Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"It's a Black Thing?"

Delegate Derrick Davis responds to Blair Lee's column:

So political corruption is now the exclusive domain of African-Americans? I’m going to assume an editor wrote that title because I know Mr. Lee is far too enlightened to hold such an opinion, let alone have it headline his weekly commentary. Yes, some African-Americans have committed egregious crimes against the very people they were elected to represent but why can’t the focus be on the individuals themselves and not their race? Too often African-Americans are accused by bloggers and opinion writers of “playing the race card” or injecting race where it does not belong. I certainly will concede that race has been, and will continue to be, used as an excuse or justification for criminal behavior. By the same token, it is headlines and commentaries such as Mr. Lee’s column (December 11th) that does fuel speculation about media bias as it relates to how African-Americans are portrayed versus our counterparts.

Let me say right now that I do not believe the arrest and indictment of the former Prince George’s County Executive and his wife, the current Councilwoman representing the 6th Councilmanic District, was in any way racially motivated. There have been far too many allegations and investigations over the past eight years for any fair-minded individual to believe otherwise. However, the alleged personal malfeasance of the former county executive and the violation of the public trust of the councilwoman are an indictment of their personal failings and not that of an entire race of people. As noted author Zora Neal Hurston famously said, “Not all my skin folk is my kin folk.”

Mr. Lee, when did you become such an expert on the thoughts and opinions of African-Americans? I have been black 43 years and I am far from an expert on the thoughts and opinions of my race as a whole. As many of us have said time and again, we are not monolithic in thought and/or action. Respectfully, it was totally irresponsible and uninformed of you to suggest that because the allegations against the former county executive didn’t include ripping off poor black kids but taking advantage of the political spoils system, “in the eyes of many blacks” that was acceptable behavior. You justify this outlandish statement by saying, “That’s why, for almost a month, there’s been a deafening silence out of PG County.”

You and other members of the media have complained about this so-called silence among elected officials in the county. First of all, many of us joined County Executive Rushern Baker at a press conference on November 15th, the first business day after the arrest, to let our citizens know that despite these despicable allegations we were united in effort to moving the county forward. Secondly, many of us have had direct contact with our constituents about the matter and what options were available. Thirdly, the county council took appropriate measures to limit the new councilwoman’s power and influence until these issues have been resolved. No Mr. Lee, there has not been deafening silence on this matter.

Allow me to let you and others in on something. Most residents and elected officials in the county are appalled and embarrassed by what has transpired. Most were irate that the former county executive did not resign immediately and the current councilwoman did not have the decency to step aside for the good of the district she professes to love. The reason the media did not get to cover numerous press conferences or read pithy press releases from various elected officials was likely because we were not going to provide others with any more entertainment than what these individuals already have. No, I am not downplaying the seriousness of the situation by referring to it as “entertainment”; rather, I understand the desire of some to see this tragic betrayal replayed constantly to denigrate the accomplishments of an entire race of people.

Please tell me what can I say or do on behalf of all African-Americans in Prince George’s County (I mean PG County because I know how much it pains you to use our actual name) to assure you and others that there are many decent, hard-working people who reside in the county and that we do not all share the same personal failings of a few? What can I say or do to assure you that most people do not view these actions as “arrival” but in fact as “shame”? What can I do to assure you that there is public outrage even though you may not read press accounts about it? What can I do to assure you that while some people have chosen to leave the county for a variety of reasons, many people are still proud to call the state’s second largest jurisdiction home?

Finally, I’d like to address why the inaugural crowd’s greatest applause went to Marion Barry as you put it. Councilman Barry’s personal struggles during his later years in office have been well-chronicled. As heart-breaking as it has been to watch these struggles, many of us simply cannot forget what he meant to the civil rights movement in his earlier years. Many of us cannot forget his accomplishments in his early mayoral years, all those summer jobs he helped to provide for our young people and all those senior citizens he tirelessly served. Many of us do understand how so many people are supportive of you when you are on top but forget about you when you are not.

Maybe you are right, it is a black thing…and you wouldn’t understand.