His daily cartoon of this past Tuesday, which I cannot for the the life of me find a copy to show you all, concerns the currently on-going mayoral race of the city of Birmingham. In short, Birmingham has seen better days. Like many major metropolitan areas in this country, its affluence, infrastructure, national stature, and white population has long since fled for the suburbs. What remains is a predominantly African-American populace, a decaying city center riddled with violent crime, and a number of residents consumed with memories of the city's past glory.
The Birmingham mayoral field contains eight candidates. Out of that swollen field of candidates, the most shining example of progressive leadership is a man named Patrick Cooper. He is articulate, well-spoken, and highly educated. I think him far and away the most qualified candidate for the job. His opposition apparently sees him the same way, for two of them have resorted to deplorable tactics in attempting to undercut his support among voters. Incumbent Mayor Bernard Kincaid and Jefferson County Commissioner Larry Langford have taken great pains to smear Cooper, painting him as both white and Republican.
In truth, Cooper is of mixed racial descent. He's facing the same sort of argument that has plagued Barack Obama in the Presidential Race. Cooper's credentials are being called into question because: let's all say it at once, he's not black enough. Now, if Cooper were actually a Republican, I can understand why that might count against him. The GOP hasn't exactly been a friend to the Black community, particularly the current Presidential administration. The truth, of course, is that Cooper happens to be a Democrat.
What I strongly object to are campaigning tactics which cater to prejudicial viewpoints. I make great pains to point out that similar tactics were used by former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace to draw out white support and effectively neutralize the black vote. If the African-American community wishes to fix its current problems, it must not resort to the same tactics that for years kept it in shackles. Yes, I am aware that all minorities live their lives under a microscope and are often held to impossibly high standards by the rest of us. However, I am not willing to give the Black community the benefit of the doubt in situations like this. The stakes are too high.
I challenge the numerous contradictions we hold within ourselves. Black or white, rich or poor, we all are guilty. We all have been taught to strive to be well-educated in this society. Think of how easy it is to paint a politician as too cerebral, too academic, and too out of touch with the concerns of the average working person. We strive to open up opportunities for educational advancement in minority groups who have historically been denied these rights. Think of how easy it is to reduce educated African-Americans to little more than Uncle Toms or wanna-be Caucasians. Many of us spend our whole lives in the pursuit of wealth. Think of how easy it is to stereotype the rich as selfish, money grubbing elitists.
Exploiting sour grapes for political gain might as well be a science.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and a plethora of local black leaders came out with guns blazing, asserting that Stantis' cartoon was deeply racist, offensive, and had no place in today's discourse. They called for Stantis' unconditional resignation. It was not forthcoming, nor will it be, nor should it be.
I wonder if they were looking at the same cartoon as I was. Indeed, if they were really serious about getting him fired, they could have cited any number of far more offensive cartoons. I suppose it's just another example of a sort of myopic tunnel vision of which we all can be often guilty. As Leonard Pitts points out, "When race becomes an issue, people get stupid."
Rail against it, criticize it, but be aware of this fact: black activists must learn to pick their battles. For every genuinely glaring example of racism that exists, like the Jenna Six controversy, there are an equal number of instances like the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case which can be reduced to little more than false alarms.
Martin Luther King had a dream. In his dream, America would be transformed into a color-blind society where people would be judged not for the color of their skin but for the content of their character. Perhaps it's naive of us to think that his message would not be perverted over the years. To wit, nothing makes me more angry than people who champion the revolutionary ideals of Dr. King, but don't adhere to them personally. I've seen example after example in the black community of those who use his name and a perversion of his idealistic dreams for their own personal political gain. Nothing upsets me more than those who use the name of a martyr for their own self-interest on one hand, but resort to race-baiting, fear-mongering tactics on the other hand, tactics that would have King rolling over in his grave.
This is another poignant example of what Rudyard Kipling noted in his poem: If--.
"If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools."
I'm also reminded of how many people have taken the deeds and words of another martyr, Jesus of Nazareth, and have skillfully twisted his words to suit their own selfish whims. Though this may be a very human response, we must all fight against it. This kind of gross hypocrisy is what fosters stereotypical attitudes and reduces moral causes to mere caricature.
I conclude this post by including a pertinent quote from Dr. King.
- Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
- Stride Toward Freedom: the Montgomery Story (1958)