When the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed affirmative action during the bitter battle at the University of Michigan, the high court of the land submitted to an undeniable truth that “diversity is a compelling interest.”
In 2008, when America stepped out in faith and bestowed the presidency into the hands of a man named Barack Obama, whose father hailed from the East African nation of Kenya, the world watched in shock and awe at this compelling display of diversity. That at some point people of goodwill and faith can look beyond one’s skin color and cultural and ethnic background and appreciate the intellect, honesty and competence of a person.
In 2010, in the age of Obama, the party that delivered such a presidency is now been asked in Michigan to make diversity a compelling interest in this year’s election season. It should not come as a shock that an African American or person of any other ethnicity should be thrust to the higher levels of state government. Therefore the Michigan Democratic Party, this all encompassing political institution that brands itself as the party of the disenfranchised, should live to its creed of diversity. It makes sense, like Howard Dean once said at a Democratic leadership summit in downtown Detroit, that those who come asking for votes in communities of color should be held accountable if their ticket is not diverse.
This request should not even be up for discussion because the Democratic Party has succeeded in painting Republicans as the political group that is an anathema to diversity and its accompanying attributes. Whether that is true or not, the party that boasts of allowing everyone to have a seat at the table of equity despite their status in society should take the lead in making that claim a reality.
Democratic Party bosses should not have to be reminded to live up to the historical obligation the party has been committed to. The party that championed the 1964 Civil Rights Act cannot now abandon its moral and historical obligation to addressing the needs of people of color. If African Americans are good enough to show up in mass numbers at the polls and gladly catapult candidates running on the Democratic Party ticket to an array of offices, they must equally be good enough to be on the ticket.
There should be no hesitation about choosing a candidate of color. There are African Americans who are thoroughly qualified to be on any of the tickets this year. But the excuse some party officials would like to give is that they can’t find any competent Black candidate who is electable. That is cynically playing reverse racism and strengthening the notion in 2010 that a Black candidate cannot win in Michigan, giving affirmation to prejudice.
Well that kind of excuse is a suspicious refrain that has always been the crutch that the party walks on when taking the Detroit vote for granted. Just as party bigwigs tirelessly work behind the scenes in search of good candidates and even offering all kinds of incentives to pull in so-called individuals with sterling qualities to run, why can’t it do the same for an African American candidacy?
If the party is willing to bring all of its resources and connections to bear when White candidates are the focus, it should do the same for candidates (African Americans and other communities of color) who, in fact, form the base of the party.
I can hear some party officials who want to mask their reluctance into perpetual denial say we don’t understand how the process works because candidates have to raise money on their own. Therefore, an African-American candidate is less likely to be able to raise money.
Yeah, right. We all know for certain that such an explanation will not even pass the laugh test because it is fraught from the premise.
Candidates do have to raise money on their own, but when the party openly declares and embraces a particular candidate without hesitation about their electability, it goes to work to ensure that candidate wins. It leverages its political clout to get the purse strings open so that candidate can crisscross the state and make his/her case to voters.
So what is the excuse of the Michigan Democratic Party and the high priests who call the shots?
This Saturday, April 17, at Cobo Hall, the Democratic Party will hold its Endorsement Convention to declare support for the candidates for attorney general and secretary of state.
This endorsement convention is coming with heightened interest among many in Detroit who are watching closely to see if the lone African American running for secretary of state, Janice Winfrey, Detroit City Clerk, will get the nomination instead of Wayne State University law professor Jocelyn Benson.
Both Winfrey and Benson are qualified even though Benson has raised more money than Winfrey.
So unless the party proves me wrong, Benson will be the Democratic Party nominee for secretary of state on Saturday.
It is important to note that the onus is not on Benson to prove that she is committed to diversity because her supporters say her track record of working in civil and voting rights speaks for itself. The burden of proof is on the party, not her.
Winfrey’s supporters rightly believe she should get the nomination because of her experience manning the largest election department in the state.
But unfortunately, the Benson candidacy stands to be a victim of the Democratic Party’s unwillingness to accept diversity within its inner ranks. Her candidacy could potentially be seen as a pun on the chessboard of Democratic Party politics and as a result be misconstrued to some. She could be viewed as a member of the party cabal and the favorite of the chief priests who gather in the political temple to decide who moves to what position.
Benson should not allow this perception to prevail because it will squander all the work she did campaigning for secretary of state.