Imagine, if you can, that white political elites in a major American city, with a majority white population, were openly attempting to unite voters behind keeping political power and control in the hands of whites, in the form of a white mayor. “After all,” they’d say, “it’s the way thing should be.” Mayors had always been white – at least in recent memory. Without a moment’s hesitation, most people would identify this for what it clearly is … racism.
Racially polarized voting schemes of this ilk are linked with America’s ugly and dark past, when whites often conspired to keep blacks from achieving political power – often utilizing violence to prevent blacks from voting in Southern states.
Now however, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, black political elites have hatched a campaign to unite blacks in an effort to defeat the only white candidate in an upcoming mayoral race. The explicit aim is to keep the office of mayor in the hands of blacks.
Is this racism? It has been long-argued that since racism is rooted in power and domination, it is something that exclusively belongs to whites. According to this “racism’s a white thing” view, blacks are incapable of racism. However, being a racist has nothing to do with power or money. One only has to hold to the belief that his or her racial group is superior to others. Ask a white person who’s been on the receiving end of black hate crime if blacks are capable of racist behavior. You’ll get an earful.
The specious claim that racism is tied to white wealth and power is also particularly silly in the face of undeniable racial progress that’s occurred over the past generations. The “racism’s a white thing” argument falls flat when stacked against actual societal realities: today, most blacks are solidly ensconced in the economic middle-class; there is observable, high-profile black leadership in corporate boardrooms; some of the most powerful, influential and wealthy people in the film, music and entertainment industries are black; and there has been dramatic black success at all levels of politics.
Not only has a black man been elected president, the nation’s attorney general is also black, as were the last two secretaries of state. They are emblematic of a largely post-racial society that can is also reflected in the presence of influential political figures from the halls of Congress to governor’s mansions.
In many of the nation’s major cities, the mayors are black, and often so are the heads of law enforcement agencies. The contention that blacks have not achieved wealth and power is largely the product of an investment in a political agenda that continually attempts to portray blacks as victims of a racially hostile nation.
The population of Atlanta is 57 percent black, with a surging population of young whites who have been drawn back to the city by recent gentrification efforts. However, for 35 years all of the mayors of Atlanta have been black, which has apparently led to a view that there is black entitlement to the mayor’s seat.
This year, Atlanta’s office of mayor is up for grabs, and with a handful of blacks running against a single white candidate the fear is that the black candidates will split the vote, allowing City Councilwoman Mary Norwood – the lone white candidate – to win.
To prevent this, something called the “Black Leadership Forum” has allegedly disseminated an email that essentially calls for a unified front among blacks to vote for their preferred (black) candidate to ensure the defeat of Norwood.
Atlanta has often been viewed as the center of the “New South,” a revival of business, culture and progressive racial attitudes. It is argued that Atlanta led the way with the election of Maynard Jackson as mayor in the 1970s. Dubbed “ATL” by the hip-hop crowd, the city has become a Mecca for the nation’s black elites from business to music and film.
Atlanta was also the home, however, of Martin Luther King, Jr. who undoubtedly would have opposed efforts on the part of anybody to racially polarize an election. As the former executive director of the Los Angeles office of Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, I can state with confidence that he would have been especially outraged by an effort of this sort coming from self-styled black leadership.
There can be no racial entitlement to an elected office. Propagating views of this kind should be seen for what it is … racism. To be sure some black Atlanta residents have been repelled by the bigoted campaign and have rejected the message of entitlement coming from the Black Leadership Forum and its allies. Hopefully, come the election, the citizens of Atlanta – black as well as white - will elect the best person for the position, irrespective of skin color. If they do, there can be no doubt that Dr. King would be pleased.