Judging from many Fresh Loaf commenters, the answer to that is, "Duh!"
But that wasn't my first reaction when I read the instantly notorious memo by longtime political operative Aaron Turpeau, which calls for black leaders in Atlanta to rally behind a single black mayoral candidate in order to avoid seeing the election of Mary Norwood.
To me, the memo wasn't racist so much as it was a plea for naked self-interest although arguably wrong-headed, outdated and certainly politically incorrect.
Let me explain. I've always defined racism as the belief that there are inherent differences character, intellect, ability, etc. between people that directly result from race. Racism can be in the form of conscious prejudice Jews are greedy, blacks are lazy, white men can't jump, etc. or the vague sense that one person is in some way inferior to another simply because of the color of his skin.
But I don't think Turpeau was motivated by the kind of racism defined above. In fact, he was quite clear in explaining his goal:
There is an unstated assumption that having a black mayor in Atlanta is equal to having a black social, economic and political agenda or at least someone in office who would be sensitive to that agenda if not a full promoter of that agenda
In other words, having an African American mayor is a benefit to black Atlantans and their "agenda"; therefore, blacks should take steps to ensure that City Hall stays black.
Frankly, this mode of thinking dates back to the early career of Maynard Jackson, a time when achieving political clout meant, in the words of the day, "having a seat at the table." Black Atlantans felt shut out of the corridors of power and winning the mayor's office was seen as key to getting a foot in the door.
That mindset may seem dated, obsolete and even a little sad to you and me and, based on her reaction, Shirley Franklin because it suggests an inescapable social divide that most people would prefer to move beyond. But I can assure you that Turpeau isn't the only prominent black Atlantan who believes electing a black mayor is the only way to protect the interests of the black community.
But is it racism? I was discussing the issue with another journalist who has me halfway convinced that my initial thought was wrong. Turpeau's arguing for the election of a candidate simply based on her race notice he made no claim that Lisa Borders would make a great mayor is no different, my friend argues, than a white community leader calling for whites need to reclaim City Hall.
On the other hand, few of us would blink an eye to hear that a Latino chamber of commerce somewhere has endorsed a local Hispanic candidate. We'd naturally assume the group figured a Latino would best serve Latino interests. Is that racist?
Help me out here; I'm confused.
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