Monday, December 20, 2010

Not a Proud Moment for Someone of Whom I'm Proud


If you've been to school (high school or college), and you've had a good relationship with them, you always want to see them do well. No matter how well you've done personally, the success of former classmates and peers serves as a type of validation of your generations worth.

So for me, Rev. James Meeks, Chicago pastor and state legislator, has always been someone in whose success I've reveled from afar. He and I were not close friends at Bishop College, but we were friends, and anyone can tell you the bond of Bishopites is a strong one. Meeks is now a candidate for mayor of the Windy City and its hard not to be proud that he has the credibility to be taken seriously as a candidate.

But Rev. Senator Meeks has made some troubling statements on the campaign trail and has not been very successful in walking them back, so to speak. In a radio interview, Meeks, who pastors Salem Baptist Church on the Southside of Chicago, recently said, in effect, that only African-Americans should be considered 'minorities'.

The context in which the statement was made, has to do with minority set-asides for municipal and other government contracts. I get his ultimate point: the expansion of affirmative action programs to necessarily include women and other minorities has diluted to participation of blacks in those very programs.  But I also understand that reaction to this cannot lead someone running for public office to say that such a program can only be for black people. You increase access for blacks by helping them become more qualified for the partticipation in the program...indeed you work to increase their capacity, as well as that of other minority business owners to help them compete...period, set-aside or no.

I don't pretend to know Chicago politics. I get the impression that its a different animal up there altogether. But I know that Rev. Senator Meeks' statement can't possibly play well to most Chicagoans, no matter what their color or ethnicity. And journalist David Love provides better and even broader context in which to view Rev. Meeks' statement than I...

"James Meeks, the state legislator and pastor who is running for Chicago mayor, said some things he probably wishes he could take back. In an interview on radio station WVON, the mayoral hopeful said that only African-Americans should be eligible for city contracts set aside for women and minorities."
""The word 'minority' from our standpoint should mean African-American. I don't think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title," he said. "That's why our numbers cannot improve -- because we use women, Asians and Hispanics who are not people of color, who are not people who have been discriminated against." Later in the day, he tried to backtrack, saying that white women should be excluded: "I don't believe white women should be considered in that count ....You have white women in the category. They receive contracts. Then, white men receive contracts. Where does that leave everybody else?" he said."
"On Thursday, Meeks tried to clarify himself yet again in a written statement, asserting that "all minority -and women-owned businesses" deserve their "fair share" of city contracts. He also pointed to "systemic corruption" in the form of white-owned "fronts" posing as minorities and women who defraud the city program, making blacks the "most under-represented among city contractors.""
"Meeks is dead wrong to think that blacks are the only minorities, and the only people facing discrimination. But with that said, he does speak some truths."
"The numbers don't lie. According to the U.S. Census, Chicago's population is 42 percent white, 36.8 percent black, 26 percent Latino and 4.3 percent Asian. Women are 51.5 percent of the city's population. Meanwhile, Chicago's set-aside program reserves 25 percent of municipal contracts for minorities--who make up 58 percent of the population--and 5 percent of city contracts for women--who are over half of the population. Meanwhile, black-owned businesses take a paltry 7 percent cut of the $1 billion city contractor market, down a percentage point from the previous year, which is what prompted Meeks to weigh in on the issue..."


"...as people of color, other minority groups are victims of systemic discrimination as well, and it is hard for them to catch a break. For example, as Wall Street used the U.S. mortgage market as its casino, the home mortgage crisis hit blacks and Latinos twice as hard, with 17 percent of Latino homeowners and 11 percent of blacks losing their homes to foreclosures."
"People of color were often steered into fraudulent predatory loans. In recent years, thanks to the subprime loans, both groups witnessed the largest loss of black and Latino wealth in U.S. history, as black borrowers have lost between $72 billion and $93 billion, and Latino borrowers between $76 billion and $98 billion. In addition, with anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment on the rise in America, the nation has experienced an increase in anti-Latino hate crimes. Latino immigrants face a climate of fear in northern states such as New York and Pennsylvania, and hostility and Jim Crow-style exploitation in the South."
"Asian-Americans have long been the victims of violence, racism and stereotypes up to the present, and they suffer from discrimination in college admissions and employment in federal agencies. Since 9/11, Muslim-Americans, people of Arab descent and South Asians have endured bias-related harassment and violence, and discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations."
"And still, women only earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. But at the same time, we must acknowledge the ways in which gender and race work together in this society. White women have benefited indirectly from policies that have shown a preference for white men. "I have friends, plenty of white gals, who are doing very well," said State Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago). "White women don't need affirmative action."
"At the same time, white women still face gender discrimination. "Sen. Meeks is wrong. White women, like other women, do face discrimination: the same discrimination facing racial minorities," said Hedy Ratner of the Women's Business Development Center. Ratner concluded that any recent progress was "a direct result of affirmative action programs by business and government." In fact, in numerical terms, white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action, even though some have opposed such programs against their self-interests..."

"...If James Meeks wants to wage a serious campaign for mayor of Chicago, he must realize that he cannot win by alienating the 63 percent of the city's population that is not black. Claiming that African-Americans are the only minorities who face discrimination is factually wrong and bad politics. People of color and women in Chicago and elsewhere deserve a much larger slice of the pie, and should not have to fight over the crumbs. Expand the pie, but don't pit groups against each other."

Read the full post here.

I'm proud of Meeks for challenging stereotypes and the status quo for black clergy inside and out of church. His foray into politics shows a capacity that few of us have. But I don't know that in Chicago - or anywhere else, for that matter - you can continue to be a viable candidate for an office like mayor, with such a narrow focus. That is, unless yours is only a 'symbolic candidacy' voicing the frustration, fears and angst of many, with no true intention of being elected. If that's the case, this campaign seems to be a monumental waste of time for one who has shown the ability to effectively serve multiple thousands of his congregation, in his community and beyond.

In short, Meeks is much better than he's showing.

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