I’m not one to always make a big deal out of political speeches, because most of the time the remarks that some of our politicians offer at public events and ceremonies are designed just for optics and nothing else. Few are followed through and only a handful of them will come back to ensure that their words match their deeds.
Let me be clear, political speeches are important. They speak to the ethos, character, mind, vision, judgment and belief of a political leader. And the art of a political speech lies in the ability to demonstrate clearly one’s understanding of a problem and willingness to discuss and find rational solutions to the challenging problem. It also lends itself to acknowledging what may be unpopular but is true in our present dispensation and how to utilize that for the greater good.
Lately I’ve found myself zeroing in on the speeches of our area political leaders, like the one that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan gave Tuesday night (State of the City Address) and the other that Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson delivered last week, his State of the County Address.
In the case of Mayor Duggan, I was glad to see that his speech touched on crucial issues Detroiters are concerned about, some of which I raised in my column, “Mr. Mayor: Alternative State of the City Address,” last week.
However, with Patterson’s speech it was a different presentation, and one that could be best capped as “Oakland County Gloriana.”
While he rightfully exalted Oakland County as a place with little or no political troubles (because its revenues are in order), I had to take a pause.
I scanned the entire speech he gave about the State of Oakland County, and not once did he talk or exalt a fundamental political, economic and moral truth in the county, and that is racial diversity.
The only exception in his speech was a paragraph where he talked about the African American infant mortality rate and what needs to be done to combat that health crisis in the county. That’s the only time the county executive came close to touching on anything that bears semblance to racial diversity.
Why should anyone care about what Patterson says in his State of the Oakland County Address?
Why should anyone care that I even took time to pen this observation?
Because Southeast Michigan is increasingly becoming racially diverse, and Oakland County accounts for a very significant number of African Americans (most of whom moved from Detroit) as well as other racial groups. For example almost half of Southfield’s population is African American.
Thus, it is time that leaders leading this region begin to acknowledge and enhance the kind of growth we are seeing in the racially demographic makeup of Oakland County. That begins by acknowledging the contributions of these taxpayers and residents of Oakland County who through their own sweat and blood are contributing immensely to the advancement of the county.
In doing so they are indirectly helping the region of Southeast Michigan because Oakland, by virtue of its economic resources, is the anchor county in Michigan. Their contributions cannot be minimized and neither should their role be just a footnote in the history books.
It is important for a political leader like Patterson, who carries a lot of sway in this region, to have acknowledged and discussed the vitality of a growing racially diverse population in Oakland County during his once-a-year speech where he talks about the welfare of the county.
Whether some people like it or not, multiracial diversity is here to stay. The last Census report gave us an introduction into the kind of America that awaits us and why it is important for this region to begin to reposition itself toward that kind of awakening.
According to the Census, out of Oakland County’s 1.2 million population, 14 percent are African Americans, 6.3 percent are Asians and Hispanics are at 3.7 percent. Whites who are the majority are at 76.9 percent. Given that Oakland County, which traditionally has been a Republican base, is gradually tilting to the Democratic column, these numbers depicting an emerging minority stronghold can swing an election depending on the political leanings of the various minority groups.
These are numbers that Brooks nor anyone in Oakland County can ignore because they are relevant to the socioeconomic and political wellbeing of the region. They are integral to the lifeblood of the county.
Accepting racial diversity and working to enhance it because it makes economic sense is not a philosophical treatise that can easily be a victim of partisan politics. It is to a large extent a pragmatic view of human diversity and the need to cultivate policies and visions that encourage multiracial diversity, but also to ensure that the contributions of those minority groups are well documented, not only in the public record but also in the speeches that our political leaders give.
This is the reason why I had an issue with the “Oakland County Gloriana” speech that Patterson gave that failed to embrace or articulate the demographic direction of the county.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for a speech on race. The NAACP is there to do that.
I am not requesting a treatise on individual rights. The ACLU is there for that.
I am simply saying that it is time that political leaders like Patterson and others of his ilk begin to determine the possibilities and opportunities that are buried in the idea of publicly recognizing and encouraging racial diversity. Failure to do so consciously or subconsciously perpetuates the history of unequal conditions. It sends the wrong message to the various minority communities in Oakland County that their efforts are not important enough to merit significant attention from the county’s top leader.
Too often the conversation around racial diversity begins and ends on the periphery because the deeper the conversation the more uncomfortable it becomes. If this region is serious about any kind of meaningful work towards racial diversity, there must be a paradigm shift. That shift begins with the people at the top who by the stroke of a pen can make life better or worse for the people they are claiming to serve.
I am not asking much of Patterson. I am simply submitting to the idea that guided Susan B. Anthony when she said, “It was we, the people; not we, the White male citizens; not yet we, the male citizens; but we the whole people who formed the Union.” And I might add, it is now a multiracial Union.