Last week, civic and political leaders in Terrebonne Parish embarked upon yet another misadventure in racial politics, and today, as the dust starts to settle, we all have to stop for a minute to admit that the whole affair, if not newsworthy, certainly offers some salient points for the presumptive black leaders of these bayou communities.
According to reports, state representative Carla Blanchard Dartez insulted the mother of NAACP leader Jerome Boykin during a telephone call, wherein Mrs. Dartez playfully, yet no less ignorably, called Boykin's mother "Buckwheat". Yeah, "Buckwheat"--as in the character from a long-gone, pre-technicolor television show. The use of the term was so odd that even I had to laugh when I first heard of this matter, and I was not alone. In fact, my initial thought was, "...[I]f this woman really wanted to be insulting, then surely she could have come up with something more, well, insulting." Nevertheless, the word did offend some, particularly Miss Boykin, and as a result, the fangs have come out, as Mr. Boykin mobilized two Houma media outlets on Friday to demand Dartez's voluntarily withdrawal from the general elections (slated for Saturday).
To be sure, the term that was used was in poor taste, and Mrs. Dartez does have an obligation to apologize to Miss Boykin for such poor judgment. However, I am inclined to believe that, once there is an apology, the issue will no longer be an issue. The matter began with these two women, and for all intents and purposes, that is where it has to properly end. To inject the outrage of an entire community is to transform the irrelevant into the hyperbolic.
That said, this little incident does host a striking lesson for black leaders in Houma, and it also challenges them in a profound way.
First, the lesson---never be so cavalier in your support of politicians. Just because an individual has a "D" behind his or her name on an election ballot does not mean he or she has the best interests of your community at heart. Our black leaders forget that even the worst of segregationists resided in the Democratic Party, back in the day, and though it is not readily accepted as fact, even modern-day Dixie-crats walk among us. Hell, some of them even smile in our faces, as they campaign on regressive platforms like inmate labor...No, the Republican Party is not perfect (look at GWB), but at least the general political philosophy of that party is not grounded in the general segmentation of people, the promotion of divergent group ideologies, and government-endorsed racialism. At least that party, even knowingly suffering with its own unpalatable bigotries, believes in the empowerment of each man as his own man, an innate freedom from excessive governance, and the celebration of our commonalities, not our differences...Perhaps the group-thinkers in leadership of the black communities in this nation will realize this, one day, drop the monolithic and paralytic allegiances that have stymied their political maturity for a generation, and finally embrace progressive leaders from multiple spectrums, not just one...Hell, it is the perfect opportunity for Houma's black leaders to have such an awakening.
And that brings us to the challenge for those same leaders, one that they will certainly ignore (I know), but still needs to get said.
Rallying together for change on any level, whether for bus boycotts in the 1960's or for jailed kids in Jena, has been a strong and compelling weapon of choice for our community. We can speak very effectively in one voice like no other group on the planet--and, yes, we do get heard like no other group on the planet, as well. But, if we acknowledge such a fact, then we must concede that the misuse of this weapon has the capacity to do more harm to its users than its intended targets. To rally such a force in this instance, against a woman whose record has been as equitable for the black community as any other, and whose misjudgment does not rise to the level of a global offense, would be one of the most despicable misuses of the united black voice ever, and the consequence might result in something less desirable than a necessary apology. (At worse, it could create an inadvertent rift in a parish that absolutely needs to find common ground, in order to save the very ground under its feet.)
Perhaps if Mr. Boykin wants to rally a powerful voice in Houma, then he would be better served to do so in a way that addresses real issues. Perhaps these leaders can unite to devise a plan that will help the poor contend with rising energy costs in the coming weeks. Or, better than that, perhaps they can unite to help the victims of Sunday's tragic apartment fire. Surely, those 16 families, regardless of the color of their skin, have needs that such a powerful group can mitigate with much more ease.
It is sad that Mr. Boykin's mother endured such an insult, and we all empathize for her. But we must remember that, as humans, we all have moments of poor judgment, and as Christians, we are all obligated to forgive such moments. Once that apology is offered by Mrs. Dartez, then Miss Boykin must consider its merit, and if it is sincere, then she should accept it. That is it. It will be the end of the story; Mrs. Dartez is to be forgiven...And to do anything edgewise is to defy even our own Christian beliefs, right? Thought so.
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