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[that’s racist?] ‘needs and concerns’

October 1, 2011

Having returned to writing for the moment- and given my narcissism- I was looking up my readership stats from my personal blog. I noticed that my most commented-on post was on race, and hip-hop outfit Das Racist. Interestingly enough, Das Racist has just released a new album and is coming to town again (D.C.)- they keep coming up in my writing.

In the same said post, I included this link to a list of black members of Congress, and was reading today about the Congressional Black Caucus. I was interested to read that Representative Steve Cohen from Tennessee, who represents Memphis and some surrounding area, requested joining the Congressional Black Caucus. As you might read from his name, Steve Cohen is not black, but white and Jewish (L’Shana Tovah to all the folks!).

Cohen withdrew his request to join the caucus after he was informed that it would remain exclusively black. I get it. Not so weird, but then I read the reason why:

Quite simply, Rep. Cohen will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept – there has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for over 200 years, and now it’s our turn to say who can join ‘the club.’ He does not, and cannot, meet the membership criteria, unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives.

~official statement from Representative William Lacy Clay Jr.

This is interesting. Steve Cohen represents a district that is 60% black. He was elected with nearly 90% of the vote. And herein lies my problem.

Cohen’s race apparently negates the fact that he represents a majority black district, and that it’s his job “to address the needs and concerns of the black population.” (Note: he was re-elected in 2010.) His joining the CBC would only help him understand how to do this better, no? I can only imagine that working more closely with people like John Lewis and Elijah Cummings would provide greater understanding, rather then less.

This official statement seems to, troublingly, reflect that the idea that maintaining the exclusively black membership of the CBC is more important than the stated ‘needs and concerns’ of a real black district and its voters (the one in which Dr. King was assassinated no less). I’d be happy to be corrected.

It was additionally sad to read that while running for Congress, Cohen was accused of ties to the Klan (attacked for being white) and for including sexual orientation in a piece of hate crime legislation.

It makes me wonder how much whiter Barack Obama needed to be (raised by his white mother and white grandparents) before he would have been ruled ineligible to join as the only Senate member of the CBC?

Note: This entry was originally  posted at Chez Rebellion. “[That’s Racist] Getting Too Familiar” is a followup post.

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