When Every Brother Ain’t a Brother: The “Not Black Enough” Politicians
by Charing Ball
Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street might have been channeling the lyric from Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome”: “Every brother ain’t a brother.”
Recently, Street made some unflattering remarks about current Philadelphia city Mayor Michael Nutter, who will be up for re-election next year. In an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Street, who was investigated for corruption by the FBI in 2005, made the comment that Mayor Nutter is not “a black mayor” but rather “a mayor with dark skin.”
Well, for those unfamiliar with term, the meaning “not black enough” has little to do with your skin tone and much more to do with your politics and social standings. Take for instance, Huey Newton and Malcolm X both who were both as red-boned as they come, yet no one would mistake either men for not being “black enough,” because their focus had always been on the benefit of the black community.
So what has Mayor Nutter done or not done to warrant such accusations?
In a city which is majority colored, Mayor Nutter, who was elected in 2007 mostly by the white liberal vote (the black vote had been split by two other black candidates in the race), hasn’t been faring well among the black democratic base. According to a Pew poll, the mayor continues to get far higher ratings on questions of job approval from white residents than from blacks; blacks are evenly divided on him—with 43 percent approving his performance and 43 percent disapproving—while whites voice a positive view by 65 percent to 21 percent.
Some in the Black Philadelphian community have charged that Mayor Nutter, who ran as a reformist mayor, has been reluctant, if not dismissive of the issues affecting the community. Much in the same vain as President Obama, Mayor Nutter has refuses to be pigeon-holed as the black politician and has taken a more universal view on dealing with issues of crime, education and even the economy.
When he was elected to represent Philadelphia, some in the black community asserted that Mayor Nutter’s approach to governing took the black vote, which makes up a large percentage of city’s democratic vote, for granted.
The same could be said for Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who also ran as a reformist candidate and saw his own political aspirations as Mayor dashed by his inability to respond effectively to the black community. Despite being in a city, whose black population still remained the majority, Fenty had given too many appointments to non-blacks and shunned the black elite of the city.
While I don’t agree with necessarily demonizing either mayor for their failure to draw tribal lines in politics, there is something to be said for the ability of some black politicians to take the black vote as a given. Like any other constituency we want our issues respected and addressed by whoever – regardless of color – is representing us.
The idea that some black politicians are willing to denounce their political blackness to get elected means ultimately that these same politicians will be willing to take positions that are diametrically opposed to our best interest.
And at a time when unemployment for black males is in double digits, the quality of the public schools in predominately black neighborhoods remain subpar at best and the spread of HIV/AIDs is killing our folks across gender and sexuality lines, it is not enough for black politicians and candidates for office to remain silent or indifferent to these issues.