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October 2009
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For some in Cook County, color of skin is more important than content of character

Black ministersLast week, more than 250 African-American ministers met to endorse a black candidate for Cook County Board President. The meeting’s purpose was to agree upon a black candidate to endorse for the February 2, 2010, primary election. There are four black candidates in the democratic primary: Board President Todd Stroger, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, U.S. Representative Danny Davis, and Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle. Metropolitan Reclamation District President Terrance O’Brien is also in the primary race.

The African American ministers came together because they fear a repeat of 1989 when the city’s African-American vote was split in the mayoral election, giving then-State’s Attorney Richard Daley the win.

The Chicago Tribune’s Hal Dardick spoke with Albert D. Tyson, III, the senior pastor at St. Stephen AME Church, who said: “We can dilute our strength if we do not come together and vote as a block.” In deciding on the best candidate, Pastor Tyson said: “This is not about person. This is not about personality. This is about who’s best going to service us and who has the best possible chances of being elected against the forces of evil.”

Where to begin?

First, imagine what would have happened if in November 2007 white ministers nationwide came together and said they had to choose between Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and John Edwards in the democratic presidential primary because whites could “dilute our strength if we do not come together and vote as a block.” Those comments would be inflammatory enough, but had a white minister added that the necessity of deciding between the white candidates was “about who’s best going to service us and who has the best possible chances of being elected against the forces of evil” we would be on the verge of a race riot.

Appropriately, the African American community– and a large segment of America– would have been enraged. I bet Pastor Tyson would call such a meeting of white ministers reprehensible and racist and more evidence of why African Americans can’t get a fair shake in America. And I would agree with him.

Had such a meeting occurred, Pastor Tyson would invoke the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said:

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Forty years to the day after Martin Luther King uttered those immortal words, then-Senator Barack Obama accepted the democratic party’s nomination for President of the United States. Had white ministers come together the way Pastor Tyson and his brethren did last week, Barack Obama would not have been inaugurated President in January 2009.

Just as it is inappropriate for white ministers to tell their flock a white candidate is the best candidate for any elected office, it is inappropriate for African-American ministers to do the same. So why have we heard nothing about this meeting other than buried on page 10 of the Chicago Tribune?

I voted for Barack Obama because I thought he was the best candidate. That is why Barack Obama won the presidency, because the majority of people in the United States (which is only 12% black) thought that the African American candidate not only was the best choice, but best represented their interests. Asians, Latinos, blacks, whites all felt this way about the Barack Obama and they all gave him their votes.

What if Mr. O’Brien is the best candidate? What about the candidate being African American makes him or her the best candidate? The last time I checked Cook County, white people actually live here too. I live in Cook County and my neighbor is white. Quelle surprise! And the family next door is Asian. There are also Latino families on my block and I presume in other places in Cook County. I seen a lot of men and women of middle eastern descent as well. The President of the Cook County Board will have to represent everyone, not just the African American community.

I find it shameful that religious leaders would tell their flock to vote for a specific person because of the color of their skin. If I heard that a white pastor was telling his or her flock to vote for Hillary Clinton because she was white I would be offended. I would be especially offended when I heard that the church leader to vote for Hillary because she had the “best possible chances of being elected against the forces of evil.” In that context, evil would mean Barack Obama. In the context of Pastor Tyson, “evil” means Terrance O’Brien (white guy).

I find that especially disconcerting coming from church leaders. Although I do not read the Bible daily, my understanding of it tells me that Jesus is not going to accept or reject people at the gates of heaven because of race. I hope that Jesus does reject someone, white or black, who rejects people because of race. I hope there is a special place (not in heaven) for those who claim to have given their life to Christ and lead others in the quest of being better Christians who would accept some and reject others because of race. Didn’t Jesus teach us to love everyone? I don’t recall where that love was qualified to just all black people. Maybe I missed the part where Jesus said white people were “the forces of evil.”

 As I sit here, I do not know who is the best candidate. I have no opinion on Terrance O’Brien. All I know about him is that he is the President of the Metropolitan Reclamation District and white. I have no opinion on Alderman Preckwinkle, other than she is an alderman, which I have generally found to be rubber stamps for the Daley Administration. I have a positive opinion on Dorothy Brown and what she’s done as the Clerk of the Circuit Court. I have a generally good opinion on Congressman Danny Davis; although he has been wishy-washy on which post he is ultimately running for– President of the County Board or reelection for Congressman. 

Although I do not know who the best candidate is, I do know that race does not play a factor in my opinion of who is the best candidate. Unfortunately, far more people listen to Albert D. Tyson III than listen to me.

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