A few days back, my old friend and former Detroit News colleague Bill Johnson took to the paper’s editorial pages to sound the alarm over a “malevolent undercurrent” of racial wariness coursing through the city’s mayoral campaign.
Johnson, a hard-right black conservative, accused some African-American political players of promoting candidate Benny Napoleon out of fear that the election of Mike Duggan, a white man, would essentially kill black political power in Detroit.
The most interesting (and perhaps frightening) aspect of Johnson’s piece, isn’t that he necessarily dismisses the premise as political paranoia or unrealistic fear. In fact, he doesn’t really bother to argue against the suggestion that a Duggan election symbolizes lost political ground.
Instead, it seems Johnson just wants an entire community of black voters, leaders and activists to shut up and take it — to simply “live with” the notion that they could indeed see a rollback of the political progress Detroiters have fought for since the turn of the 19th century.
Bill’s right when he talks about racially charged undercurrents in this mayor’s race — but he fails to identify a second, equally insidious insinuation: The one that says that blacks have had their day as political leaders in Detroit, have failed and now need to return control to white people for the good of us all.
How else, after all, are you supposed to convince a people who’ve fought and died for the vote to accept foolishness like “self-disenfrachisement” unless you can con them into believing that their struggles never really amounted to much any way; unless you can convince them that giving up political power to folks who never truly lost it in the first place is the essence of “accountability;” unless you can make them believe they failed?
Duggan may indeed be fighting against the one undercurrent. But it’s that second one that, to whatever degree, has surely helped move him forward — and that has some wondering whether black political leadership might one day be washed away.