Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Diversity in leadership

I’m catching up on some New York Times articles that’ve been in my browser tabs for too long. One that’s struck me is titled “Quiet Political Shifts as More Blacks Are Elected”. It talks about something that’s really quite intuitive: as we get more African-American leaders in mainstream politics, winning elections as mayors and legislators, it becomes less remarkable to have a black candidate — even in a mostly white community.

Blacks account for less than 1 percent of the population in this small suburban district near the Massachusetts border. But none of that seemed to matter to the people here at an annual fall festival this month.


And next month, Mrs. Levesque is expected to win re-election to her seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, where she represents one of the whitest districts in one of the whitest states in the nation. She is part of a new generation of black elected officials who are wooing white voters and winning local elections in predominantly white districts across the country.

Political analysts say such electoral gains are quietly changing the political landscape, increasing the number of black lawmakers adept at crossing color lines as well as the ranks of white voters who are familiar, and increasingly comfortable, with black political leadership.

Of course, that stands to reason: the more we see things, the more “normal” they become. And that’s the focus we have to take as we work against racism and other prejudice: get people used to having “them” around — whether “they” be black, Latino, gay, female, or whatever — so that it becomes a matter of course that they show up in all parts of our communities. A monochromatic community is a closed one; diversity begets openness and acceptance.

And, lest we think that it’s just in ultra-liberal northeastern states, or crazy places such as California, it’s happening all over:

But over the last 10 years, about 200 black politicians have won positions once held by whites in legislatures and city halls in states like New Hampshire, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee.

In 2007, about 30 percent of the nation’s 622 black state legislators represented predominantly white districts, up from about 16 percent in 2001, according to data collected by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington that has kept statistics on black elected officials for nearly 40 years.

Political scientists and local officials also point to an increase in the number of black mayors who represent predominantly white cities in places like Asheville, N.C., population 74,000, and Columbus, Ohio, population 748,000. According to a study conducted by Zoltan L. Hajnal, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, about 40 percent of Americans have lived in or near cities that have elected black mayors or in states with black governors.

Of course, we’re not there yet, as we can see from the various sexist, racist, and xenophobic things we’ve heard, and we continue to hear, in this year’s political campaigns. The Times article points one thing out, despite the above situations in New Hampshire and elsewhere:

Most black elected officials, however, still represent predominantly black communities. And Dr. Hajnal and other analysts say racial animosity toward black candidates still exists and may affect the results of local and national elections, including the race for president. But he said such feelings were declining.
It’s the decline that makes me feel good about where things are going. As we stand less than two weeks away from the likely election of a black president, and even as I know there’ll be many people in this country who will — who do — hate him just for his race, even as I see lies spread that he’s an Arab, a Muslim, a terrorist (as though those all go hand in hand), I see how far we’ve come even in my 51 years. In the time since Rosa Parks, since Medgar Evers, since Martin Luther King, Jr, we’ve come a long way toward Dr King’s dream.

And even as a white man, I feel very good about that.

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