Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Mr. Nordlinger

Here :

The mayoral election just concluded in Newark, N.J., was one of the ugliest in memory. It involved the old, entrenched mayor, Sharpe James, and a saner, more moderate upstart, Cory Booker. Both men were black, of course — but some of the most vicious racial politics in this country are intra-black politics. The likes of Sharpe James always play “blacker than thou” — and this is a matter of mouth and posturing, not shade.

James derided Cory Booker as “neo-black” (which is cute, I grant you). The James campaign slogan was “The Real Deal” — everyone in Newark knew what it meant, trust me. James said that Booker was a mere tool of the Right, and of whites. (Both men, naturally, are Democrats — but Booker is open to such notions as school choice and non-theft in government.) The New York Sun reproduced a cartoon that the James campaign had purveyed: It showed a factory, at which “neo-black politicos” were being made. In succession were Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and the challenger, Cory Booker. Two white men were in the foreground, chomping cigars and grinning. They were labeled “right-wing foundations.” One was saying to the other, “They’re so popular, we can’t produce them fast enough.” The other was saying, “I hear they always sell out.”

James won, of course — but only with 53 percent of the vote, which should give some cause for hope. The entire (white) Democratic establishment in New Jersey was behind him.

On the subject of racial politics — intra-black politics — I remember very well a mayoral race in Detroit. It pitted Dennis Archer, who became mayor, against a woman named Sharon McPhail. Now, McPhail was a very, very light-skinned woman — freckles and all. She probably could have passed. And her entire campaign was geared to the idea that Archer — who was infinitely darker than she — wasn’t “black” enough. She talked constantly of Archer’s (alleged) white support (not that such support, even if it had existed, would’ve mattered a lick in Detroit). I thought this was a stunning example of racial politics: that Sharon McPhail should try to out-black Dennis Archer — and get away with it, really.

And I always suspected, too, that one reason Archer’s predecessor, Coleman Young, was so aggressive, crude, and racist was that, as a light-skinned man (also with freckles), he was always trying to prove his credentials. No one could “out-black” him. Young may have been the most vilely racist man I ever witnessed — although he has some stiff competition.

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