Iowa Republican and white supremacist U.S. representative Steve King unveiled the “Diamond and Silk Act” on Wednesday. Officially dubbed the End Sanctuaries and Help Our American Homeless and Veterans Act, the legislation seeks to redirect federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities — jurisdictions that decline to help federal authorities arrest and deport undocumented immigrants — to programs that aid homeless people and veterans.
The act’s unofficial title is inspired by its unofficial co-sponsors: Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, better known by their stage names, Diamond and Silk. Together, the pair hosts a conservative video series on YouTube aimed at ridiculing Democrats and boosting Republicans, especially President Donald Trump, whom they left the Democratic Party to support in 2015.
Diamond and Silk’s appeal to Republicans — the vast majority of whom are white — is that they are black women willing to exonerate the GOP of its racism. They conducted themselves accordingly on Wednesday when they joined King on Capitol Hill to announce their partnership. Reporters asked what they thought of the congressman’s retweeting white supremacists. “I’m tired of you all playing the race card,” Hardaway retorted. “It’s time to start working for Americans. And stop calling everybody a racist.”
In King’s case, “racist” is less a slur than a straightforward descriptor: He has openly praised far-right European Islamophobes like Geert Wilders and members of Austria’s Freedom Party; promoted The Camp of the Saints, a racist French novel about feces-eating, brown-skinned immigrants invading Europe; openly disputed the cultural worth of nonwhite people; and bemoaned, in a New York Times profile, the fact that terms like “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” are considered “offensive.”
The last remark prompted members of the GOP to rebuke him, stripping him of his House committee assignments in January and decrying his comments as at odds with their values. This claim is dubious, considering that King’s views have been clear throughout his 16-year tenure in Congress and his Republicans colleagues had said nothing. But his newfound unpopularity imbues with a sort of perverse logic his decision to promote a bill alongside the hosts of a YouTube minstrel show whose brand is reassuring white Republicans that they are not racist.
It marks the latest in a somewhat regular partnership between the two parties: King has invited Diamond and Silk to be his guests at a State of the Union address and to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the alleged digital censorship of conservatives by Google, Facebook, and YouTube. And it is a mutually beneficial one: The pair gets a platform from which to promote their brand and showcase the depths they will plumb in defense of white bigots, and King gets whatever plausible deniability of racism accompanies being co-signed by two black women.
But their alliance illustrates a theme in the GOP’s response to allegations of bigotry more generally. Time and again, Republican political figures have called on black conservatives to present themselves as physical proof that a party forged in the “southern strategy,” birtherism, and Trumpian hostility toward denizens of so-called shithole countries in Africa, the black Caribbean, and Central America is not racist. Representative Mark Meadows paraded Trump hire Lynne Patton, a black HUD official, before a House Oversight Committee hearing in February to physically refute Michael Cohen’s testimony about the president’s bigotry. Rashida Tlaib rightly called her a “prop.” And in April, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee summoned Candace Owens — another black conservative YouTube personality — to trivialize the threat of homegrown white-nationalist terrorism.
King’s motive for taking the same approach is transparent, considering his bill has little hope of surviving the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives: He too wishes to convey that he is not racist. The irony seems lost on him that he is attempting to do so toward a similarly bigoted end — punishing cities for helping undocumented immigrants from south of the U.S.-Mexico border, whom the congressman has regularly vilified and once described as possessing “calves the size of cantaloupes” from smuggling drugs.
It remains unclear how much longer Republicans will persist in the charade that allegations of racism can be waved away by the contrarianism of any random black person. But King seems willing to see how far it will carry him. The dishonesty underlying this approach is something of a turnaround from the openness with which he broadcast his white supremacism in the Times profile earlier this year. But if nothing else, it suggests that he learned his lesson from the Republican fallout: You can be a white supremacist as long as you lie and claim you are not one.