Wyatt Emmerich: Race-based politics carries the day in Jackson mayoral election

May 25, 2013 9:12:48 PM

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The election of Chokwe Lumumba as the Democratic nominee for Jackson mayor has got everybody talking about race. That's not a good thing. 

 

If I'm not mistaken, white Republican northeast Jackson voted overwhelmingly for the blacker of the two candidates. So exactly how can this be about race? 

 

Northeast Jackson voters don't like Lumumba because he is clearly on the left side of the political spectrum. He constantly uses buzz words like "liberation" and "free the land." Ironically, those words are a lot like popular right wing words such as "liberty" and "freedom." 

 

The difference is that Lumumba wants liberation from the capitalist system and conservatives want liberty from government regulation. Big difference. 

 

Politics is politics and we will grant Lumumba his campaign cliches without ill will. Let's hope he knows the difference between rhetoric and reality. 

 

Jonathan Lee is a bright young man with a business degree who ran an excellent campaign and made a great showing for a newcomer. He was defeated by an older, more experienced Jackson political veteran. This should not be a big surprise. 

 

Simply possessing a master's in business administration is a liability in a city as Democratic as Jackson. Nevertheless, Lee miraculously won 34 percent of the primary vote. 

 

Lee did a good job of not being pegged as the darling of Republican Ward 1 up until the primary. Unfortunately for Lee, you can't deny the primary results. They are there for everyone to see. Lee's huge popularity among Republicans gave Lumumba the opportunity to peg him as a Republican in Democratic clothing. 

 

When Bennie Thompson stepped in on the side of Lumumba, the writing was on the wall. Like Lumumba, Thompson is a veteran civil rights leader. They are natural allies. Their political base comes from battling the white establishment on behalf of the oppressed black people. Young Lee, with his unifying politics, threatens the old political order that gives Thompson and Lumumba power. Lee had to be stopped and stop him they did. 

 

This election was really a victory of the old Mississippi Democratic order over the newer order. The older order is more about conflict. The newer order is more about reconciliation. 

 

For those of us who have preached reconciliation and togetherness, the campaign was an embarrassing setback. But we won't give up hope. Time marches on. The old battle-scarred civil rights leaders will eventually be replaced by young people like Lee who have a perspective not so directly shaped by the events of our sordid past. 

 

These civil rights crusaders have earned their day in the sun. Is it surprising that these aging leaders have a large measure of support in the communities they represent? They fought the good fight and battled for their people. 

 

What is truly amazing is that Lee came within four percentage points of winning. Indeed, northeast Jackson turnout was a weak 47 percent. If the turnout had been 67 percent in Ward 1, Lee would have won. 

 

After the election, Lumumba was quoted as saying race was "used as a weapon to muster up troops" against his candidacy. 

 

That would be the pot calling the kettle black. Lumumba really has no cause to complain about race baiting when he has advocated the creation of a separate black nation called "Kush." The proposed nation would start in Memphis and run down to Natchez, incorporating most of the Mississippi Delta. 

 

Kush, by the way, is slang for marijuana, which given its popularity may have helped win a few votes. 

 

Politics makes strange bedfellows. Lumumba would find quite a few allies among the hard-core racists who would be quite happy to help Lumumba achieve his dream of a separate black nation. 

 

But for most of us in Mississippi, we still dream of a state where the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes. It is the classic American dream of a melting pot nation where our strength draws from our diversity. That is the destiny of America and no amount of race baiting will prevent it. 

 

Let's respect the democratic process and give Lumumba the benefit of the doubt. He has a mountain of challenges ahead of him as mayor. It will be hard enough for him as it is. 

 

And please, let's not turn what is an ideological battle into a racial battle. There's plenty enough to debate on the ideas alone.