On race, Mike Johnson says his views were shaped by raising a black child | ET REALITY


When Mike Johnson, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, talks about race in America, he often makes a surprising personal connection, telling the story of how he and his wife, Kelly, “took custody” of a black teenager. 24 years ago and they raised him like a son.

“I have walked with him through the discrimination he has had to endure over the years and the obstacles he sometimes faced,” she told a House committee in 2019, while testifying against reparations for slavery. “I know all this because I was with him.”

When Johnson was named speaker of the House of Representatives this week, his relationship with his son, like much of his personal and political life, faced new scrutiny. There is no mention in Mr. Johnson’s official biography of the man, who is now an adult and raising his own family in California. And he does not appear in family photos posted on the congressman’s website. Mr. Johnson has four biological children: two daughters and two sons.

On Friday, Johnson attempted to explain the absence, saying it was in deference to his son Michael’s request for privacy.

“At the time of the president’s election to Congress, Michael was an adult with his own family,” Corinne Day, the president’s communications director, said in a statement first. reported by Newsweek. “He asked not to get involved in his new public life. The speaker has respected that sentiment throughout his career and maintains a close relationship with Michael to this day.”

The attention now being paid to Johnson – as well as to Michael – reflects the new world he has entered with his abrupt move to a position that places him second in line to the presidency. Before this week, Johnson was an obscure southern Republican, about whom little was known about his background beyond his home state; The story of Michael, who was 14 when he joined the Johnson family, was even less known.

In his public comments over the years, Johnson describes Michael as his son and did not correct an interviewer who described Michael as “adopted.” Ms. Day said in an interview that the Johnsons did not formally adopt Michael because of the “long adoption process.” Day declined to say whether Michael was using “Johnson” as a last name.

Michael could not be reached for comment.

Johnson has spoken publicly about Michael largely when he has discussed race. He has described Michael as a “success story” and compared the experience of being a white couple adopting a black teenager to the film “The Blind Side,” the 2009 film that shows a wealthy white family taking in a Impoverished black teenager who becomes a soccer star.

In testimony about racial reparations before a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, Johnson said Michael also opposed reparations because it challenged an “important tradition of self-reliance.” Johnson’s comments drew boos from reparations supporters in the audience.

Black lawmakers in Congress, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, did not welcome Johnson’s elevation. The Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement This week after Johnson’s election as president, he described him as “a Trump-backed extremist who wants to criminalize abortion and cut programs like Social Security and Medicare.”

Johnson’s comments on race have also drawn criticism from the right. in a 2020 Interview on PBS, spoke with journalist Walter Isaacson about racial tensions in the United States immediately after the murder of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. Johnson described Floyd’s killing as “an act of murder” and said he had learned firsthand about racial disparities in the United States while raising a black son.

At this point, Mr. Johnson noticed that his oldest biological son, Jack, was now the same age as Michael when he entered the house. “And I’ve thought often about all these terrible experiences over the last few weeks about the difference in experiences between my two 14-year-old sons,” he said in the PBS interview. “Michael is an African American and Jack is a white Caucasian. They have different challenges. My son Jack has an easier path. He just does it.”

When he was nominated for speaker of the House of Representatives this month, Johnson – a hardline conservative whose election to the new position has been applauded by the conservative movement – ​​for those comments earned rare criticism from the right, which saw them as a recognition of systemic racism.

Matt Walsh, a right-wing podcaster at The Daily Wire, wrote in X that Johnson’s comments about Floyd amounted to a “full endorsement of the left’s racial narrative” and called the 2020 interview “completely disqualifying.”

Laura Loomer, a far-right ally of Donald J. Trump, accused Johnson of being a “closet Democrat” and asked in a post on X: “What kind of MAGA Republican says something like this?”

But when asked about the criticism in his first lengthy interview since becoming speaker, Johnson appeared to downplay the role he believes race played in Jack and Michael’s lives.

“Having raised two 14-year-old boys in the United States and the state of Louisiana, they had different experiences,” he told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday. “And I’m not so sure it was just about skin color, but about culture and society. “Michael, the first one, came from a very troubled background and had a lot of challenges.”

Ken Bensinger contributed with reports.

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