by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
A 30ish White woman approached me while shopping at a suburban Pick N Save store recently rhetorically asking if I was that ‘Black guy’ on the Sunday Insight with Charles Sykes television show. Before I could answer, she quickly blurted out that she ‘had’ been a big fan of mine, until last week. That’s when she realized, “you are a racist.”
I’ve become accustomed to strangers approaching me to indicate their support or opposition to my positions on Sunday Insight. Brothers and sisters will usually express their support, some even going so far as to proclaim me to be a civil rights leader or spokesman for the downtrodden and oppressed masses.
For White people it’s generally a milder assessment. Over 90% will say they ‘enjoy’ watching me, or think I bring an interesting perspective to the panel. Rarely, does anyone say they support me 100%, to which I usually respond, “I don’t either.”
Those who oppose my positions, question my patriotism or hate my attire rarely approach me. That’s why the White woman’s comments took me aback. (Along with the fact that she was speaking loud enough to attract the attention of several customers who suspended their shopping to eavesdrop.)
Realizing where I was and reflecting on “Rule Number 2” in the “Black Man’s Survival Handbook,” I calmly said, “excuse me. I’ve been called a lot of things in my lifetime, but racist has never been one of them.”
Without missing a beat, and hands on her hips, she quickly responded that she was shocked and dismayed that I opined on the show that I had a problem with the revelation that four White state representatives were moving into designated “Black assembly districts” to challenge the established political paradigm.
For the record, I admit to going off on the White lawmakers in question. In fact, I went so far as to say their intrusion was status quo for “missionary” politics for which Wisconsin is famous. I also asserted that for them to move out of their districts to challenge Black candidates was “insulting.”
Is their collective goal suggesting this is now a post-racial society, I questioned? Ask the people who scribed ‘nigger’ and other racist epithets on a college campus wall in Waukesha two weeks ago. Or ask the thousands of Black men and women racially profiled everyday because of their complexion. Ask Trayvon Martin’s parents. In fact, ask President Barack Obama who in his first year in office received more death threats than all previous presidents combined.
Post racial? Hell, in some ways things are worse today than they were in ‘65. Eighteen or 19th century, take your pick.
To be fair, I could understand the woman’s underlying premise. Yet, from my perceptive it was disingenuous, redundant and hypocritical.
But, so as not to damper her fire for racial harmony, and to educate the crowd that started to surround us, I asked the woman as politely as possible whether she felt it was sexist when women voted for a female candidate because of her gender? Is it possible that they feel the female candidates bring a unique perspective to the race; that they will champion issues of importance to women?
Before she could answer, I added whether Hispanics who protested and sued the state GOP for diluting their vote on Milwaukee’s Southside had a valid argument? Apparently the courts agreed because they ordered the redistricting maps be redrawn to create two ‘Hispanic’ districts.
(For those outside of the political loop, every 10 years, following the national census, district maps at every government level are redrawn to accommodate population shifts, and what the courts call “communities of interest”—shared values, ethnicity and political commonalities.
Because Republicans controlled the state assembly following the 2010 elections, they were vested to redrew legislative district maps. Naturally, whichever party happens to be in power following the census count has used the opportunity to maximize their electability. But rarely do they infringe on minority districts.
That’s not only because national election laws restrict gerrymandering, but also because it’s a given that the Black vote will generally go to the Democratic Party anyway. The question then often becomes what is a “Black district?” Is it a slight minority advantage, like 60% Black? Or is it a super minority majority—say over 80% Black? On the surface those differences may seem insignificant. But the reality that most Black folks don’t like to admit is that Black voter apathy plays a major role in elections. Couple that dichotomist paradigm with the fact the Black population includes the largest ineligible voting bloc (a proportionately high percentage of our population is under 18, as is the number of felons unable to vote) and the prospect of a non-minority being elected to a “slight minority majority district” is greatly enhanced.
The exception to that “time-honored tradition” occurs when someone raises concerns over what constitutes a “Black district.” Ironically, no matter which party draws the maps, some Black leader or group has historically emerged to complain that the proposed maps either compress or dilute the Black vote.
For example, a Black district that is 90% Black will all but guarantee Black representation, but it also will restrict the number of Black seats. Conversely, carving up that one district into two 65% Black districts will not insure Black representation when you factor in the average age of Black residents in the district and our political apathy.
Apparently, no one felt that this potential problem was of concern this year, as the GOP map maintained our give super majority Black districts, and added another “minimal majority district” to the one that already existed in Racine, which has been represented by a Black lawmaker for the past two decades.
This year the only court challenge came from the NAACP, which sued over the way two predominately Hispanic districts were drawn. Not a word of protest was heard about the Black districts from either the civil rights organization or Black state lawmakers.
That is until a few weeks ago, when the political watchdog group Media Trackers revealed that four White incumbents in neighboring districts had made the decision to move into Black districts to challenge any and all Black challengers. Media Trackers referred to the White legislators as “carpetbaggers.”
When they asked me for a comment, I used much stronger analogies, and sarcastically concluded that apparently the White lawmakers felt they needed to reassess their strategies as absentee political landlords and return to the plantation because too many of the field Negroes were getting uppity.
Some were blasphemously decrying the political status quo which includes the failure of those supposedly representing our interests to address the nation leading Black unemployment and poverty rates, the lowest fourth grade reading test scores in the nation for our children, and an ever growing gap in income between the races. Even some of the House Negroes who have been eating high on the hog are starting to wonder aloud why Wisconsin has the highest Black incarceration rate in America.
From that perspective I guess it’s no wonder why some of “dem dumb ole colored folks talking ‘bout pushing their own agenda or escaping ‘back’ to the Deep South.”
To be honest, I thoughy the Negrocracy would lambaste me for violating the moratorium (that undeclared but understood period prior to state or national elections when it is a capital crime to criticize or question a Democrat). But somewhat surprisingly, mine was among the tamer analogies I heard since the show aired. Just about everyone who heard my initial rants on Sunday Insight echoed my sentiments. In fact, many in much sterner terms, particularly when names were put to the scenario.
According to Media Trackers, the four lawmakers are state Representatives Sandy Pasch, Josh Zepnick, Corey Mason, and Fred Kessler.
Pasch, an eastside representative is moving into the district to run for the seat currently held by Beth Coggs. Mason is moving out of his district to run in the only Black district south of Milwaukee (Racine), held by Bob Turner for the past 22 years. Turner is retiring.
Some have suggested that Coggs decided to run for the state senate seat currently held by her cousin, Spencer, who recently made history with his election as city of Milwaukee Treasurer, because it will become an open seat. But others suggest Beth may have feared that Pasch would beat her in a primary. The theory goes, as I noted earlier in this column, that a small Black voter turnout would greatly benefit Pasch who can count on a substantial White turnout of Eastsiders in August.
As usual, money could also play a role in the race. Pasch has access to big dollars, and is the newest “darling” of the Democratic Party having taken on Republican state Senator Alberta Darling in a costly recall election last year in response to the Republican takeover of the state legislature and its dismantling of collective bargaining privileges for public employees. Pasch lost, but cemented herself as a Democratic Party star.
Not by coincidence, the GOP redistricting has all but eliminated Pasch’s seat, shifting the boundaries vertically along the eastern suburban wards, which are Republican strongholds.
From Pasch’s perspective, it is far easier to take over a Black district than it would be to challenge incumbent Republican Jim Ott whose district was strengthened by the redistricting process.
But hold on to your extensions and male girdles, the so-called carpetbagger scenario goes even further. According to the rumor mill, several White candidates are lining up to challenge a slew of Black candidates expected to run in Black districts being vacated by Barbara Toles and Tamara Grisby, both of whom are retiring. The historically low Black voter turnout will enhance the probability of the White candidates emerging victorious particularly if there are multiple Black candidates who will split the Black vote.
Theoretically, there is a distinct possibility that the Black community will wake up the morning after the November elections and find itself with only two Black representatives.
And as you digest that possibility, let me throw a little hot sauce on this Kentucky Fried meal (pun intended):
The buzz in many Black progressive and independent political circles is of a “secret invisible political hand” that has been undermining the Black political paradigm with the express purpose of putting into office Black candidates who are more in tune with its missionary agenda.
Let me translate that for you. There is a quasi- secret coalition that wants to control Black politics and has targeted any Black elected official who does not blindly embrace the status quo, which involves promoting the interests of special interests over the needs of the Black community.
Which is not to say Black folks are not been loyal to the Democratic Party, unions and gatekeepers who primarily make up this invisible hand. But this new affront is about total submission and the elimination of any Black politician who questions their control over Black people, or who puts our community’s needs before their agenda. In other words, any Black politician who questions the long standing status quo, which all will admit has not prioritized Black concerns, will find themselves facing a challenger or being bad mouthed, generally from other African Americans who benefit from the status quo.
You think I’m exaggerating? You better wake up.
This “invisible hand” is bold and carries a big stick covered in green paper with dead president’s pictures on it.
Currently in their crosshairs are State Rep. Jason Fields and Coggs. Their crime? Putting the needs of their people before their party.
Some suggest Willie Hines was targeted in the aldermanic race because he too has bucked the political status quo. Several other local races had the fingerprints of the invisible hand on them. But don’t take my word for it. Next week I’ll elaborate on these related scenarios, including the statements from those loyal to the party, but who are concerned that plantation politics will threaten the new Reconstruction.