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Politicians of Color Should Not Be Immune from Criticism

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Gregory Meeks%2C official portrait%2C 115th congress.
Gregory Meeks%2C official portrait%2C 115th congress.
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Kristie Boyd, Official House Photographer/U.S. House Office of Photoraphy, Author: Kristie Boyd, Official House Photographer/U.S. House Office of Photoraphy)
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To me, being an anti-racist activist means that one consistently challenges the structures of racist exclusion, exploitation, repression and incarceration

It does not mean that one must defend or praise establishment politicians of color.

Forty years ago, I was an activist and leader in the battle against police racism, brutality and repression in Los Angeles. At the time, L.A. had a black mayor, its first in history: former police officer Tom Bradley. He was a huge improvement over the previous mayor, who was an overt racist - and progressives and liberals of all colors had worked hard to get Bradley elected.

But in the fight against police murder and racism, Mayor Bradley was as much an obstacle as he was an ally. Being on the side of communities of color meant standing shoulder to shoulder with black and Latinx activists, not shoulder to shoulder with the mayor.

In Martin Luther King's last book, written in 1967 a year before he was assassinated, he described how "the white establishment is skilled in flattering and cultivating emerging leaders." Writing about "corruption" of a type of "Negro leader," King declared: "Ultimately he changes from the representative of the Negro to the white man into the white man's representative to the Negro. The tragedy is that too often he does not recognize what has happened to him."

It was a blunt and blistering assessment, written at a time when there were few African American mayors, and a grand total of seven blacks in the U.S. Congress.

Let's be clear: African American politicians have been no more - and usually less - corrupt than white politicians (even though law enforcement has often singled them out for corruption prosecution). It goes without saying that, as a whole, black elected officials have been more progressive than white officials not just on issues of race, but also economics, gender equality, militarism, civil liberties, etc.

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Jeff Cohen was director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he was an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group FAIR.org in 1986.

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