Friday, December 17, 2010

Meeks on minorities – What else is new?

I recall a moment at a legislative hearing held at the Thompson Center state government building where an adviser testifying on behalf of the position being touted by Illinois House Democrats said that minority-hiring programs are meant to benefit black people.
MEEKS: Redefining minority?

“Hispanics figure into the equation eventually, but they’re really not what it’s about,” he said.

THIS WAS NEARLY 20 years ago, and while I remember the quote and the sentiment, I can’t even remember the adviser’s name. It is one of the many thoughts I have heard expressed in the following years during which I have written about our political people.

Which is why I’m not surprised (or offended) to learn that the Rev./state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, expressed that very thought during a radio appearance this week on WVON-AM, and tried to clarify himself later on WFLD-TV.

I’m aware that some people are deluded (or insecure) enough to think this way. Usually, they have so many hang-ups and problems in their own lives that they’re no real threat to me. And part of the “freedom of expression” that we have in this country means that people have the right to be wrong about things.

As Meeks said of the word “minority” being used by government, “I don’t think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title.”

“WE FOUGHT FOR these laws based on discrimination,” he said while appearing on the one-time Voice of Negroes. “We fought for these laws based on discrimination. Now, groups that have not been discriminated against are the chief beneficiaries.”

Personally, the only part of that statement that offends me is his use of the word “Hispanics” instead of “Latinos,” but that is a point that is open to debate. I’m sure there are Latinos out there who would have no problem with his word choice.

Now before I go on a diatribe against Meeks, I should point out that I see the point that causes him frustration. There are too many people out there who regard the world as “white” people and “other” people and figure that anything they give to “other” ought to be sufficient (some go so far as to view anything given to “other” as something being denied to “white” people).

In fact, when I have heard some black activists complain about corporate executives whose way of dealing with “diversity” is to open their ranks up enough to include white women (white CEOs are now willing to let their daughters be included in their ranks), a part of me realizes there are many instances where they’re correct.

I’M SURE THAT is what Meeks was trying to appeal to when he made his television appearance, and clarified his statement by saying he was concerned mostly about white women being used to comply with hiring set-aside programs and guidelines used by government to ensure that all those hired aren’t solely of the Caucasian persuasion.

It doesn’t really matter. I don’t even think that “damage” has been done to the Meeks campaign. He already was of a type whose sole appeal was to the South Side black population that might enjoy a preacher-man in office.

While I realize that segment is sizable, and just might be enough people for his campaign to finish in second place (and qualify for an April 5 runoff election), he was always a long-shot to get the support of anyone else in this city.

I never even thought he had a shot at the West Side black population, which various polls indicate prefers their Congressman, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., to anyone else. Anybody who doesn’t understand the South Side/West Side rivalry among Chicago’s African-American residents is overlooking significant factor.

ALL THIS WILL do is ensure that a whole bunch of people who were 99 percent unlikely to vote for Meeks are now 99.98 percent unlikely to do so on the Feb. 22 (Election Day).

In one sense though, this kind of attitude does give Meeks a mayoral personality – if one wants to use the mindset of Hizzoner (Richard J. Daley) as an example.

The elder Daley was not viewed as the most sympathetic of officials when it came to civil rights activists. Daley himself often went into a diatribe when confronted by people about the awful conditions many black people were subjected to in this country by saying that if only those people would work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they would be able to get ahead in our society.

He’d even usually throw in a reference to the way the Irish immigrants were treated when they first arrived in this country – claiming Irish-American success was the evidence that his attitude was correct.

MEEKS SEEMS TO think that African-American people would be doing better, if only those Latinos and Asians weren’t taking up the limited slots that some are willing to allocate to “minority” interests.

Such an attitude may very well help him in gaining the solid support of that one segment of our society – many of whom are convinced that having an African-American official as mayor of Chicago is a benefit we should all desire. They’re convinced that it wasn’t just Harold Washington’s body that died back in 1987.

The problem is that Washington ultimately became mayor because he was able to appeal to enough people beyond the city’s African-American population (even the Latinos that Meeks thinks truly aren’t minority) to get the slim voter majorities that won election in 1983 and ’87.

This kind of attitude is going to ensure that Meeks gets no closer to the mayor’s office than did Tim Evans, Bobby Rush, or any of the other African-American candidates who throughout the years challenged Richard M. Daley for the post.


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