WaPo columnist criticized for 'gag' remark about NYC mayor-elect's biracial family

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Liberal Democrat Bill de Blasio (2nd R) hugs his wife Chirlane (R) and children Chiara and Dante during his election victory party at the Park Slope Armory in New York November 5, 2013. De Blasio cruised to victory on Tuesday in the race to succeed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, marking the first time a Democrat has captured City Hall in two decades, local media reported. (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is being criticized for his commentary about the biracial family of Bill de Blasio, New York's newly elected mayor.

"People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children," Cohen wrote in a column, published Tuesday, that considers the possibility of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the 2016 Republican presidential nominee and the party's problems.

"Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde," Cohen wrote before delivering the "gag" line. "(Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all."

Salon's Elias Isquith called it a "bizarre, racist statement."

"Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen sets high bar for what qualifies as racist," New York magazine's Dan Amira wrote. "It's not 'racist' to gag at the sight of an interracial family. It's just ... a sign of being troubled ... by ... the mixing of races."

Cohen's own Post colleague, Ezra Klein, was equally critical of his column.

"No, gagging over interracial marriage is not the ‘conventional view,'" Klein wrote, pointing to a recent Gallup poll that found 87 percent of Americans approve of such marriages, up from 4 percent in 1958. "Insofar as 'conventional' means 'based on or in accordance with what is generally done or believed,' acceptance of interracial marriage is overwhelmingly conventional."

"Richard Cohen just wrote his retirement notice," Reuters' Jack Shafer tweeted.

It's not the first time Cohen has been accused of racism.

In July, Cohen wrote that the killing of Trayvon Martin was "a quintessentially American tragedy — the death of a young man understandably suspected because he was black and tragically dead for the same reason."

His thoughts on race don't appear to have evolved. In the inaugural issue of the Washington Post Magazine in 1986, Gawker pointed out, Cohen argued that jewelers should be allowed to lock young black men out of their stores.

"Especially in cities like Washington and New York, the menace comes from young black males," he wrote. "Both blacks and whites believe those young black males are the ones most likely to bop them over the head."

Black leaders held rallies in Washington, accusing the paper of racism. The Post subsequently issued an apology.

While Cohen's critics are mounting, Katherine Weymouth, the Post's publisher, doesn't appear to be one of them.

In a tweet, Weymouth called Cohen's column "brilliant."

Cohen defended the column late Tuesday afternoon, saying he was expressing the views of some in the tea party, not his.

"The word racist is truly hurtful," he told the Huffington Post. "It's not who I am. It's not who I ever was. It's just not fair. It's just not right.

"The column is about Tea Party extremism and I was not expressing my views, I was expressing the views of what I think some people in the Tea Party held," Cohen continued. “I could have picked a better word [than 'gag'], but it didn't ring any bells with [my editors], it didn't ring any bells with me."