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The Conservative Curmudgeon
October 27, 2009

White vs. Black Racism: Time To End the Double Standard
by Allan C. Brownfeld

ALEXANDRIA, VA — The election of an African-American president — which showed that the vast majority of Americans were prepared to judge a candidate on his merits rather than on race — brought widespread hope that it would usher in a “post-racial” society. In recent days, however, we have seen the issue of race injected into a debate in which it is largely irrelevant — President Obama’s plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

Former President Jimmy Carter declared racism to be the subtext of many of the attacks against the president’s health care plan, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus point to race as a driving force behind the current level of animosity. Mr. Carter declared, “An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.”

Some Americans may still harbor racist sentiments. In some rare instances, racist signs and slogans have appeared at rallies opposing the Obama health care plan. There is no evidence, however, that the health care debate is in any way motivated by race. Real disagreements exist about how best to alter the health care delivery system.  Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, should be able to disagree — even with the occasional use of heated rhetoric — without being accused of racism.

President Obama himself says that he does not believe his race was the cause of fierce criticism aimed at his administration in the contentious health care debate; the cause was the sense of suspicion and distrust that many Americans have in their government. “Are there people out there who don’t like me because of race? I’m sure they are,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not the overriding issue here.... Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right. And I think that that’s probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.”

For some black politicians, playing the race card has become second nature. New York Governor David A. Patterson lashed out at critics in August who say he should not run for re-election. He suggested that he was being undermined by an orchestrated, racially biased effort by the media to force him to step aside.

With Governor Patterson’s approval ratings remaining low, some Democrats, including President Obama, have suggested publicly that he should make way for the popular attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, in the governor’s race.  Even among black voters, Patterson’s support is declining. A Sienna College poll showed that black voters, by a margin of 46 to 38 percent, would prefer someone other than Mr. Patterson as governor. David Dinkins, New York City's first black mayor, offered some blunt advice to Governor Patterson: Don’t accuse your critics of racism. “Definitely, he should get off the racist thing,” Mr. Dinkins said.

While political charges of white racism appear to be aimed at phantoms, a real example of black racism in American politics has been largely ignored. In Memphis, former Mayor Willie Herenton, who is black, is challenging Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who is white, in the Democratic primary. The candidates are battling to represent the Ninth Congressional District, a low-income area that is more than 60 percent black. The district was redrawn and renumbered in l973, increasing the percentage of minority voters; for three decades, it elected the state’s only black members of Congress since Reconstruction.

In 2006, however, Mr. Cohen, who had long represented the district in the Tennessee State Senate, defeated a divided field of black candidates. He easily won re-election last year against a black corporate lawyer. Mr. Cohen is a liberal Democrat who considered joining the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote a national apology for slavery and the Jim Crow laws, and received an “A” rating from the NAACP. “I vote like a 45-year-old black woman,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Herenton and Rep. Cohen do not disagree upon any major political issues. Indeed, Mr. Herenton’s only complaint against Rep. Cohen is a racial one: he is white. “This seat was set aside for people who look like me,” said Herenton's campaign manager, Sidney Chism, a black county commissioner. “It was set aside so that blacks could have representation.”
                                 
In the last election, his opponent ran a much-criticized advertisement that tried to link Rep. Cohen, who is Jewish, to the Ku Klux Klan.  It juxtaposed Cohen with an image of a hooded Klansmen. In a radio interview, Herenton declared: “This congressional race, you know what it’s going to be about? It’s going to be about race, representation, and power.”

If Mr. Herenton’s standard is that black constituents can only be represented by a black congressman, how would he justify President Obama, or Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, or New York Governor David Patterson — black officials who have largely white constituencies?

Racism should be objectionable to all Americans of good will. But for many years a view has been expressed that only whites can be guilty of racism. Twenty years ago, Rep. Gus Savage (D-IL) declared that, “Racism constitutes actions or thoughts of expression by white Americans against Afro-Americans... blacks don’t have the power to oppress white people. Racism is white. There is no black racism.”

In reality, racism is hardly a uniquely white phenomenon. Sadly, men and women throughout the world have persecuted others on the basis of race, religion, and ethnic origin. The partition of British India into India and Pakistan in l947 was  accomplished by the slaughter of more than one million Hindus and Moslems. In Malaysia, the political and economic power of ethnic Chinese  has been curbed by law and practice. In Thailand, second-generation and even third-generation ethnic Vietnamese are denied citizenship rights. Idi Amin of Uganda expelled his country’s entire Indian minority. We are all too aware of acts of genocide based on race or religion in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda.

Those who condemn white racism must also condemn black racism — and racism of every variety. The use of the term “white racism” as an epithet for those who simply disagree with President Obama’s agenda cheapens that term. It is like the boy’s false cry of “Wolf" — when a real wolf appears, his cries will go unheeded. Americans of all races — and all political views — deserve better than this.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2009 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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© 2009 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation