The event at my university for candidates for DNC Chair has caused a bit of a ruckus after various candidates lashed out at white consultants and white people in answering questions. The George Washington event was aired on C-Span and the most controversial comments came from the executive director of Idaho’s Democratic Party, Sally Boynton Brown. I woke up this morning to find emails from GW students on some of the racially charged comments at the forum. Brown said that white people working with the party had to be taught to “shut their mouths.” Other candidates lashed out at “white consultants” as part of the systemic problem at the DNC. The result is a debate on campus that only highlights the school and our wonderful location in Washington.
I thought that valid points seemed to get lost at points in the rhetoric at the event. Many of the speakers were trying to acknowledge the sense of alarm and hurt felt in some communities, particularly communities of color. However, some responses to the election took on a more lethal element. For example, Raymond Buckley, the chairman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, discussed how even in New Hampshire his black niece literally feared for her life after the election of Donald Trump. Here is the full quote:
BUCKLEY: “We were all grieving and I was shocked that America elected Donald Trump. I could not believe — I got home around 4:00 in the morning. But at 6:00 in the morning I was woken up. I saw that it was my niece Tunisia. What had not even processed I was upset about the results is how she was going to as a young African-American 20-year-old, how she processed what happened the night before and she was sobbing so hard I couldn’t understand at first what she was saying and I kept saying, what is wrong, what is wrong? She goes, Uncle Raymond, you have to get me out of here. She feared for her safety by what happened on Election Day. Now, until all of America understands the fear that is out there, the justified fear because of what we’re seeing happen across the country, to African-American lives, we’re never going to be able to move this country forward. It is important. I never again want to ever get a call from “The Today Show” like that. It was a soul crushing experience for me because when Tunisia was saying get me out of this country because my life is in danger because she had that overwhelming fear. That is something that is not just certain cities. It’s not just certain parts of the country. That fear is all across the country. It’s even in rural new Hampshire. So when people say black lives matter, you are damn right they matter.”
Is it fair to say that election has caused a “justified fear” for the life of a 20-year-old black women living in New Hampshire? I understand that there are legitimate fears from crime and other dangers in our society. Moreover, the election will bring about changes that many have opposed. However, the notion that Tunisia has to leave the country out of fear for her life is thankfully unsupported. I appreciate the passions of Tunisia but it is also important to put this election into a real context and seek real change if you disagree with the election.
I think that we need to appreciate that people of color have watched white supremacists and other intolerant people in this election. There has been harmful racist language on both sides. The result is that some see existential dangers in the outcome of these elections. That is certainly something that we need to address and I think that that was what Buckley was trying to say. However, this was democratic election in a peaceful transition of power. We remain a nation of laws. Those laws protect Tunisia and everyone.
Brown’s comments particularly triggered a debate on the Internet as to why it is permissible to run on the notion that you want to shut white people up. The racially charged message seemed to double down on the identity politics used unsuccessfully in the last election, particularly after Bill Clinton recently said that his wife lost because Trump figured out “how to get angry, white men to vote for him.” The party actually did very well with the African American vote. Trump won among white women and he did better than Romney among Hispanics, Asians, and blacks.
All of the DNC candidates pledged not to work with Trump and some hammered away that the DNC had to reject consultant companies on the basis for the race of their owners. However, it was Brown that went all in on the subject of race:
“We pull people in and they are volunteers. They don’t know anything and then we send them out to have conversations with people, hard conversations. We promote them to chair of a party where they have power and they have no clue what they are doing. We have to, at the DNC, provide training. We have to teach them how to communicate, how to be sensitive and how to shut their mouths if they are white. So I think I made my point.”
Brown denounced white privilege and said that the Democratic party has racist elements that it had to address. She was passionate in her argument that white people need to listen to their black neighbors about their experiences, which is clearly true and helpful. There needs to be far more dialogue in this country on race. However, some of the rhetoric on race and “shutting up” white people has caused an outcry on various sites. In fairness to Brown, the shorter clips posted today made her sound more like a race-baiter when she message was that whites need to listen. However, there were elements that would be viewed as wholly unacceptable if the races were reversed. Here is a long format of the comments.
The event continues to reverberate on campus. I think that we should understand that some of this rhetoric was heated but intended to show the depth of the anger and fear over the election. I do not agree with some of the rhetoric and I do not believe that it is helpful to the DNC. This election showed a serious disconnect with many voters in the country. Part of that may have been the selection of perhaps the worst possible candidate in a largely anti-establishment election. Yet, in calling for a more inclusive party (a clearly good thing) the language was surprisingly divisive at points. If we want greater dialogue between whites and blacks, the conversation should not start on the premise of shutting up one side due to their race.
In the end, I felt the forum on campus was a great addition to our community and its continuing debate over the election. Campuses are places for passionate exchanges and honest viewpoints. This was certainly raw and confrontational at points but it has caused a great discussion among students and faculty about politics, language, and identity. I am glad that we were able to host the event.