Hi again. Regis P. Fluffytail IV here, filling in as the HEMMED In-tern. I’m starting to realize there’s more to this job than I imagined. I mean, I heard about my dad’s research in 21st Century Political Nuttitude. Some days it’s hard to live in the same tree and not hear about his research, especially if he skips a meal. But he gets grumpy a lot and I’ve learned not to pay attention unless I hear my name.
So I don’t know much about racism. I know it’s a big issue for some humans, but like most animals we squirrels don’t worry about how much of which color fur another squirrel has. Still, even I could see race was an issue in this email:
Imagine, not having to pay NJ state income taxes…It must be nice. Imagine getting a court ruling overturned so your name could get put on the ballot. Imagine having dark skin and name recognition and the nerve to think that equalled (sic) knowing something about politics. Sure, knowing someone with fat purse strings is nice, but you have no knowledge.
That email was sent by Jennifer Delaney, the wife of former New Jersey Assemblyman Pat Delany, to the campaign of state senate candidate Carl Lewis.
For the record, Carl Lewis is black. Also for the record, Delany was Lewis’ opponent in the race for a vacant state senate seat. A state judge initially excluded Lewis from the ballot because he has a home in California and voted there in 2009. Lewis appealed, saying he has also kept a home in New Jersey, where he was was a star athlete in high school and whence he went on to worldwide acclaim as an Olympic athlete. The ruling was overturned and Lewis will be on the ballot.
But not against Delany, who has not only dropped out of the state senate race but also resigned his seat in the state assembly. He issued this statement:
I am deeply disappointed in my wife’s decision to send that email to Mr. Lewis’ campaign; it does not reflect my personal beliefs whatsoever. In an attempt to repair the serious damage this has caused to our marriage, and to protect our kids from public humiliation, I decided to leave public life. On behalf of my family, we sincerely apologize to Mr. Lewis for any pain this caused him.
Burlington County Republican Party spokesman Bill Layton called the email “racist” and “inexcusable,” and added:
While it may have been politically expedient to publicly throw Pat under the bus, I believe letting him walk away quietly was the honorable, compassionate thing to do for someone who personally had done nothing wrong. [Still] I was very clear with Pat from the beginning that if he chose to stay on the ballot, the Burlington County Republican Party would have withdrawn our support.
While teenage squirrels aren’t experts on racism, it seemed pretty obvious to me that Mrs. Delany thought Lewis would not be a viable candidate except for his race. It was also obvious to the Burlington County Republican Party. And it was obvious enough to Pat Delany that he chose to resign his office and apologize to Lewis rather than defend his wife’s comments.
But it wasn’t obvious to several readers at NJ.com, the online home of the Newark-based Star-Ledger. As those readers saw it, Mrs. Delany’s invoking Lewis’ race was not “racism.” She was merely “stating a fact.” Instead, those who objected to her invoking Lewis’ race – the Star-Ledger, PolitickerNJ, the Lewis campaign, and even the Burlington County Republican Party – were the real “racists.”
Their comments raise a question: what would be racism, as they see it?
Had she written “I don’t think blacks are qualified to hold public office in New Jersey,” would that be racist? Would she have to use the n-word or some other explicitly racial epithet? Or would it not “real racism” unless she put on a white sheet and threatened Lewis with violence? Is this Nivea ad racist?
I don’t know all the answers, but I don’t think privileged groups should claim an exclusive right to define the boundaries of their privilege. Not surprisingly, they almost always decide their privileges are fine and those who disagree should “just get over it.” That’s how privilege works.