Last week, I wrote that the Senate might be an all-white affair, given that the Illinois Senator, Roland Burris, is on his way out, and the most competitive candidate for the United States Senate, Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, is facing major challenges. I wrote that the Senate might be all white. I was wrong.
First of all, there are Asian American Senators from Hawaii. Secondly, New Jersey is represented by Senator Robert Menendez. Further, one of those who opposes Meek, Marco Rubio, is Cuban American. And, while their candidacies are long shots, two African Americans are in Senate races -- Michael Thurmond from Georgia, and the mysterious Alvin Greene from South Carolina. There may be others, but these are the most prominent.
I am grateful to the readers who pointed out the error, and apologize for my sloppiness. My point, however, remains. How is it that we can contemplate a Senate without African American representation when African Americans are 13 percent of our nation's population? For some of those who wrote about my error, they described my thinking as "racist". Let me be perfectly clear - I am no racist, but I am racial.
What does it mean to be racial in a post-racial America? It means that I pay attention to race and to racial representation. It means that I acknowledge that race matters. It means that I am clear that the man who killed Oscar Grant and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter might serve a different sentence were his victim white. It means that I know the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, would not have written such an ugly and patriarchal (read slave master) letter to a white basketball player. The fate of multi-millionaire LeBron James is not the most important thing on anybody's radar screen, yet it is consistent with the strained relations among the races. James gave Cleveland seven years and they couldn't build a winning team around him. Now the owner is talking knee level doo-doo and all I have to say is "let my people go",
If you don't think race matters in America, I'd love to let you take a peek at my email. Random white people presume to lecture me about gratitude, or presume to invite me to leave America. They use racial epithets freely, ranging from the "n-r" word to gender-specific epithets. They have no shame about their invective, sending their hate to my college and to other places. Is the presence of a black woman with an opinion so threatening that they have to "go there". Has eloquence forsaken them, or was there ever any? I am grateful to the Creator for my thick skin and strong convictions. I am also grateful for the humor that allows me to send ignorance to the appropriate bodies that regulate hate speech.
Is there any wonder, then, that I am alarmed that the United States Senate, one of our most important legislative bodies, is likely to have no African American in its numbers come January 2011? I was absolutely wrong to say the body would be all white, and yet from my perspective a body that excludes African Americans is a body with no legitimacy. In a representative government, how can African Americans be unrepresented? What does this say about our flawed democracy?
I was absolutely wrong to describe the United States Senate as a lily-white body when people of color - Latinos and Asians - are included in its ranks, or among candidates for office. I am absolutely right to be chagrined and alarmed that the body might revert to being one that excludes African Americans. Kendrick Meek is not the great black hope, though his candidacy is competitive, and the Democratic Party needs to embrace him given his service to the Party. Michael Thurmond, an absolutely wonderful and insightful man, an acquaintance and the current Labor Commissioner in Georgia, was overlooked by my column and would be a great addition to the United States Senate. I do not presume to know every single candidate running for the Senate, but these two certainly warrant attention.
The composition of the Senate also warrants attention, as does the ugly racial tone that spews from those in our nation who are so warped as to wrap their racist nonsense in a plea for colorblindness. I am a race woman, not a racist, and until African Americans attain fair treatment and representation in our nation, I am among those that will write about race. To do anything less would require historical myopia, and my lens will never be warped that way.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women.