The Governor and the Blanket Stereotype
This attitudinal geography lesson is important to keep in mind when we consider that the current governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, created a controversy several weeks ago when he was asked his opinion about the upcoming primary contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. His response was, “You’ve got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African American candidate.” I want to point out that the governor did not throw a stereotype racist blanket over the entire area. He did qualify his statement with the words ‘probably’ and ‘some’, as opposed to saying, “all whites will definitely not vote for an African American candidate.” Yet the criticism he has received makes you believe that that is exactly what he said.
Ironically, the harshest words have come from leaders within the African American community. Rendell’s rival for the governorship in 2006, former football star Lynn Swann, objected to the governor's words because they institutionalize racism. Too late, Mr. Swann; racism has been ingrained into American culture since the first Africans were brought to Jamestown in the 1600s. You should acknowledge, as some African Americans do, that Rendell’s words were correct. Some white voters will not vote for a candidate with a different skin color. Many of these voters could very well be members of a group we call the Ku Klux Klan. I assume that you have heard of this group, Mr. Swann? The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 4 chapters of the Klan – among the 27 other hate groups - operating in this state.*
I’m baffled by this criticism. We encourage our elected officials to be honest with us and yet when they are – as Rendell was in this instance - they get pounced on. It almost appears that his critics have their heads in the sand when it comes to racism. I know this is not the case, but why are they so eager to come across with such a naïve attitude? Could they be conceding the point that racism is a part of human nature that can never be overcome, so we will instead attack the messenger to make it look like we’re doing something about it? I hope this is not the case.
I also don’t believe that the rural Pennsylvania/Alabama connection is 100% true, although there are some events that do make me wonder. For example, the mayor of Hazleton – Lou Barletta – announced his second attempt to unseat House of Representatives member Paul Kanjorski within the last few weeks. The mayor lept upon the national spotlight within the last year with his controversial (and to date struck down as unconstitutional) anti-immigration statute. As many of us may recall, his proposal would have penalized businesses and landlords who knowingly employed or housed illegal immigrants.
The proposal was a disaster for his city that was just beginning to prosper from bad economic times. The local Hispanic community was driven underground, and several businesses that catered to this community went bankrupt. Oh yeah, that will be a winning platform for Barletta: clamp down on the immigrant population and bring on economic destitution for the rest of us.
That was all in Barletta’s past; what concerns me now is his present. At the same event in which he announced his candidacy, Barletta’s campaign manager (who must be part pit bull) lashed out loudly at a Hispanic member of the audience. The manager questioned whether the man was legal and exclaimed that he was not invited to this announcement. In fact, the targeted man was born in this country and served in Vietnam. If this is the tone for Barletta’s campaign, then maybe he should don his white hood now and campaign for votes in a pickup truck. Or better yet, perhaps he should move down to Alabama – with all due apologies to the people of that state - because he is an embarrassment to the rest of us Pennsylvanians.