Moving beyond labeling all negative commentary about black politicians racist

Moving beyond labeling all negative commentary about black politicians racist

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.


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  • Exactly. Just...exactly.

  • It's a little disingenuous to point to selected portions of the commentary and then say, "that was about Braun - it wasn't racist." People are not stupid. The tone of the article in it's entirety was racist. The assumption that the only winner can possibly be Rahm Emmanuel - or perhaps Chico, with no mention of Congressman Danny Davis, who outscores Braun in the polls, and outscores Emmanuel among Blacks is racist, the idea of punctuating your claims by dismissing Harold Washington's entire tenure as Mayor of Chicago is racist, the discourse on Reverend James Meeks is racist. I'm sorry the Braun supporters made it about her - it wasn't.

  • Here's a portion of the commentary you forgot to quote:

  • I can't stand Moseley Braun or Danny Davis, and both campaigns are imploding due to their short sighted and desperate attempts to secure the "black vote." However, that doesn't make Steinberg's writing any better. He, Moseley Braun, and Davis are all so childish. You present a far more intelligent and eloquent argument than a writer like Steinberg deserves. I would like to recommend you take his place at the Sun-Times.

  • In reply to borg:


  • In reply to borg:

    The proplem is exactly that Mr. Thomas doesn't understand why Mr. Steinberg's comments are objectionable. Most white writers claim they don't see the racial overtones, or undertones or cast (whichever is appropriate), and therefore it doesn't exist.

    I don't understand the fairy tale that racism in America just disappeared. It didn't, and black people understand that. They understand it because there is a birther movement against President Obama, but not John McCain, even though John McCain had two strikes, he was born in Panama, and he was born in Arizona before it became a state.

    Is there any main stream writer, who has the stones to call the birther movement what it is? Or the tea party movement? When the majority never see racism anywhere, the affected minority will always see it everywhere.

    Mr. Thomas' editorial comments contribute to this environment because like many other majority writers he continues to pose the question to the affected minority community of "who do you believe, me, or your lying eyes and ears". People know what they hear. They know what they feel. Mr. Thomas could have done some good by going to listen to try to educate his majority readers of why some blacks feel that way.

    But rather than trying to educate, Mr. Thomas took the tired cop out of playing the race card, and saying that these supporters have nothing to complain about.

    They do, and they are. Help the public understand why, instead of just bleating the standard critical line. That will be a great column and a giant step forward in American race relations.

  • In reply to borg:

    I'm not sure what bothers me most. The fact that one cannot criticize a black politician without being called a racist or that we have such a pitiful field of candidates for once was one of the greatest cities in the world. Truly sad. I agree with keepin' up. The best candidate bowed out. Reverend Meeks. Apparently too much class to run for mayor.

  • In reply to ABIGSOXFAN:

    I heard meek's via an inside person that he bribed folks to try to get Rahm out of the race! Come now, he got out before it was discovered. Thought it was just heresy....I find it odd at best! Do we really need inside dealing at the start?

  • In reply to ABIGSOXFAN:

    Forget about race.
    Sadly, the choice in this election, (as in all Illinois elections IMHO..) is for the lesser of the two evil scumbags and their minions.
    Don't forget folks that the collective "we" have elected such cartoon characters as Blago, Richard M., Todd Stroger, George Ryan etc. etc. etc.....
    It is a widely known fact that Carol Moseley Braun is of extremely limited intelligence. Meeks, another poverty pimp. Danny Davis is a scumbag. What we are in for, whether we like it or not is a egomaniacal Reign of Rahm of unknown length but what is certain is that we will be spared the total buffoonery of stuttering idiotic predecessor and for that we should all be thankful. At least we'll know we are being taken for fools by a smart man for a change. That's something to look forward to..

  • In reply to ABIGSOXFAN:

    After 50 years someone decides to take issue with the cry of "racism" please do not tell the Jacksons or Strogers.

  • In reply to borg:

    This sort of thing always makes me shake my head in disgust. It is as if some segments of the city population think they are owed political positions in this city. Ambassador Braun has served this city, state, and nation more than admirably. However she is not owed any deference due to the position she once held. To call a reporter racist for playing up the fact that of late Ms. Braun's public steps have been more of the stumbling kind are her own fault an no one else's.

    I would prefer that she come up with programs and plans that show despite her detractors, she has the best interests of the city at heart. That more than anything would make me want to vote for her. As it is, just because she is a Black woman doesn't mean she is qualified, any more than if she were White, Hispanic or Asian. The "you owe us" attitude in this city got us Todd Stroger and his ineptitude and graft for four long years.

    It's time for all groups in the city to stop whining about what's owed to them and put up candidates that are qualified and ready to confront the problems of the City. No ethnicity is owed a political office. In the same way you need to earn respect, you need to earn the office. The days of simply being handed something in this city because you demand it are dying; and well they should.

    There are already partisan politics killing our nation, this city is too precious to have it fall prey to the same, "me first and damn all others", politics that have so long blighted the Capitol.

    Any group of willing dupes can be handed signs to protest anything from the sunrise to the snow fall. But, there are certain truths we all have to face. One of them is protesting the truth doesn't make it any less true.

  • In reply to borg:

    I wanted to thank everyone for reading, but more importantly, today's thoughtful comments. For me, pressing send to broadcast opinions on race isn't easy. It's much easier to write something on Sarah Palin than write something much more personal to me, like race.

    When race is involved it's real easy to start throwing jabs rather than listening (reading) and then countering with something substantive. Today's post could have invited some ignorant comments-- and exactly the opposite happened. Criticalthinker, although (s)he objected to my opinion, allowed me to have it and countered with some good points. Political fan did this as well. I could have quoted different material. I appreciate that. Just because I write something doesn't mean I'm right. Question my judgment. I've been wrong before and will be wrong again.

    When I started this blog, this was what I wanted: A political topic people will disagree upon, come together with different perspectives, discuss and at times respectfully disagree.

    Hopefully, this century will find us having more of these discussions rather than shying away from them. Unfortunately with respect to race, that's part of the problem. We don't talk about it. It's entirely possible to make a intelligent point, listen to a counterpoint, understand that point, although not necessarily agreeing with it, and leave the conversation if not friends, then civilly. Rather than every discussion turning into a episode of The O'Reilly Factor.

    Coming together civilly was done here today with some great points. I appreciate it.

    It's too bad we weren't advising Carol Moseley Braun when she called Steinberg a drunk wifebeater. It just seemed like she had an opportunity to rise above the controversy and instead she now looks worse (or as bad) than he does.

    Again, thanks for all your comments.

  • In reply to borg:

    As a black woman I have no idea who I'm voting for yet. Should I vote for Braun because she's a women or she's black or both? Should I vote for Rahm because he's friends with Obama and I like his politics. What about Chico or Davis, Should I vote for anyone because they are like me? Doubtful. I'm looking for the best candidate who will create jobs, for ALL Chicagoans, not just black or white or Latino, etc. Stop feeding the race machine and look at the person who will do what's best for the whole city. I haven't decided who that person is, I do know that I think Braun's time has past, but perhaps she can convince me otherwise. Everyone isn't a racist, I sat and chatted with real racist for over 4 months doing a story. so stop with the calling. If you are a writer talking about politics, and describe them as they are, it's not racist but good journalistic opinion.

  • Steinberg may be a mediocre writer at best, but nothing in that last column was racist. Once again, struggling candidates are crying "wolf". It gets cried so often in Chicago & Illinois that society largely ignores it. Like the family of the little boy who cried wolf, we will pay no mind.

    Unfortunately, real instances of racism will likely be missed & ignored due to the abuse of the term by desperate politicos. These power-hungry minstrels lack gravitas & so they play one of the few tunes they know by heart: the race card.

    The "race card" (not racism itself) is dying fast, people. Decades of government programs, legislation, court decisions, societal education & progress, & most recently, a black President have removed nearly all excuses for failure due to race. If you don

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