Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., left, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., confer before questioning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. — AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
You’ve seen the numerous news clips of presidential candidates Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Cory Booker. In reaction, many of you rolled your eyes and then rolled up your sleeves and began writing furiously on social media about their failure to act and talk Black until they recently declared their candidacy.
But very few — or nearly none — of you wrote or even said anything about Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobucher, Elizabeth Warren, or any other non-Black big name declared candidate. Why is that? And is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure, so I’ll list the good and the bad and you decide which is more persuasive.
Here’s why such Black-on-Black political challenging is good:
It’s good because it weeds out the traitors. And a “friend” can do more harm than a foe. In other words, a traitor defeats you from the inside at the planning stage before you even face the enemy outside on the battlefield. Accordingly, Black voters need to make sure Black elected officials don’t strengthen so-called white supremacy by putting a Black face on it.
It’s much easier for Black officials to hurt us than it is for white officials. What I mean is if Black officials oppose affirmative action, minimum wage increase, prosecution of brutal cops, easier voting access, or civil rights, it appears non-racist. But if white officials oppose any of that, it’s obvious that it’s racist.
Although you can’t know for sure if a Black candidate is a traitor until he or she betrays you, you can check what I call “the fraud signs,” which are actions or statements that are kinda suspect, to say the least.
Let’s consider Harris, for example. She is now claiming to oppose mass incarceration. But as the California Attorney General, she in 2011 implemented measures resulting in fines of up to $2,500 or a year in jail for parents- most of whom were Black or Brown- convicted of not getting their truant children to attend school regularly.
In 2014, federal judges had to order her as Attorney General to initiate a new parole program for non-violent second-strike inmates that could free them earlier. It gets worse. Her office argued in court that if the state’s corrections system is ordered to release more inmates sooner, prisons would lose an important labor pool. Wait! Her office did what? This is nothing more than a form of modern day convict leasing. Although she recently agreed that that was very bad and very dumb, it’s still not a good look. Not at all.
Also, despite having claimed that she pursued justice for all Black folks, including those disproportionately arrested on minor drug charges, she nonetheless refused to join Attorneys General in other states who had taken action to remove marijuana from the DEA’s list of most dangerous drugs.
Why hasn’t she throughout her 15-year political career as a district attorney, state attorney general, and US senator spoken out loudly and repeatedly and implemented progressive policies against racism in employment, housing, education, health care, and the criminal justice system before declaring her candidacy for president?
Now let’s consider Booker, for example. During a recent campaign stop at a town in Iowa- with a 99 percent white population- he put the burden of resolving racism on Black people by publicly stating in regard to the Virginia blackface controversy, “If… [Blacks] want to have more courageous empathy, put yourself in a white person’s position who might have questions.” And he added, “We have got to start extending grace to one another so we can have honest conversations and leave room for growth.”
Wait! He said what?
White people need to put themselves in our enslaved, lynched, jailed, beaten, under-educated, over-jailed, unemployed, and otherwise victimized position. And white people know what blackface is and what it means. After all, they invented it, dammit. They also know what slavery, sharecropping, convict leasing, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and police brutality are. What’s there to talk about? Just stop being racist and stop denying your white privilege.
I’m not contending that Booker should have gone to Iowa sounding like Minister Louis Farrakhan (although I personally, albeit not politically, would like that). But he didn’t have to sound like Stepin Fetchit either.
Booker often tells the story of a White lawyer who helped Booker’s family overcome housing discrimination when they were trying to move into a New Jersey suburb. But there are much better stories to be told about what great Black lawyers like Johnnie Cochran, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, etc. did for all Black folks. Why doesn’t he tell their stories?
And it doesn’t help that he joined with Republicans just two years ago in voting to block the import of inexpensive high quality medicine from Canada that poor people- especially poor Black people- could better afford. The official statement he released to justify his vote was the very same written statement that was previously issued by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America lobby. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that he has received more pharmaceutical industry cash- totaling $267,338- during the past six years than any other Democratic senator.
Why hasn’t he throughout his 21-year political career as a councilman, mayor, and US senator spoken out loudly and repeatedly and implemented progressive policies against racism in employment, housing, education, health care, and the criminal justice system before declaring his candidacy for president?
Here’s why such Black-on-Black political challenging is bad:
It’s bad because it would be divisive.
It’s also bad because it would restrict and limit the number of viable Black candidates.
And it’s bad because Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobucher, Elizabeth Warren, and all the other non-Black big name declared candidates have done much more to hurt or much less to help Black folks than have Harris and Booker.
But Tavis Smiley and Cornel West- both of whom I love and respect despite their relentless challenging of President Barack Obama- ain’t said nothing about them. And neither have most of you.
Also, we know that some, even if just a few, of the millions of social media attacks against Harris and Booker (much more than the non-Black candidates) are generated by racist pro-Trump Russian bots.
White folks- who constituted 72 percent of the presidential electorate last year compared to 12 percent for Blacks- ain’t never gonna create a groundswell for a Black presidential candidate. And they certainly ain’t never gonna vote for a Malcolm X-type Black candidate to be in the White House.
Moreover, Harris and Booker are actually saying all the right things and actually doing all the right pro-Black things now. And since some Democratic, Republican, or third party candidate- all of whom are imperfect- is gonna be president, why not Harris or Booker? After all, they’re not only Black; they’re also ideologically Blacker than all the other declared presidential candidates.
I don’t know the answer. That’s why I’m asking you. Is it good or bad for Blacks to challenge Black candidates more than they challenge white candidates?
Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD96.1-FM and his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.