Friday, July 07, 2006

Anti-racism rally set for tonight

Many of Guilford County's prominent black leaders will lead a rally tonight to highlight what they see as racial injustices committed recently. Organizers cite nine cases that grew "out of a culture of racism," highlighted by the situation with former police chief David Wray and last week's firing of county manager Willier Best, as impetus for the rally.

I doubt this rally will do much to improve race relations in Guilford County. While I have yet to hear a sound reason for firing Best at this time, I find it quite narrow-minded and divisive to chalk it up to racial bigotry. As for Wray, he's been gone almost a year and the police department seems to be running smoothly under the leadership of interim chief Tim Bellamy, who is black.

When things don't go our way politically, it's tempting to attribute our defeat to some overriding evil. The charge of racism in politics is pernicious. How do you defend yourself against charges of racism, especially when black politicians make the charge against white opponents? Many whites accept the charge of racism uncritically. Others compile a list of what they percieve as black racism and the argument is on. Usually, it results in a battle for momentary ascent on the high ground of moral righteousness. The dust will settle and most move on to other issues until a dispute occurs between politicians of different races and the charge to the top starts over again.

Most of the current grievances are political at heart. I think the current method of electing county commissioners, city councilmen and state legislators at the district level makes charges of racism a much more attractive political tactic. Guilford's black leaders don't have to worry about appealing to large blocs of white voters to get elected and the reverse is true for white leaders. While district representation was used to ensure minorities were elected, a reasonable short-term solution, it's long-term effect has been to segregate voters into racial enclaves where those who seek election don't have to venture too far outside the concerns of their districts to ensure victory.

For those who don't think county-wide elections will work for black politicians, refresh yourself on local history. In 1968 Guilford was the state's first county in the 20th century to elect a black representative, Henry Frye, to the NC House. Frye had to appeal to voters in all corners of the county and did so successfully the first time and in subsequent runs. He even went on to appeal to voters statewide by being elected as the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The Wray situation and Best firing would make sound and legitimate campaign issues for the Greensboro City Council and county commission respectively. However, the current system will likely prevent the discussion to escape the confines of race.

To be fair, one of the issues inspiring tonight's rally, a high suspension rate among black students in the county's school system, is not political, but once again, limiting this serious issue to racism will make it harder to get to the heart of a very real problem.

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