Does It Matter If You're Black or White?

Does It Matter If You’re Black or White?

Michael Jackson didn’t think it mattered but when it comes to the ballot box, voters do. The question is, should it?

As the August 7 primary creeps near, here’s some bad news for Congressman Hansen Clarke: Yesterday, the Black Slate, a grassroots organization-turned-PAC that was founded in 1973 to make sure black voters are educated on which candidates are best qualified for the community, endorsed congressman Gary Peters over Clarke despite that fact that, well, Peters isn’t white and Clarke identifies himself as a black man. So what just happened?

It’s the first time the Black Slate has endorsed a white candidate running for a seat in the U.S. House. As much as we try to avoid this, in a region as segregated and steeped in racial tension as Metro Detroit, yes.

Should it matter? No. Let the most qualified candidate win. Politics without racial consideration would be a beautiful thing. And while it’s not the 60’s anymore, the way votes are divided along racial lines, it’s clear we have a long way to go before people take race out of the equation at he ballot box.

Still, it’s decisions like the Black Slate’s to back Peters that gives hope to a new kind of politics. A kind inspired by President Barack Obama’s election almost four years ago where a black man can get the white vote, and a white man can get the black vote; A country where we truly judge candidates by their political history across the board and not the color of one’s skin.

That’s what the Black Slate has done with the Peters endorsement.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

“Ron Hewitt, the coordinator for the Black Slate, said race wasn’t an issue in the selection. He said Peters ‘voted with President (Barack) Obama more than any other candidate in this race; helped to pass the historic healthcare legislation; and was a leader in saving the automotive industry from collapsing.’

‘[Peters] record was more in keeping with what we were looking for,” Hewitt said…'”


Now that the 14th congressional district has been re-drawn into strangely shaped and sprawling space spanning over of white suburban communities as well as black urban ones, the vote along racial lines could really make the difference. How important is it that we have a black representative in Washington? 

Writer Jack Lessenberry put it this way in a February article in Hour magazine:

“The 13th and 14th districts theoretically should elect black congressmen. Michigan has had two African-Americans in congress since [John] Conyers was first elected in 1964…”

This raised a question in my mind that I’m still struggling to answer: When we forget about race are we also forgetting the recent past or are we taking the struggles of the past and turning them into the future Martin Luther King dreamed of?

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