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April 10, 2013

Racial bias rears its ugly head in D.C. Council special election

MLK and cherries

We in GLAA take issue with some unfortunate racial comments that were made earlier this week by Democratic D.C. Council candidate (and interim councilmember) Anita Bonds and Statehood-Green candidate Perry Redd.

First, the background. Tim Craig reported in The Washington Post on April 7:

George T. Johnson, head of Local 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which endorsed Bonds hours after [Michael A.] Brown withdrew from the race, said there is a strong desire within the black community to ensure the seat is held by an African American.

There are seven white and six black council members, including Bonds.

"People have perceptions about what this city is becoming ... and they want this council to remain black, and if they don’t get out there and put black folks in there, there will be a white city council," Johnson said. "That is a rough thing to say, but that is the truth."

In an April 8 debate on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Bonds said of Johnson's comment, "There is a natural tendency to want your own," she said. "People want their leadership to reflect who they are." Redd said, "When Europeans are in control of any elected body, they do not care for the most vulnerable." (Hat tip to Martin Austermuhle of DCist.)

Memo to Perry Redd: Americans of African descent are not Africans. Americans of European descent are not Europeans. And so on. We are all Americans. Ethnic pride is one thing; racial exclusivity is quite another. Redd's sweeping derogatory statement about "Europeans" is especially unworthy of someone seeking election to serve a diverse community.

I have been voting in DC since 1980. I have voted for many African Americans and many women, despite being neither African American nor a woman; and I have been pleased and proud to be represented by them. I believe that most of my fellow citizens across the various lines of our diversity reciprocate that attitude. Candidates for public office should embrace that egalitarianism, not blithely disregard it.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Those ringing words are a summation of the civil rights movement. The standard Dr. King set should be taken to heart by all Americans.

As people come and go in our multiracial city and the demographics change, we must stand and work together for the benefit of all. Whatever the results of this special election, attitudes like those expressed by Bonds and Redd are not just wrong, but increasingly out of date. Competent and responsive government should be the focus, not color.

Candidates should be evaluated based on merit, regardless of color, religion, party, gender, sexual orientation, or any other factor unrelated to their ability and commitment to serve the interests of everyone in our city.

Perry Redd and Anita Bonds therefore owe an apology to their fellow Washingtonians of every hue.

(Photo by Rick Rosendall)

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