In light of the racial indignities being foisted upon Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, a black Republican who recently announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, members of the black leadership group Project 21 call on all candidates and political parties to shun both the use of such tactics and individuals who employ them.
Steele most recently was portrayed as a white minstrel in blackface on a left-wing blog, but has suffered other racial indignities, such as being pelted with Oreo cookies at the historically-black Morgan State University in Baltimore and being called "Uncle Tom," among other epithets.
Project 21 members say all electoral candidates should be open to criticism about their records, credentials and policy positions, but candidates should not be subjected to race-based abuse. The way to end this, says Project 21, is for all political parties and candidates to repudiate and pledge to refrain from engaging in any activity that demeans on the basis of race, gender and/or other birth characteristics in favor of a robust debate on real issues affecting the public.
Some politicians appear to be making an effort to meet this standard. Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who is running for the same Senate seat as Steele, condemned racialist attacks. As reported by the Washington Times, Mfume said: "Racially-tinged attacks have no place in this campaign for U.S. Senate. If they did, I could very well be the object of public racial humiliation, based on my skin color, by people who don't like my politics. Black bigotry can be just as cruel and evil as white bigotry. There are too many bigots in too many places."
Democratic Congressman Albert Wynn (MD), who is black, echoed Mfume's sentiment, saying he "emphatically repudiates [and] condemns the racist and stereotypical attacks on Mr. Steele." Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a white Democrat and gubernatorial candidate, did so as well, calling attacks "disgusting and offensive" with "no place in politics." The Maryland Democratic Party and several other Democratic elected officials in Maryland also condemned the race-based attacks, as did the GOP.
Some, however, seem unoffended -- in one case, even enthusiastic about -- the racial attacks on Steele. According to the Washington Times, white political consultant Joe Trippi said calling Steele an "Uncle Tom" is "pointing out the obvious." Trippi is a spokesman for Mfume and is best known for his leadership of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's presidential campaign.
State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a black Baltimore Democrat, told the Times that party loyalties make racial attacks fair game: "Party trumps race, especially on the national level. It's democracy, perhaps at its worst, but it is democracy."
State Delegate Salima Siler Marriott (D) told The Washington Times that, because Steele is conservative, "he is different than most public blacks." When questioned about Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (D) -- who is white -- calling Steele an "Uncle Tom" in 2001, Marriott said, "that's not racial."
"If we are going to get ahead politically, blacks must be active in all major political parties. This intimidation to keep us away the party currently controlling the White House, Congress and many state and local governments - including the governorship of Maryland - is counterproductive," said Project 21's Donald Scoggins. "Opportunities are being lost for meaningful discussions of policies affecting the black community."
"Slandering Steele is contemptible on its face," said Project 21 member Mychal Massie. "It proves two things: Liberals fully support flagrant racism for their own purposes and that their insults expose them as representative of the most baneful and cancerous elements of their community. One would wonder about their shame, but it's assumed that's the purpose of their Sundays."
Project 21's Kevin Martin added: "I was there in 2002 when they threw Oreo cookies at Lieutenant Governor Steele. It happened at a historically black college, and it brought shame upon that institution. It's horrible that, as our nation buried civil rights icon Rosa Parks, those who lay claim the mantle of civil rights movement are continuing to engage in such despicable acts."
Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 543-4110 x11, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Project 21's website at www.project21.org/P21Index.html.