Senators Marco Rubio and Dan Sullivan quickly deleted their social media posts, attributing the mix-up to clerical errors.
United States House Representative John Robert Lewis passed away on Friday last week after a long life dedicated to American civil rights. As one would expect, there was an outpouring of love and appreciation for Lewis and the history he made. Two Republican senators, however, proved yet again that there is still a ways to go for Black people to truly be respected in "the greatest nation in the world." Taking to social media, Senators Marco Rubio and Dan Sullivan posted tributes to their former fellow congressman, just as thousands of Americans did. There was only one problem: Rubio and Sullivan used images of Elijah Cummings.
Cummings, also a former representative, passed away in October last year. He too was a civil rights leader. Nonetheless, he was not Lewis. Despite this, Senator Rubio posted on Twitter an image of him speaking with Cummings and stated, "It was an honor to know and be blessed with the opportunity to serve in Congress with John Lewis, a genuine and historic American hero. May the Lord grant him eternal peace." If that wasn't bad enough, he even used the photo as his profile picture. Soon enough, scores of Twitter users began pointing out that the Republican senator had used a photo of the wrong Black person. Rubio quickly deleted the post and uploaded another one.
"Earlier today I tweeted an incorrect photo," he wrote this time. "John Lewis was a genuine American hero. I was honored to appear together in Miami three years ago at an event captured in the video below. My God grant him eternal rest." He also shared a link to the event he referred to in his tweet and changed his profile picture. The "mix-up" occurred, according to Rubio's spokesman Nick Iacovella, because of a mislabeled photo. The original photo, taken in February 2014 by the Philadelphia Inquirer photojournalist Lauren Schneiderman, was removed from Schneiderman’s personal website, The New York Times reports.
Marco Rubio is honoring John Lewis by making his profile picture a photo of him with Elijah Cummings pic.twitter.com/NKa40nRAEr— Rob Flaherty (@Rob_Flaherty) July 18, 2020
Luckily for Senator Rubio, he wasn't the only GOP official to goof up. Fellow Senator Sullivan made the same exact mistake—which only goes to prove how deeply rooted the problem actually is. Sullivan posted to his Facebook account a photo of himself standing beside Cummings in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. He wrote as the caption: "Congressman Lewis’ courage and principled leadership helped guide America through one of the most challenging periods in its history, calling our country to live up to its ideals with justice and equality for all people regardless of color and creed." He, too, had a shallow excuse. Mike Anderson, a spokesman for Mr. Sullivan, explained in an email on Saturday, "Senator Sullivan’s staff made a mistake trying to honor an American legend."
Sen. Dan Sullivan joins Sen. Marco Rubio in posting a picture of the late Elijah Cummings in their tribute to civil rights icon John Lewis. pic.twitter.com/EdrUWmKIw7— Travis Akers (@travisakers) July 18, 2020
Even in their death, Cummings and Lewis are not given the basic respect of being identified correctly. The trope, as it goes, is that all Black people look the same. Though they could not look more diverse from each other, this notion has been the basis of the disrespect that Black people have to confront on a daily basis. It has also allowed people (especially white people) to homogenize Black folks as a whole. When Lewis was alive, he shared that he took the mix-up—which had become far too common—in stride. "Sometimes people would confuse us, and say, ‘Hello, Elijah,’ ‘Hello, John Lewis,’ to him,” he said. “And we would joke about it. We would laugh about it," he said. "I guess being mistaken does have its advantages, though. Elijah’s younger than me, so I guess being mistaken for him is kind of a compliment. Maybe one day when I have a schedule conflict, I’ll see if he wouldn’t mind sitting in a hearing for me. You think anybody would notice?" But we should notice. Sure, the late Representatives were very similar in appearance, but we should notice.
Hey Marco Rubio, these two guys don't even look alike. How could you get Elijah Cummings and John Lewis confused? You knew them both personally. You worked across the hall from them. Do all black guys look the same to you? What the hell is wrong with you?https://t.co/IWXB1idVRO pic.twitter.com/sanpPxHPO7— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) July 18, 2020