Color line Or Colorblind Detroit?

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’ve been fending off surrogates from all sides of the political debate and was lately pulled into a conversation where the topic was the impact of race in this election. I find myself, like a surgeon, struggling to decipher whether this election should be about race or Black empowerment.

Because common sense solutions and approaches in a political climate ought to empower people, any people regardless of who they are or what their background is.

And because Black empowerment is the making of choices whether political, economic, educational or social that advances the quality of life of Blacks in a given environment, the elephant in the political room lately has been race and where it fits in the context of Black empowerment in the hotly contested mayoral showdown where a White candidate Mike Duggan came out of the primary heavily leading Benny Napoleon, his African-American challenger.

So if we go by the above definition, which of these two candidates is prepared to advocate Black empowerment in a majority African-American city like Detroit? Which has a plan that enhances the quality of life of people who live in Detroit and pay high taxes and insurance rates, when a few miles away it’s a different story, beyond Eight Mile, by the change of a zip code?

In this context a superficial response to these questions would limit one to the narrow confines of our collective wellbeing.

Sound political judgment and race-neutral politics, which should be the hallmark of this general election, is not an indictment on Black mayors who have served this city for only four decades.

In Gov. Rick Snyder’s own words, the problems facing Detroit have been brewing for sixty years, long before the advent of Black political leadership.

However, we cannot excuse the failures of those who served this city from Coleman A. Young to Dave Bing. But there were others before them, including Mayor Louis Miriani, who went to jail for federal tax evasion in the 1960s. There is a lot of blame to go around in this election and the state of bankruptcy.

For decades racial politics has been the powder keg for most elections in this town and it is bound to rear its head as we head in early October.

We’ll hear from surrogates of the candidates drumming Black empowerment in the context of strongly expressing racial pride by supporting Napoleon, while others will be arguing that while it is significant to express racial pride, it doesn’t mean that supporting Duggan, a White candidate, in itself is a bad omen if he has the desire and expressed plan to address the crisis in a majority Black city.

On the one hand there is a tendency to use a historical body of evidence — from slavery to Jim Crow to institutional racism that still lurks behind the façade of some institutions today struggling with the notion of diversity — as a criteria for our political choices, which affirms our empowerment. There is nothing wrong with that because we are guided by the dictates of history.

But it would be a serious error for us to ignore pragmatic and contemporary considerations concerning our present social and economic challenges. Blacks have elected White presidents for decades until President Obama came onto the scene in 2008, so the race question should actually not be an issue. It should be about who has the best plan to effectively deal with the problems facing Detroit.

The debate about weighing the historical body of evidence against our current realities and conditions in Detroit, and placing it at the forefront of the mayor’s race played out before with President Obama, where a segment of the Black intelligentsia argued that he must unequivocally demonstrate his “Blackness” by identifying specially targeted Black programs for the Black community.

At the same time, there are those in the Black intelligentsia who argued that Obama should identify programs that benefit not only Blacks but other communities that have suffered similarly to Blacks.

The struggle to balance the scales of justice, economic parity, public safety and full empowerment of Detroiters in this mayor’s race where some critics of Duggan argue that because of his skin color, he can’t define Black empowerment, while some supporters of Napoleon say he can by virtue of his skin color, is nothing sort of a double consciousness.

It will be a dangerous misnomer to solely define candidates and issues through the prism of race. While race rightly remains a subtext of many issues because of history (I don’t believe we live in a post-racial America), we must strive to look at the issues that affect us all through the compass of common sense directives.

The preeminence of common sense beckons us to act with basic good sense in our best interest. And we must ask the question in this mayor’s race: which candidate has the best interest and is prepared to address the difficult needs that Detroit currently has?

To address those needs and produce common sense solutions, we don’t need platitudes and filibusters. We need a program and a plan from Duggan and Napoleon that will move Detroit from its current economic doldrums and the squelchy marshes of despondency and despair to a brand new day of meaningful empowerment.

Because the history of this city is fraught with pain, along with the success, there are many in this town who have suffered and have witnessed the abuse of political power when it was supposed to serve and protect them.

There are many in this town who are cut out of the dream of a fulfilling life and have now been relegated to economic instability. Some of these individuals are pensioners and retirees whose benefits could easily, by the stroke of a pen, disappear in bankruptcy court. And all of this is happening because of decades of failed political power.

So, Detroiters must search deeply for the best candidate. As Thomas Paine rightly put it, “These are times that try the souls of men.” The soul of Detroit is not only been tried but is on trial in this election.

The bottom line is public safety and a depressed economy. Obama got elected largely because voters felt he had a better plan than both Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney. He was elected simply on the merit of his vision. But having a Black president is not a cure-all for racism.

The campaigns of Duggan and Napoleon must offer more than just expecting to play to the sentiments of race and racism. These two candidates must show how clearly different each is on the issues and who has the best plan, creative vision and the willingness to listen to many in Detroit whose lives and experiences do not mirror the American Dream.

Let’s deal with the candidates on the merits of their program, the content of their character and their passion for public service.

Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of the forthcoming 2014 book on Detroit titled “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future with Courage.” His most recent book “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” deals with the politics of the religious right, black theology and the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epilogue written by former White House spokesman Robert S. Weiner. He is a political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (Detroit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and visit http://www.bankolethompson.com

 

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