Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Barfing in Memphis

It's old news, but I just stumbled upon it - here's a bizarre flyer circulated against Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) of Tennessee's Ninth District, which is basically Memphis:

Astute readers will notice that the flier gives the name and address of the responsible party - a certain Rev. George Brooks in Murfreesboro, TN - which is conveniently located nowhere near Memphis.

Cohen, as you might be able to tell from the name, is a white Jewish guy representing a majority-black (60%) district. The flier was circulated presumably in support of Cohen's August 7th Democratic primary opponent, Nikki Tinker. Tinker was criticized for being slow on the reaction to the issue, but to her credit, the first thing you see as you visit her website is a statement roundly condemning anti-Semitism or racism (presumably of the anti-white variety as well).

My first reaction, of course, is that this is yet another reminder that while anti-Semitic opinions are mostly marginalized, they still rear their ugly head every now and again. It's something of a shock to see it put out there that blatantly, and from a guy who lives near a city - Nashville - where I spent my undergrad years.

But there's a deeper issue here, and this Memphis Commercial-Appeal editorial touches on it:
The flier is the product of an African-American minister from the Middle Tennessee town of Murfreesboro. Rev. George Brooks said he distributed it because the 9th District is "about 90-something percent black." (The actual figure is close to 60 percent.) Does the Tinker campaign agree with the Anti-Defamation League that the document "attempts to incite tension" between African-Americans and Jews? They aren't saying.

Inciting tension between African-Americans and Cohen was the aim of several members of the Black Baptist Ministerial Association who took Cohen to task last summer for his support of federal hate crimes legislation. The real motive behind the attack was revealed in later comments by at least one of those involved.

"He's not black," said Rev. Robert Poindexter of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, "and he can't represent me, that's just the bottom line."

Congratulations, Rev. Poindexter, you've just demonstrated identity politics at its absolute worst. But Poindexter's not alone in exploiting identity - he's just really blunt about it, and doing so in a manner to which much of America is not accustomed. Replace "black" with any number of identity groups - evangelical Christians, the middle-class, blue-collar workers, you name it - and someone has said it. Often the media fans the flames, disguising their plays at identity politics with questions like "Can candidate X connect with (insert group here)?" It's the same crap, and if we're shocked by that flier and by Poindexter's statements, we shouldn't be. It's a pervasive part of modern politics, and it stinks.

I've gone into this before, so I don't want to repeat myself. I'll say this: it's appealing to vote for someone who looks and acts like you. But to think that someone who doesn't look or act like you can't stand up for your needs? Or that someone who does will be a better representative because of it? Pure 200-proof bullshit. Whites can represent blacks. Jews can represent Christians. Rich people can represent the working class. Sushi-eaters can represent KFC diners. Get over yourselves, voters. Your membership in some identity group isn't that important.

1 comment:

Mike said...

If I couldn't vote for somebody because he/she wouldn't properly represent/understand short people, I'd be pretty hosed candidate-wise.

Oh wait, I am anyway...