Race Baiting

Is race the most important issue confronting the city of Chicago? Reading today's edition of the Sun-Times, you might think it is. Mayor Daley, armed ...
by | September 13, 2006
 

Is race the most important issue confronting the city of Chicago? Reading today's edition of the Sun-Times, you might think it is.

Mayor Daley, armed with the votes to sustain his veto of an anti-Wal-Mart bill, claims opponents of  big box stores were motivated by race. "It was all right for the North and Southwest sides to get big boxes before this," the mayor said at a rally at a proposed Target store site. "No one said anything. All the sudden, when we talk about economic development in the black community, there's something wrong."

Meanwhile, supporters of Todd Stroger, an African American candidate for president of the Board of Alderman, are taking issue with a Web site that likens him to the nerdy TV character Urkel. One Stroger supporter said his white opponent is "playing the race card with coded language, like saying Todd Stroger is not qualified."

I wouldn't want to be compared to Urkel, although I've been compared to worse. And only a fool or a liar would deny the continuing saliency of race to politics and practically every other intersection of public life. Who can forget the blatant racial appeals of the 1983 mayoral campaign in Chicago, when opponents of Harold Washington sang "Bye Bye Blackbird" and wore campaign buttons that pictured a crossed-out watermelon?

I suspect the Stroger camp's instincts that belittlement is a proxy for race are correct. Yet I have sympathy for his opponent's spokesman, who calls the invocation of racism "the last refuge of a desperate campaign." There are indeed times when I wonder whether public complaints about racism haven't devolved, in many cases, into a cheap trick for politicians, an easy way to get attention from the media.

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