Friday, September 26, 2008

Knock Off That Racist Stuff!

The not-so-coded code words the Dianne Wilkerson folk are using have no place in 21st Century Boston. We have buried or bid bye-bye to most of our racist politicians. The schools are nominally racially integrated. People of various colors and cultures are pretty free to share neighborhoods and workplaces without conflict.

To someone who lived much of his childhood in a still segregated South (I'm old), the racial nastiness oozing from her post-loss/pre-write-in campaign is a shocking atavism. I don't want it. We don't need it.

Perhaps most amazing is that Wilkerson disses Latinos, including but not at all limited to the Democratic primary winner, Sonia Chang-Díaz. Wilkerson claims to represent the interest of black, Latino and Chinese-American constituents. She's long spoken of increasing the numbers of legislators of color. Except now in the race for the write-in reversal, of color no longer includes the Latina winner.

Colorism is still far too common. It doesn't infect everyone, but it exists in many people's daily lives. There's a great piece on that in the Howard University student paper. Since her September 12th loss, we are seeing the true colors, so to speak, of the many colorists in her camp.

Flush with Embarrassment: Coulda, shoulda, woulda... I don't often get beaten by the Globe's columnists, but Adrian Walker got me this morning. I didn't post this yesterday when I drafted it and he must have been clicking out his column covering much of the same. I guess the moral is something about striking while the iron, or at lest idea, is hot.
Latinos haven't gotten a free ride in America just because many of them are lighter than many African-Americans. It will surely come as a surprise to many Massachusetts Latinos to hear that they suddenly are no longer of color, regardless of what discrimination they have endured or conquered.

What's particularly noisome is the Wilkerson camp's use of code words. Those are the pathetic shields of bigots everywhere and have been for centuries. When Wilkerson says that Chang-Díaz doesn't come from and therefore can't represent the district's "core," she's devolved into base racism.

Suddenly turning on Latinos after wooing them in elections and claiming to represent them, Wilkerson claims that she, but not Chang-Díaz, is of color. Like a magical anthropologist, Wilkerson instantly tries to transform Chang-Díaz by moving her metaphorically into the white/non-black/not-of-color camps. Now, it suits anything-to-win Wilkerson's purpose to portray Chang-Díaz as the not-one-of-us candidate.

Very unfortunately, were Wilkerson to pull out a sticker win in November, the damage would surely be irreparable. As a group, Latinos, Asian-Americans and others who identify as of color are not so stupid. To Wilkerson, they clearly are not good enough or maybe just not dark enough to represent the district. That says tons about her sincerity when she claims to represent the whole district in all its diversity.

Emotionally, Wilkerson may need this election badly. The rest of us don't need her camp's race baiting and divisiveness.

The coverage of post-defeat remarks by Chris Lovett illustrate many of these issues. Consider for one example:
"This is much bigger than Dianne," said political activist Bob Marshall. "This is about the community’s ability to choose who its leaders are. The district is split along race and class lines. Dianne won the majority of blacks, Latinos and Asians. Sonia won the wine-and-brie crowd."
Imagine the justifiable uproar if a supporter of another candidate referred to voters in a predominately black ward as the chitterlings and 40 crowd.

Wilkerson is clearly highly competitive. What's not reasonable about that is 1) she considers Second Suffolk Senate her seat, 2) the Senator there must be black, and 3) that black politicians own that seat, even to the exclusion of Latinos and others.

Sure, speak up for your candidate of choice, but leave the racism out of it. Consider some of the spew from Wilkerson and her chums:
  • Stomach Turning. At her primary-night rally, Wilkerson said, "This proves you can become a representative of this district without representing its core, and that makes me feel sick. We have to renew our efforts to maintain the diversity we’ve been building in the City Council and the State House." So, diversity, so long as that means black and of course, Wilkerson.
  • Disguised editorial. In the same piece, Bay State Banner reporter Yawu Miller wrote, "Although Chang-Diaz claims white and Latino ancestry, Wilkerson’s black and Latino supporters seemed to view her loss as a setback to candidates of color — a theme Wilkerson echoed in the concession speech she delivered late Tuesday. " That's not only racist/colorist, but it's his opinion and should have been set off as such.
  • Not Yours: Boston City Councillor Chuck Turner said at the rally announcing her sticker run, "That seat Dianne sits on was created by this community." It may be unfair to quote him. As the Phoenix' Adam Reilly has written, "But after five years on the council, Turner is best known for his ability to antagonize his colleagues." Yes, this is the same guy who has used "institutional racism" numerous times in various context and said that Condoleezza Rice being in the cabinet of President Bush is "similar in my mind to a Jewish person working for Hitler in the 1930s." Turner, who likely has the most entertaining beard in the commonwealth, also possesses an analogy impuse that can be divisive. He likely does not represent the most common Wilkerson supporter.
  • More Sudden Whiteness: Also at the sticker rally, METCO Executive Director Jean McGuire said, "This will be the first time we don’t have a person of color in the State House. If we don’t get Dianne back in the State House, then Obama can’t help you."
It seems we can't have a Boston political story without some hint of irony. Several sources have journeyed way back to 1992 when Wilkerson challenged Sen. Bill Owens (black and of the previous generation). She ran as a reformer and said she knew we could do better.

Many black Bostonians have understandable concerns as they see the growing numbers — and by implication political clout — of Latinos, as the black voters' percentage dwindles. Thus, for well-established and newer citizens of color, Team Unity and other coalition efforts are solid politics. Yes, we need many more black and Latino lawmakers. To reflect out population, we could use legislators from other underrepresented minorities as well.

We don't need to send back a legislator who virtually ensured her defeat and ineffectiveness, certainly not to vote for her because of her race alone. Instead, we need more sponsorship, mentoring and development at the legislative, party and community level.

The deeper, long-term solutions are those we lefties return to so often. We'll have fuller representation when minority citizens have full equal rights. If they come from backgrounds with good education and comparable work opportunities, poof (although not instantaneous), we'll have more involved and electable politicians.

None of that happens quickly and we have quite a ways to go. Meanwhile, patching can be done by identifying and grooming more minority candidates. As a society and particularly as existing legislators, that's the least we can expect.

It's possible that Chang-Díaz will become as jaded as Wilkerson after 16 years in office. I think it's much less likely though, as she's starting from higher ground.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great piece, couldn't have said it better myself.