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Alaska's Blacks and Palin: a Strained Relationship

By by Linn Washington, Jr  Posted by Pierce (about the submitter)     Permalink
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This article previously appeared in Counterpunch.org.

"Palin denies telling black leaders she did not intend to hire blacks in her state."

While many across America consider GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin some kind of phenomenon, many blacks in Alaska see the Governor of their state as a person closing down the open-door inclusive posture of her predecessors.

Alaskan blacks fault Palin for not hiring African-Americans, dismissing blacks from government posts, spurning repeated requests to meet with black leaders to discuss issues of concern and refusing to attend that state's major African-American celebration.

"Where past governors have attended [this celebration] Gov. Palin has refused to attend or even send a staff member. They could have sent a gardener as their representative but they didn't," said Bishop James Thomas, a spokesman for Juneteenth, a state holiday in Alaska since 2001.

Juneteenth, recognizing the freeing of slaves during Civil War, receives celebration nationwide. It holds distinction as the oldest African-American celebration. Twenty-nine states including Alaska recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday or an observance.

"For Gov. Palin to blatantly ignore Juneteenth is a tragedy," said Thomas, pastor of the non-denominational Jesus Holy Temple in Anchorage. "We are not criticizing her because Obama is running for president. If Obama was white, we would still criticize Palin due to our treatment here."

Palin's increasingly rocky relations with Alaska's black community seeped down to the "Lower 48" weeks ago following an internet posting by the President of Alaska's African American Historical Society Gwendolyn Alexander detailing controversies like Juneteenth, Palin's staffing practices and Palin allegedly stating she "doesn't have to hire any blacks" for major projects. Palin denies telling black leaders she did not intend to hire blacks in her state where African-Americans comprise 4% of the population.

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"If Obama was white, we would still criticize Palin due to our treatment here."

Palin, through spokespersons, defends her staffing record citing that top aides and advisors include a Filipino, a Korean and a person of mixed African-American ancestry.

Given Palin's penchant for hiring friends with no apparent qualifications for their high salaried government posts, the refrain of not being able to find "qualified minorities" appears irrelevant. One frequently cited Palin appointment is her elevation of a high school classmate to the $95,000 a year post heading the State Division of Agriculture which Palin defended based on this real estate agent's childhood love of cows.

Alaskan blogger Amy Jones stated in a post that she "tired to get specific information from the governor's office, but no one could verify what minority representation there might be among Palin's appointees on boards and commissions or how often she met with community organizations..."

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo B. Patterson chuckles at Palin's claims of being color-blind, saying she's "not sensitive to [having] African-Americans in her administration."

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Patterson, who's worked closely with previous governors plus mayors and other elected officials during his 45-years in Alaska, feels Palin has "totally departed from the past practices" of previous Alaska governors.

"Past administrations have had black administrative assistants to the Governor, state Commissioners and department leaders," said Patterson, who served as chair of Alaska's Board of Paroles for 13-years.

Patterson heads the American Baptist Churches of Alaska and that state's Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation. Earlier this year, Patterson participated in a meeting of black leaders with Palin. This meeting followed months of requests to Palin for a meeting.

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