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Election 2011 Mon Jan 03 2011
Congressman Danny Davis dropped out of the race for the Mayoralty on Friday, endorsing Carol Mosley-Braun, achieving through attrition what Black civic leaders were unable to achieve through acclamation, a "unity" candidate for Black voters.
Greg Hinz, on his blog at Crain's, laments the playing of the "race card" by Black candidates, saying, "Imagine the reaction if a bunch of white ward bosses had met with the stated goal of selecting one white candidate."
This canard stinks enough now for disposing. There are a number of things one needs to imagine before this thought experiment is properly controlled. Imagine first, for example, that white ward bosses represented city residents who made up about 75% of murder victims; imagine next that those white ward bosses represented city residents still living in neighborhoods that were typically 90-98% racially homogeneous as a legacy of segregation; imagine also that those white ward bosses represented wards where the unemployment rate was double that of the other wards. Suppose those white ward bosses were also hearing from their constituents about how the infant mortality rate was approaching Third World levels in their wards. Perhaps those white ward bosses would then have more incentive to work together under a consensus that wasn't merely, "Keep the other race out of power."
In short, the analogy is faulty which makes the thought experiment worthless but for its rhetorical value. There is clearly more urgency for Black "ward bosses" to start with consensus because the problems facing their constituencies are unique and alarming.
All of that said, of course, I'm no fan of the type of identity politics that presumes racial, ethnic, or religious in-groups have to be served by discrete leadership. I'm certainly critical of the type of nationalist rhetoric that creates an us versus them escapist storyline. But the "what if white people did that?" role reversal analogy is impossible.
There's another problem:
But on [t]he eve of Christmas Eve, [Rev. Meeks] changed his mind, declaring that what's really important is to a unify behind the black candidate, because Chicago needs a black mayor -- not a qualified mayor, or a schools-savvy mayor, or a sensitive mayor (at least not according to what he said) but a mayor of one particular race.
This is facile, don't you think? Do you sincerely think that Rev. Meeks doesn't want a "qualified mayor, or a schools-savvy mayor, or a sensitive mayor"? Or could it be that Rev. Meeks, and many other prominent Black leaders, think it's possible to have a "qualified mayor, or a schools-savvy mayor, or a sensitive mayor" that is also Black?
Identity politics are the bane of the proper Left's existence, if you ask me, and are deployed even more deftly by the right (i.e., what the hell is a "Mama Grizzly"?). Telling Black voters they are compelled by in-group loyalty to vote for a Black candidate is not only insulting but detrimental. It's a good thing that that rarely works.
Because Black voters are not as monolithic as defensive white politicians (or columnists) seem to imagine they are. They regularly vote for non-Black candidates in enormous numbers, cf., Daley, Richard Michael. Yes, they may gravitate towards qualified, electable Black candidates, but they certainly cross racial lines when voting more often than "white voters" do. The very fact that Chicago's Black political leadership felt the need to search out a consensus candidate demonstrates that the Black polity in Chicago is sophisticated and complex and that strictly racial appeals wouldn't be effective.
Hinz uses the example of Mayor Washington to shame the current Black leadership for playing the "old, racial games" and I'll agree that Carol Mosley-Braun chiding Bill Clinton for endorsing Rahm Emanuel "given the support that (the African-American) community has given him in he past" is asinine. But it is hardly true that Harold won, as Hinz states, "because he brought liberal lakefront whites" into his coalition. He won despite the general opposition from liberal lakefront whites, who, at the time, were concerned that a Washington administration would mean the type of distributive justice they hated in government, i.e., replacing white patronage with black patronage. Jane Byrne won every north Lakefront ward in 1983.
Let's dispense with the "if whites did it," and start evaluating statements and actions on their own merits. Using the "if whites did it" gauge is just a sort of insta-inflate racial resentment tool. From my count, in every single election, "Black voters" are voting for more white candidates than "white voters" are voting for Black candidates, so let's hold off with the worried hand-wringing for when the nasty stuff actually starts pouring out of the various revanchist and nationalist groups in a few weeks.