a part of historical imagery suggesting that they are less than human. It is an insidious form of racism that perpetuates more racism. When such material is accepted as the norm it bolsters the lie that the viewer is superior to the caricature they are viewing. Unless, of course, the viewer is black and then it bolsters feelings of humiliation, denigration, shame and more.

Rhetoric that concerns the elected officials of Delta County is the stereotyping of our county as "racist." The people of Delta County, the elected officials, and the Republicans as a whole are by no means racist. It is not who we are, nor how we conduct business.

We'll see what comes of Wilburn's speech at Zach's BBQ.