When Coleman Young became mayor of Detroit, it was quite a week. He was not only the first African-American to become mayor of the city, he was elected in 1973 the same week as Maynard Jackson in Atlanta. Two well known cities electing their first black mayors.
It is easy to forget four decades later how much of a breakthrough it was. Black people had long before become a noticeable presence in urban areas. The migration from an oppressive Jim Crow South had had its hundred year effect in northern areas. Politicians paid attention, gave speeches, made promises, often kept them. Racism was far from the remnant of the past that many white folks liked to imagine. Black voters were a source of electoral power, but they were not to share in it in any meaningful way. Up until then.
African-American mayors? Yeah, those were milestones.
There were construction policies and financial hurdles that Coleman Young faced beginning the day he took office. He was a critic of a police unit that had racked up an impressive number of kills in the black community. He disbanded it and set up community policing, officers walking the beat, engaging with the community in an effort to win neighborhood cooperation. Results were mixed at best. Statistics remained nearly the same.
There were two things I remember most about Mayor Young. During a visit to relatives near Detroit, I happened across some local publication quoting Coleman Young. I'm pretty sure it was not a mainstream paper. The language is mild today but it was startling back then, coming from a major public official.
"Racism is like high blood pressure," said Mayor Young in a moment of reflection. "The person who has it doesn’t know he has it until he drops over with a God damned stroke. There are no symptoms of racism. The victim of racism is in a much better position to tell you whether or not you’re a racist than you are."
It was taken at the time as a generalization about white people. The all-whites-are-racist was a developing meme at the time. I took it differently. I saw it as a counter to the image of racism as the province of drooling maniacs, moral reprobates, wife beaters, child molesters. Racism was being presented by Young a little differently, as a soft core affliction, a half-hidden malady. The idea that racism could find hosts among good, occasionally very good, people was an epiphany of sorts. It meant we were vulnerable, there was no immunity. Our common cause had to include meditative introspection.
His words also brought a bit of perspective to me as I began discovering other sorts of bigotry, sometimes within myself. Homophobia was not even a word when it eventually came to me that it was wrong. Hidden attitudes, belatedly examined, come with culture, with the times, with whatever daily wisdom is available to us.
Bigotry is a terrible evil with a power to inflict great wounds. It is a sword all too casually wielded by well meaning people who never give it a thought. Me? Are you kidding? I don't wear a hood. "I'm not prejudiced," a member of the community told me as a I participated in a neighborhood canvass. "I'll tell you who IS prejudiced, though. It's those damn Irish Catholics." He spoke with no trace of irony.
And, there was that other thing, what for me was the second memorable moment in the politics of Coleman Young. It was 1976. Jimmy Carter was running for President. Mo Udall had become the liberal alternative. Udall was a Mormon. This was a couple of years before the leadership of the Latter Day Saints experienced a revelation about racial inclusion. The Mormon Church in 1976 regarded black people as unfit for leadership posts.
Coleman Young spoke to a group of Baptist ministers on behalf of Jimmy Carter. "I'm asking you to make a choice between a man from Georgia who fights to let you in his church, and a man from Arizona whose church won't even let you in the back door."
The reaction was swift and came at Young from all directions. You don't attack a candidate for the way he worships God. Young should apologize. Jimmy Carter should apologize. Both refused. Udall repeated what he had long said, that his church did not determine his beliefs about equality. He was committed to civil rights and social justice. He managed to include religion as he joked about having lost an eye as a child. "I’m a one-eyed Mormon Democrat from conservative Arizona. You can’t find a higher handicap than that."
Nobody, nobody at all, ever mentioned Udall's church again. It became the non-issue of 1976. Once burned, twice shy, I suppose. That or everyone had a sudden attack of conscience. Okay, okay, scorched reticence.
In a sense, I suppose, this should have prepared America for a future Mormon running for President. Mitt Romney faced unjustified questions in the Republican primary in 2007 and 2008. There was not much that was overt in this primary season four years later, but the undercurrents were there.
They were nothing compared with the racially tinged attacks on Barack Obama's religion in 2008. There was nothing subtle or hidden about those. Could he possibly have been an unknowing congregant, not hearing all that unAmerica sermonizing? Obama answered the attacks to the satisfaction of enough Americans during a major address to become President. The issue did not die, brought up repeatedly by partisans, but most Americans regarded the accusations as answered. It became a dead letter issue.
In candidate Obama's case, religion had been coupled with an odd accusation. He had once been invited by a fundraising supporter to a gathering at the home of a college faculty member. Obama had once encountered the professor at a social gathering. Decades before, Professor Bill Ayres had been a violent radical, an irresponsible thug. He had carried out the middle-of-the-night bombing of a campus statue, a pointless and reckless bit of vandalism. Fortunately, nobody had been hurt.
Because he attended the fundraiser, Barack Obama was, years later, accused of retroactively supporting the bombing. It pretty much had to be retroactive. He had been six years old at the time the destruction was carried out.
This season, you will hear more about Mitt Romney's tax returns and his financial wheeling and dealing. It seems a natural consequence of his rationale for running. People, he says, should vote for him because of his business success. Other candidates who came from great wealth have run for President in the past. Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were much beloved by those who were economically downtrodden. Mitt Romney is the very first nominee of a major party, the first ever, whose entire case is his own personal wealth.
He says he should become President because he made a lot of money. Fair enough. The case he presents should be examined.
The old, old and discredited, charges against Obama are being resurrected: the religious questions about the patriotism of his former pastor, the radicalism of his professor acquaintance. The reason being given for bringing those issues back from the grave is that he was not properly vetted the last time around.
The response may seem self-serving. "Attacking someone’s religion is really going too far. It’s just not the American way, and I think people will reject that." Those words, of course, come from Mitt Romney on the Today Show in 2007.
The "vetting" will continue, started by Sean Hannity and carried forward by other surrogates. After all, you have to look into a candidate's past to try and figure out what he might do later.
In case he ... you know ... ever becomes President.
Trackback address for this post
Why are his religious beliefs sacred, but his economic and social beliefs are not? What if he derives his economic and social beliefs from his religious beliefs? Is Romney talking about religion in general (including Islam, Scientology, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, etc.) or just Christianity and its variants? If it's acceptable to "attack" Scientology, why isn't it acceptable to attack Mormonism? If it isn't acceptable to attack Scientology, then what kind of ideology can we attack and why?
All of a politician's relevant desires and beliefs--and the religious kind are indeed relevant--should be up for discussion and criticism. Those who wish to avoid such scrutiny should not run for office.
William Ayers, first of all, was not limited to simply blowing up a statue on some campus. He was a co-founder of a communist revolutionary group called the Weather Underground and was personally responsible for planting bombs in a New York police department building, the U.S. Capitol, and the Pentagon due to his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was hardly some young punk thug that just made a few mistakes. When asked about his past in recent years, he stated that his only regret was that he didn't do more and that it wasn't more effective. His repeated shadowy links with Obama should have been more thoroughly investigated. Now that is not to say that I believe our president is also guilty of the same actions as Ayers, but the fact that there is a comradery there is disturbing to say the least. There has even been some credible speculation that William Ayers is the actual author of one of Obama’s books (I forget which one) based on the writing style and some other various factors. Regardless, Obama’s and Ayer’ association with each other is not as tangential and innocent as they would have you believe.
As for Jeremiah Wright, his racist and anti-American sermons were typically so incendiary that even former congregant Oprah Winfrey became too uncomfortable with her church and decided to leave it, rather than remain as Obama did and become associated with the decidedly non-mainstream rhetoric being spewed by the good reverend. Considering that Obama stated that Wright was a mentor and spiritual advisor for him while attending church there for twenty years, one has to assume that Obama found nothing objectionable there accordingly. This strikes me as an association that is hardly prudent or wise in the formation of the character of the man that was to become our president.
I suppose it's possible that Barack Obama should share some tertiary responsibility for the thuggish behavior of Bill Ayres, if one assumes an extraordinary role on the part of the future President at age six.
And I guess we could assign blame to Obama for the segments of services we heard on Fox. I tend to agree with Mitt Romney on that point, though. I understand that Mitt was referring to the controversial teachings of his own church in the many years Mitt attended without protest. Did he, as a missionary, teach that black people were inferior and should not be admitted to leadership posts?
Frankly, I think assigning such blame is a little off center in most cases, but you may disagree.
The larger point on vetting for patriotism as a predictor of Presidential behavior is that it does seem a bit unusual at this point. Do we really need to speculate on whether Barack Obama, if he ever becomes President, will be willing to pull the trigger on bin Laden?
As for the segments of Wright’s “religious” services heard on Fox, well I think there is enough research from alternate sources to corroborate that Jeremiah Wright’s black liberation theology is decidedly not mainstream and typically counter to what most Americans would see as just and proper for the country. I think the fact that Obama sat and listened to that drivel for two decades and considered Wright to be a mentor speaks very poorly for a man that is supposed to protect and defend the nation and its constitution for ALL Americans.
As for Romney and the previous teachings of his church regarding people of color, I think that is absolutely a valid point, sir. I think it is a fair question to ask Mr. Romney accordingly.
That said, it does not invalidate the legitimacy of the questions that were either not asked or asked in passing of Obama as a candidate on his serious matters of character.
Leave a comment
|« Guilt By Association vs Future Behavior by Ryan||Magical Wizard of Finance Is Now the Out-Sorcerer »|