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Ebony and Ivory

Jan
5
2004

It’s not a direct contrast, but if you want to put outgoing SF Mayor Willie Brown in a somewhat historical context consider this: a woman 8 years his senior made national news last month when, after a long lifetime of silence, she confirmed long-standing suspicions that she was the daughter of one of America’s better known racist, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond and the Thurmond family maid.
Why had she kept quiet? Essie Mae Washington-Williams said she didn’t want to do anything to hamper Thurmond’s political career, a career built soundly and squarely on preaching the supremacy of the white race and the moral and intellectual laxity of black folks. There are lots of reasons Washington-Williams kept silent and they probably have as much to do with her feelings as a daughter than anything else. But anyone — black or white — who has ever lived with segregation knows how frightening it was and is, how it punished, often violently, transgressions and transgressors of both colors and all sexes. Washington-Williams could have easily ended Thurmond’s political career but she didn’t. She would have paid dearly for her outspokenness. Andrew Sullivan got this point and articulated it nicely.
Sullivan’s insights are the stuff underlying Howard Dean’s comments that race issues are about “educating white people.” And I have yet, in the profiles I’ve seen about Willie Brown in the past few weeks, seen anything more than a perfunctory discussion of Brown’s role as a black politician, a powerful black politician. Here’s betting most of those stories were written by white folks like me.
Mickey Kaus, who has staked out a place as the white man on the web, used the Dean quote to go on a rant about how the black community treats crime within its ranks, pegging his comments on former President Bill Clinton speeches.
It’s a rant that makes no sense in light of what Dean actually said to the Boston Globe writer. ” ‘Dealing with race is about educating white folks,’ Dean said in an interview Tuesday on a campaign swing through the first primary state where African-American voters will have a major impact. ‘Not because white people are worse than black people about race but because whites are in the majority, and therefore the behavior of whites has a much bigger influence on hiring practices and so forth and so on than the behavior of African-Americans.’ ”
Kaus, falling into a Big Media habit that Scott Rosenberg does a nice job of detailing, leaps from Dean’s comments to a diatribe on race relations. Quoting former President Bill Clinton’s admonishments to the black community about crime and the high rate of out-of-wedlock births, Kaus seems to want to reprimand Dean for something – it’s not clear – like blaming white people for black peoples’ problems? Or Kaus thinks Dean should have chastised the black community for having so many poor people? Hey, Mickey, crime rates have been steadily falling since Clinton made those speech in 1992 and 1993. And the number out out-of-wedlock births in the black community isn’t increasing as it once did. So what’s the link between what Clinton said ten years ago and Deans remarks last week? Both men are talking about race, which isn’t exactly a simple or easy conversation. It could be uh, multi-faceted, couldn’t it?
Clinton made the case to the black community that it needed to work to solve its own problems. Dean said white people could have a better understanding of what it’s like to be black. Both things are true and it doesn’t seem – as Kaus hints but doesn’t quite say – that Dean is engaging in the sort of namby-pamby Liberal guiltfest that has indeed clouded race relations in this country by permitting people to make unfair assumptions about one another. That, by the way, is also something Dean addressed in his comments to The Globe. And it might just be one reason why – as Kaus bemoans – Dean’s recent poll numbers 46 percent in favor are closer to Bush’s 51 percent than anyone had expected.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 3:16 PM | Permalink

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