Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The story behind the story

By Carl

You know, when I saw
this flash past on the news this morning, I wondered if I had been in a coma:

The House yesterday apologized to black Americans, more than 140 years after slavery was abolished, for the "fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow" segregation.

The resolution, which passed on a voice vote late in the day, was sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a white Jew who represents a majority-black district in Memphis. Cohen tried unsuccessfully to join the Congressional Black Caucus this year.

"I hope that this is part of the beginning of a dialogue that this country needs to engage in, concerning what the effects of slavery and Jim Crow have been," Cohen said. "I think we started it and we're going to continue."

I thought it was odd that only one of two white men representing a predominantly black district was the one to introduce this legislation.

I hate to give credit to a weasel, but
Andrew Sullivan came up with the goods on why:

One of the most dramatic congressional races this year is the battle for Tennessee's 9th. Wrapped around Memphis, this overwhelmingly-black district is represented by Steve Cohen (D) -- just one of two white congressmen with majority-black constituencies. In his inaugural '06 bid, Cohen had faced a dozen candidates trying to maintain the district's 40-year streak of black representation. In the end, runner-up Nikki Tinker barely lost to Cohen, 31% to 25%.[...]

As told in a great piece by
Jonathan Martin, Cohen had pledged to become the first non-black member of the Congressional Black Caucus upon winning his seat. "He was probably the most liberal white member in the legislature, perhaps even more so than most of the black members," a local politico told Martin. Most of the staffers Cohen hired were black, including his chief of staff. But when a leaked memo circulated by one of the CBC's co-founders made it clear that Cohen's membership was not welcome due of his race, he gave up the effort. Now, two years later, Cohen's fighting to keep the seat against his old rival...

What you've just witnessed is a fairly bold statement made by a man who is pretty desperate to keep his job (although having beaten his rival by six points and having the knowledge that 98% of Congresscritters get re-elected should provide a little more confidence, you would think).

That Barack Obama is running this year for president merely highlights this race as one to watch, and don't think Tinker isn't showing the race card is in her hand:

Her TV ads play up humble beginnings growing up in Alabama with a single mother and disabled grandmother. She argues her campaign is not about race but adds that her supporters hunger for more racial diversity in Congress.

There's a bit more irony than a white Jew apologizing to blacks for slavery that his ancestors probably had nothing to do with in order to win re-election in his district, particularly when you consider it was white northern Jews who stood side by side in Alabama and Tennessee and Mississippi with blacks struggling for equal rights back in the '60s.

That district was represented by Harold Ford Jr. before he ran for Senate in 2006, and lost based on, well, a commercial that played up the old racist stereotype of "black man raping our white women".

Stay tuned. This race could turn into a barnburner.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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