It's unfortunate when a writer cannot be critical about an African-American involved in public life without being accused of being a racist.
Monday, Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a column very critical of Carol Moseley Braun and her candidacy (which was a good read), entitled "Carol, I miss you already."
Here's a portion of Mr. Steinberg's column:
What will we get under a Rahm Emanuel administration? Ruthless efficiency punctuated by the occasional burst of colorful ire. How about Gery Chico? Complex policy initiatives seasoned with accusations of back scratching.
It'll be a tough task, just keeping up with all that.
Contrast those with a hypothetical Carol Moseley Braun administration. My job would be a breeze. Imagine the lush displays of ridicule that would blossom in the loamy soil of her rule. I'm half tempted to go into denial, after Emanuel is elected, and write columns tracking, not his advent, but the lurches and stumbles of an imaginary Mayor Moseley Braun.
I initially considered writing this column as a mock endorsement of Moseley Braun, but held back out of sincere concern that her campaign would miss the joke and issue a press release ballyhooing the fact, the way it did last month after a black weekly published a poll that had her nudging ahead of Rahm.
"CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN BEATS ALL MAYORAL CANDIDATES IN LATEST N'DIGO POLL" her campaign trumpeted, which sounded good until you read the fine print.
"Moseley Braun received 27.4 of the vote, Rahm Emanuel had 22.7 percent," which wouldn't be bad if the opinions being gathered were collected from a representative slice of the city of Chicago. But they weren't. The sample being polled, N'Digo cheerfully explained, was overwhelmingly African-American women, most of them friends of the publisher. In other words, Moseley Braun issued a press release bragging that she bested Rahm Emanuel, barely, among politically active black ladies, nearly a quarter of whom were voting for Emanuel.
See why I'll miss her? That's like me bragging that I beat Rahm Emanuel 3-2 in a poll of those sitting around my dining room table, if you take the joyous yip of the puppy as a vote for me. Would you view that as a mark of certain Steinberg victory, or a sign that two members of my own family wouldn't even vote for me?
Tough? Absolutely. Critical? Yes. Probably even warranted. Then why were a group of Carol Moseley Braun supporters picketing outside the Sun Times building in an attempt to have Neil Steinberg fired yesterday?
Dr. Leon Finney, the President of the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation and long-time activist in the black community, said: "To ridicule someone on the basis of gender and race and call that criticism is an observation, obviously, that's made by someone who is ill informed."
An opinion that a candidate (who happens to be black) is an underwhelming choice in a mayoral election does not make the person giving the opinion a racist, unless it's expressed that the candidate's race makes him or her unqualified. There is nothing in Steinberg's column saying because Carol Moseley Braun is black she's unqualified. The column says because Carol Moseley Braun is underwhelming on her best day, she's unqualified.
Is every black candidate running for political office a good choice? If not, then when is calling a black candidate NOT the best choice simply an opinion rather than racism? (is voting for Carol Moseley Braun because she's black racism, especially if one votes for her based on color of skin rather than being the best candidate? That segues well into a topic of needing a consensus black candidate, but I will not get into that here).
Dr. Finney's protest of Steinberg certainly does NOT help her chances in any citywide vote for mayor. It actually probably proves Steinberg's point. Instead of providing a debate on policy or a reason to vote for her over Emanuel (or someone else), she has to manufacture racism to get coverage. I wonder if she's cringing at this? Or maybe hoping Danny Davis gets out and can use this as a rallying cry with the community-- if it's the latter than we're back to the Council Wars of the 1980s. If voting for Carol Moseley Braun achieves that for our city- my vote will most certainly go elsewhere.
In a few short days it will be 2011 and although we have an African-American president, there still is racism in Chicago. However, we do ourselves a disservice if every critical opinion of an African-American in public life is defined as "racism" or the critic is defined as "racist." Organizing marches and yelling racism over every critical opinion of an African American public figure just waters down the term. And it makes us look weak- that rather than having the tough debate, we have to squelch it by yelling "racism!" Let's have the debate on Carol Moseley Braun and her qualifications on its merits without yelling racism when people become critical.
It should be noted that Carol Moseley Braun, instead of taking a high road, called Neil Steinberg "a verified drunk and a wife beater" referring to his 2005 arrest for domestic abuse and subsequent entry into rehab. Ultimately, it's your decision whether that sort of thin skin qualifies someone to be the mayor of Chicago.