Monday, November 22, 2010

Double Standard for Black Politicians

Double Standard for Black Politicians
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
November 21-28, 2010

The United States of America boasts to the world community that it is a nation of equality under the law for all citizens, regardless of color or conviction. Yet, for African American elected officials such has hardly been the case.

In 1865, following the end of the American Civil War the Freedmen’s Bureau was established by President Abraham Lincoln and Congress the protect the rights of newly freed African Americans. By 1870, Congressional Amendments stretched to U.S. Constitution to guarantee—on paper, that is—the right to be free (13th), citizenship (14th), and to be free from racial discrimination at the polling place (15th) for Black people. Moreover, citizenship afforded African Americans the right to hold elective office. Within our family, my paternal great grandfather, Lawrence Clayton, was elected Constable in Surry County, Virginia in 1882.

In total, 22 African Americans were elected to Congress following 1870. However, the forty years that followed saw the number of Black Congressmen dwindle to zero by 1910. In the words of the late Dr. Ronald Walters, White Nationalism accounted for the lost of Colored Congressmen in the white marble halls of the U.S. Capital.

By White Nationalism, I mean the use of double standards in the targeting of Black elected official for removal of office. Following the 1870 15th Amendment prohibiting racial discrimination in voting the demise of Black Congressional Representatives dropped sharply after the presidential election of 1876. Known as the Hayes/Tilden Compromise, the loser, won; and the winner, lost. Under the agreement, Rutherford Hayes agreed to remove federal troops in the south which were dispatched to protect newly freed African Americans.

From 1870 until 1901, voter disenfranchisement schemes eliminated Black Congressman from office. Schemes such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and voter roll purging of convicted felons were common. In some cases, an “eight box law” was used to confuse voters by forcing voters to place an individual ballot in separate boxes.

As Black voters were disenfranchised the number of Black Congressmen declined. History repeats itself. While literacy tests and poll taxes are uncommon the purging of felons and relocating polling places are used today.

Currently, Congressman Charles Rangel, former Chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters…Sub-Committee Chair on Financial Services Committee are facing rulings from the House Ethics Committee. In the case of Congressman Rangel…

In the 2010 Congressional mid-term elections voters in Congressman Rangel’s district overwhelmingly re-elected the 21-term Congressman, providing a ringing affirmation of Rangel’s approval rating on the ground.

What smells funny in the Rangel case is that no corruption was found and none of the 13 charges were criminal in nature. So far, the ethics committee concluded that Congressman Rangel was essentially sloppy.

Congresswoman Waters is charged with three counts breaking House Rules by setting a meeting with African American banks, one of which her husband was on its Board of Directors. Despite lacking strong evidence of wrong doing, the Ethics Panel investigating the case announced on Friday that Congresswoman Waters’ hearing has been continued until the end of November.

Unlike most Members of Congress facing investigations, earlier in the process, Congresswoman Waters invited the media for a six-hour press conference to answer all questions. The press conference was regarded as a success.

If the Committee fails to conclude either the Rangel or Waters case both cases would be taken up in the 112th Session of Congress under Republican control.

The double standard, which screams today is that Black Members of Congress in overwhelmingly African American districts (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and others) have been investigated with flimsy evidence. On the contrary, White Congressional Representatives facing criminal charges have been treated more fairly.

If America politics is to be great, the double standard for Black Congressional Representatives must end.

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