Cummings: ‘I cross the street’ when white women walk toward me
July 19th, 2013
05:44 PM ET
10 years ago

Cummings: ‘I cross the street’ when white women walk toward me

Washington (CNN) – Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, has been a member of Congress for almost two decades.

Yet when he is walking down the street in Washington, D.C., at night and white women walk toward him, he says "I cross the street" to avoid making them uncomfortable.

Cummings says he rarely speaks about race or what life is like as a black man, but says President Barack Obama's heartfelt remarks Friday afternoon made him more comfortable to do so.

"I think it's important that he speak out and he brings a very unique perspective, because is the president and he has been extremely fortunate compared to most African-Americans, and yet still he can speak to the prejudices that most of us still face," Cummings told CNN in a telephone interview.

Cummings lives in what calls the "inner city" of Baltimore, Maryland.

For emphasis, he says "when I say inner, I mean inner."

The 10 term congressman says he loves to go shopping with his wife, because he likes to watch her try on dresses. But he won't do it outside his district where people know him because "I don't like the idea of people following me around.”

"People usually have the security guard following me, or questions with the overabundant, 'can I help you?' They think you're going to do something wrong. We've seen it over and over again since childhood," said Cummings.

He joked that it's a bit better recently since, as the ranking member of the GOP-led House Oversight Committee, which is investigating IRS misconduct, Benghazi and more, he is on T.V. often and is recognized outside his district.

Still, he too talked about "feeling the tension" when he is in the elevator with a white woman.

"The tension... it’s hard to describe," he said.

Some African-American leaders and activists have expressed frustration with Obama for not using his position to stir a national discussion about race. Cummings was not one of those people.

"It's not that simple. People go crazy," said Cummings.

"I see the way this country reacts to the littlest thing he says about race," he said.

Plus, Cummings believes that before Obama was elected to his second and final term, it would have been "counterproductive to talk about these things because everything was in the prism of politics."

"Now that he has the freedom to not worry about re-election, I think he has a better opportunity," said Cummings.

A day earlier, Cummings' race played out in an awkward moment during a tension-filled IRS hearing.

When admonishing Cummings, Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican Oversight Committee chairman, referred to Cummings as "a little boy whose hand’s caught in the cookie jar."

Later, Issa apologized to his African-American colleague for using the term “boy.”

"That is something I grew up with, it is intended to be about a small child, and in no way the use of boy or little boy to be anything else," Issa said.

Cummings thanked Issa, saying he appreciated his words.

Filed under: Elijah Cummings
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Rick McDaniel

    I think that is a statement of questionable integrity.

    This man has already demonstrated lies on the issue of the IRS. Why should we give this statement any credence, whatsoever?

    Indeed, why should we even believe that he walks down the street in DC..........a city known for high, high crime, when we all KNOW he doesn't have to, as a Congressman.

    July 19, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  2. Conor McCartney

    This is actually a very good piece about race, it is honest, it sticks to his own experiences and doesn't try to blame others or generalize. This sounds like it could be the start of a good discussion.

    July 19, 2013 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  3. Woman In California - Boycott Florida

    This has got to be the proudest day of my political life. America's dirty little secret is coming home to roost and bigots are going crazy. After all, minorities have NO right to feel offended and discriminated against anymore because well...we elected a half black president right?

    We have every right to discuss race and we'll continue to discuss it as long as we continue to pay taxes in THIS country.

    July 19, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  4. Ella

    Don't cross the street when you see white women, it's possible they might have a black child. It hurts for me as a white woman that black men feel that they have to assume that a person like me is afraid of them. We truly live in a sorry situation in this country. A black man approaching me on the street has never scared me or made me uncomfortable. Like I've always said, if I were a black male, I wouldn't live in this country.

    July 19, 2013 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  5. Doodlebug

    You should not fear what others think about you, or how they feel when they are around you. Let this be their issue to deal with, let it be their burden to bear. Hold your head proud, be proud of who you are and all that you represent.

    July 19, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  6. Sam The Man

    The fact that this old black guy crosses the street when white women are walking towards him, is HIS issue, no one else's. What adult woman is afraid of an old black guy particularly one dressed like a politician? It's all in his head, and just one more proof that racism today is BLACK hate towards WHITE not the other way around. (P.S. don't call it 'reverse rac ism', it is simply 'rac ism'.)

    July 19, 2013 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  7. Arborvitae

    Good! It's polite and respectful for men (of all ethnicities) to cross the street when coming across a woman (of any ethnicity) who is walking alone at night. I absolutely understand that it must be hard to be a black man in the United States, but let's not forget that it's OK for women to be alert when alone with a strange man.

    July 19, 2013 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  8. Larry in Houston

    WoW !! at least we have 1 (one) smart guy in congress !! IF I were in his position, I would also !!

    July 19, 2013 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  9. Steve

    Cross the street? What is that, self imposed Jim Crow? about a smile and a hello. Too much to ask? Not sure how many white women are scared of a well dressed, well spoken, genteel black man wearing 500 dollar shoes. Is he freaksihly tall or something? Pointy gold teeth? Whats so scary about him?

    July 20, 2013 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  10. Kissandra Knight

    It must feel annoying and disheartening to be distrusted by default. This can change and must.

    July 20, 2013 04:25 am at 4:25 am |
  11. John Brown

    Who is he kidding? This man has been in office for over 30 yrs, he does not walk down any street anywhere, he is driven wherever he goes .

    July 20, 2013 04:58 am at 4:58 am |
  12. mike

    what does he do when white women are on both sides of the street?
    just curious

    July 20, 2013 06:43 am at 6:43 am |
  13. Jason

    To all you liberals who think their was ever a party switch between the Racist Democrats and Republicans provide some proof and what year did the switch happen

    July 20, 2013 07:39 am at 7:39 am |

    I am so sick of "I'm black and I'm hard done by'. Get over it. The same with the white guilt. Unless you personally bought a slave again...get over it. If I hear about poor Trayvon wanna-be policeman Zimmerman again...

    July 20, 2013 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  15. Mike Bates

    I can understand him crossing the street if it's Nancy Pelosi approaching. I would too.

    July 20, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  16. jpmichigan

    It is actions like this that make a continuation of the racial divide. What are we teaching our children when we do things like this? Martin Luther King wanted all to be treated as equals, people like Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton continue the racial divide, and use their action for political reasons, they flame the protest and riots, as well as the black on blank and black on white beatings.

    July 20, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  17. HopeChangeInAZ

    And this man is a congressman! Is it any wonder the congressional ratings are in the toilet!

    July 20, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  18. AzPatriot

    Say Eliarjah, does you cross the street BEFORE or after the white woman crosses? Are you making sure you are in the best predator position?

    July 20, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |