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Chapter Eleven

 

The Racial Aspect

 

Race was the most sensitive part of New Dignity Party and of my campaign for mayor. It is an issue that has come to mean something to me ever since the Star Tribune newspaper rejected my proposed advertisement during the 2002 Independence Party primary for U.S. Senate because it contained the words “dignity for white males”. When the Roman Catholic archbishop came to north Minneapolis in 2003 to condemn “white racism”, I spoke out against that initiative and afterwards carried on a brief correspondence with the archbishop.

Again, in 2006 when Chris Stewart (a candidate for Minneapolis school board) was linked to a website ridiculing Independence Party Congressional candidate Tammy Lee for her gender and race and for the supposed racism of her supporters, I organized a discussion of race at a public library. I took one side of the question and Stewart took the other; we had a civil and thoughtful exchange of views. Most people in the audience hung back from the discussion not wanting to say anything on the subject. Something was not right.

These two experiences and others expose a paradox in the reporting of disfavored political opinion. Those who would affect public opinion need media attention to get their message out to large numbers of people. If one expresses a moderate or reasonable point of view, the media will not report it. In the case of the exchange involving the Roman Catholic archbishop, a reporter from the Star Tribune was present at the event in north Minneapolis and even asked for the correct spelling of my name, but no mention was made of any dissenting views in the story that followed. Again, reporters from three newspapers attended the event with Chris Stewart but there were no stories in any of these media about our exchange of racial views. Maybe mutual reasonableness was not exciting enough.

On the other hand, controversies involving race do receive prominent press coverage when the person expressing sympathy for the white race (or antagonism toward racial minorities) does something lurid and extreme. I could attract front-page coverage in the Star Tribune and be on all the local television news programs if I burned a cross in the front yard of a black family. In early October, four white racists belonging to the National Socialist Movement announced that they would be protesting an anti-racist workshop at the YWCA in Minneapolis. Dozens of anti-racists, in turn, protested their their appearance. That event was prominently reported in the news media.

The paradox is that, to get press coverage, which is the oxygen of public discourse, you need to do something considered disgraceful, ridiculous, or otherwise worthy of scorn. Being an honest and articulate proponent of a politically unpopular view won’t cut it in this environment. The big media are into demonization of persons holding certain views. Those who would support white people by associating themselves with Nazis - a symbol of death and destruction - merely reinforce the idea that the cause of white dignity is latent with violence and hate.

The lesser of two evils - being ignored by the media rather than succumbing to ridiculous behavior - is to keep plugging away with one’s own sincerely held views, trying to bring reason and good will rather than hate into the discussion.

the "religion" of political correctness

I see myself as a person in the camp of reason and good will. My “racial” arguments have to do with opposition to the current hate-laden approach to race relations rather than with criticism of black people. I am willing to say in public that the prevailing consensus of opinion - sometimes called “political correctness” - has poisoned our public discourse but nobody will join me. Although I suspect that many whites dislike this state of affairs as much as I, few dare express himself on the subject, not in public at least.

What I have disliked the most was that a system of compulsory moral belief - a “religion”, if you will - was being imposed on the American people. We were no longer free. Big commercial entities such as the Star Tribune were forcing people to think in a certain way. People with incorrect opinions - “heretics”, one might call them - were being publicly reviled. Such people were apt to lose their jobs. And why? Because race-based slavery existed in America 140 years ago? Because a segregationist system existed in the southern states 50 years ago? And white Minnesotans were supposed to be ashamed of themselves now because of that history? How absurd that such a situation should keep us in mental captivity!

Americans call their nation “the land of the free and home of the brave.” Political correctness was making a mockery of that claim. We were a nation of moral cowards on race, even as Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, claimed. No, the race problem had not gone away but had simply gone underground. White people intimidated by the “racist” charge clammed up whenever race was discussed.

The solution was obviously that an open discussion take place - not one of those phony discussions steered to a particular conclusion but a real discussion that included several sincere points of view. Such a discussion, I thought, might take place in the context of a political campaign. Since no one else would initiate this kind of discussion, I thought I would.

President Obama

The election of Barack Obama as President has helped bring the issue to a head. Many whites see Obama as a black man symbolizing a takeover of this country by racial and ethnic minorities. In fact, he is a racially mixed person whom some race zealots termed “inadequately black” when he first ran for office because he was not descended from slaves.

Obama staked out a new position on racial politics at the 2004 Democratic National Convention when he proclaimed that “there was neither a black nation nor a white nation but one nation called the United States of America.” This message has not yet sunk in and, for the sake of expedience, Obama himself has sometimes slipped back into the Civil Rights mode of politics. However, he has given racially trapped Americans a way out.

The real question now is where white Americans go. Many whites vote Republican because they detest the Democrats and their coalition of “minorities”. They call their adversary “socialist” pretending that a racial basis for their complaint does not exist. “I am not a racist,” is the standard response. However, racial differences have been at the core of American politics at least since the 1960s when Martin Luther King embraced the Democrats and the erstwhile “solid south” went Republican.

My contention is that white Americans have every right to be angry at how this issue has been spun at their expense. Instead of being silent or passive-aggressive about it, redemption will come to whites when they dare speak their minds. Obama has done his part. Now it’s important for white people to take the initiative and declare, in a positive sense, who they are. Yes, white people, too, have a right to be proud of themselves, both individually and as a group.

American Renaissance magazine

Since 2001, I have subscribed to a monthly publication called “American Renaissance” which publishes articles on race that would not be seen elsewhere. A frequent theme of its articles is that black people and other minorities have engaged in numerous criminal acts or score lower than whites on intelligence tests, or that American society is saddled with a dishonest and destructive embrace of one-sided racial doctrines.

I would consider this a “racist” publication inasmuch as its editors and writers suggest that white people are superior to blacks in many respects. However, I also continue to subscribe because I think the points made in these articles are true so far as I know and also because the editors exhibit courage and intellectual integrity in putting out such a publication. It is an oasis of fresh thinking in a desert of politically correct opinion.

The problem I have with its point of view is what to do about the problems that are raised. Assuming that blacks are genetically inferior to whites, would society be improved by killing off the blacks or sending them back to Africa? Should a separate white nation be established? That obviously will not and should not happen. Being a multiracial society, we Americans need to learn to live together in reasonable harmony.

At the same time, I do agree that white people need to stand up for themselves. One can give the word “white” a positive spin without being thought to have Ku Klux Klan or Nazi inclinations. The prerequisite for racial redemption is courage. A bit more honesty would also help.

As previously mentioned, I spent a month or two in early 2009 producing a book-length manuscript, “My American Identity”, that discussed race and related matters. My first thought, of course, was to get it published. Having lately lost money on my rental-property business, I did not feel justified in self-publishing the book. This kind of book would not be reviewed, at least not sympathetically, by any U.S. newspaper book reviewer. Possibly the American Renaissance and its network of supporters might help with publicity, but my point of view was different than theirs. Since I was dealing here with political opinions, why not present those ideas in the context of partisan politics? I was not unfamiliar with the terrain.

my own situation

The irony of being a white man bearing the white man’s new burden was that, personally, I have been living in a largely black world for the past fifteen years. I am a landlord whose tenants have been predominantly black. My closest friend and helper in this period of my life has been a black man, Alan Morrison; I was once married to his sister. (Note - After being divorced for several years, we have remarried.) Being an inner-city landlord, I cannot afford to put black people on a pedestal and tolerate any and all kinds of destructive behavior from them so as not to seem “racist”. Only white newspaper reporters and university professors who live in nice, largely white neighborhoods have that luxury.

My particular neighborhood in Minneapolis, Harrison, prides itself on being racially mixed. Literature of its neighborhood association often points out that Harrison is “38% African-American, nearly 30% Southeast Asian, and just over 20% of people of European descent.” Its “mission statement” declares: “Many of us now believe that poverty is the number one issue facing Harrison neighborhood, but Racism is the number one issue keeping us from building the social capital necessary to lift our community out of poverty. In north Minneapolis, a well-organized community with an anti-racist analysis is the prerequisite for any poverty reduction efforts.” The big foundations love this kind of statement and pour large sums of money each year into Harrison Neighborhood Association to support staff salaries.

As a white person, however, I sometimes feel like the “invisible man”. At first, I objected to the theme of anti-racist workshops sponsored by the neighborhood association but gradually grew tired of arguing and kept my mouth closed on the subject. (See narrative of one such experience.) At first, in 1995, the neighborhood association tried to close down my landlord business. Now, as a member of the board, people tolerate me and may even occasionally like me because I offer criticisms without being argumentative and I avoid mentioning race. The same attitude permeates the entire city of Minneapolis. What could I do as an individual to change the situation?

Well, I could try to get elected mayor. The city elections were coming up with their low filing fees for candidates. I could found a new political party that would address race issues and take my case to the voters. New Dignity Party was the result.

Race Peace workshop

To prepare myself for the coming discussion, I decided to attend a race workshop at a house on Stevens Avenue in south Minneapolis in the morning of Wednesday, July 1st. The event was titled “Race Peace”. It was not, said a notice, an attempt to “to offer a solution to racism. Rather, they are offering ways of exploring racism through artistic creation and dialogue ... At each of their workshops, Race Peace uses art-making as a tool for renewing conversations about race.” This was a collaborative effort involving several local arts organizations, led by two young African American men from Mississippi, Maurice and Carlton. The event would be videotaped and the tapes assembled to create a larger taped discussion.

The most interesting part was an exercise in racial self-perceptions. Participants were asked to stand at various positions between two poles. One pole represented white identity, and the other black identity. Who are you now? Most of the white participants (a majority) stood next to the white pole; a few stood closer to the black pole. Now we were asked to shift our positions to represent who we saw ourselves becoming or who we would like to be. The whites now moved toward the black pole to varying degrees. I alone remained standing in my original position. I was asked to explain my decision. I said something to the effect that I was a white man and saw no reason to be ashamed of it. The two presenters accepted that explanation with good cheer. I think some of the others were dismayed.

Another exercise asked us each to tell stories of how we became aware of our own racial identities. I forget what story I told; it was accepted without comment. However, I became aware of a subtle hostility toward me by two white women in the group who I think were facilitators of race conversations locally. Trying to make small talk, I told one of them that Al Franken would be making a statement in front of the State Capitol that day at noon as Minnesota’s newly certified U.S. Senator. (The certification process had taken eight months.) The woman responded sourly: “I don’t care about that.” In a similar situation, another woman told me that it was inappropriate to talk with her then because we were still doing the exercise. I never sensed any hostility from the two workshop leaders, though. As race workshops went, this one was rather mild.

I knew, however, that if I made an issue of race in the election, it would focus a certain negative attention on me and on whoever might be supporting me. On July 20th, I therefore wrote a letter to the state chairman of Minnesota’s Independence Party, Jack Uldrich, informing him that I was resigning membership in the Independence Party for personal reasons, not because I was dissatisfied with the party or with him as its chair. (I had been the party’s candidate for U.S. Congress in the Fifth District last year.) Talking about race was strictly my idea and I did not want the Independence Party to assume any of that baggage.

Curiously, the Independence Party web site continued to feature me on its home page making a video statement in support of that party long after I had resigned from the party and become a candidate for mayor under the auspices of my own New Dignity Party. It was made in June 2008 before I ran for Congress. There was no animosity between me and the IP people, just a change in plans.

The Independence Party organization in the Fifth District, led by Peter Tharaldson, held a picnic and mini-convention the same evening to endorse candidates for local offices in the Minneapolis election. It was held in a small pavilion in a park just west of Lake Harriet. At least six candidates were seeking IP endorsement for City Council including Michael Katch, the 7th ward candidate who was scheduled to appear on MPRAC cable-television show in August.

Papa John Kolstad, who had attended our meetings in the past, was running for mayor and seeking the Independence Party’s endorsement. Although also a mayoral candidate by that time, I told Kolstad at the IP gathering that I would vote for him. Kolstad’s name was put in nomination. Someone told Tharaldson that I, too, was running for mayor. He was surprised to learn that. Was there a contest? I then announced to the group: “I am not seeking your endorsement.” Kolstad won the IP nomination by acclamation. Afterwards, I was asked to come up in front to be photographed with the entire group of candidates. There was also a chance to talk with some of these candidates informally.

For a time, in late July and early August, there was little visible evidence of a campaign. Mainly I worked on the party website and distributed a few pieces of the half-sheet literature. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Star Tribune commenting on the controversy involving officer James Crowley and professor Henry Louis Gates, but it was not published. Neither was one written to the editor of City Pages about Council Member Diane Hofstede wanting to deny licenses to Class B bars to host comedy acts if the jokes offended certain groups of people.

I also wrote a letter to the editor of American Renaissance that was published. That publication had included an article that raised the question of what supporters of American Renaissance’s position should call themselves. If “racist” was unacceptable, what was? I wrote: “The question of “what to call ourselves” is a good one. May I suggest using a new term: white dignitist... We want dignity for white people as well as for members of other races. The invented word, “dignitist” would suggest that the person is a proponent of dignity for someone - in this case, for white people.“

Imagine my surprise when I received a letter in the mail addressed to “Bill McGaughey, dignitist” from a man in Wisconsin, Ted Odell, whom I have known on and off for twenty years. Evidently, he was also a subscriber to American Renaissance and had learned in this way I was a mayoral candidate in Minneapolis. He enclosed a $50 check as a contribution to the New Dignity Party campaign.

Later in August, I turned my attention to designing and ordering lawn signs. Then I went to China for ten days to visit my wife. Upon returning home, I was sick in bed for several days with the flu but then managed to install the lawn signs that had arrived without much delay. Then came the “celebration” at the site of Uncle Bill’s Food Market on September 19th. As always, I needed to answer my critics on the Minneapolis e-democracy discussion list. Financial reports needed to be filed on a timely basis with the Hennepin County elections department. In short, I was often spinning my wheels.

a taped discussion of race

The issue of race seemed always to be sidelined. It did not fit into a local political campaign. Debate moderators did not raise the subject; it was not included in candidate questionnaires. I had to find a way to remain true to my principles without offending others.

An opportunity arose when I received a letter in early August from the executive director of the Minneapolis Television Network, Pam Colby, offering political candidates a chance to produce and air a campaign video for cable television. MTN reached 74,000 households in Minneapolis. Candidates could either have a short announcement for free or, for $150, MTN staff would help candidates produce a 28-minute show of professional quality. Thinking it over, I decided that the Full Monty was the way to go. It was a bargain to have such a program air on MTN specifically geared to our campaign.

In preparation for the show, I produced some placards as visual props using computer-generated lettering. A large sign that read “New Dignity Party” and gave the address of the website in smaller lettering in the space below would be placed behind the participants. Another sign to the side would list the three principles of New Dignity Party. Then we would bring in a few of our blue lawn signs to tie this event to what viewers might have seen out in the neighborhoods.

I mulled over the type of show we would have in the following weeks. This would be a good opportunity to focus on the race question. I thought of having a racially mixed group discuss the issue with me, perhaps even including my Chinese-born wife, but then decided to limit the participants to myself and one other person, an African American man named Ed Eubanks.

I had known Ed Eubanks for almost twenty years. He had been an apartment-complex manager, a property manager for a non-profit housing organization, a Minneapolis community leader, and a tenant in my building before moving to St. Paul to be closer to his children. Ed and I liked to talk politics, including race.

Ed had been a student activist at the University of Minnesota in the turbulent years of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s but had become more conservative while having to deal with neighborhood crime. He could see the race question from both sides. He had developed opinions on this subject and would be a good person with whom to have a “real” discussion of race. We could be civil and yet have differences of opinion or perspective that would make for an interesting discussion. Ed agreed to participate.

The date was set for Wednesday, September 30th. We should be at the studio by 3:30 p.m. Unfortunately, I was confused as to the location, thinking that the MTN studio was off Hennepin Avenue rather than Central. Ed stayed with the signs in what we thought was a nearby entry way while I parked the car. On the way back, I found the studio but not Ed and the signs. Eventually I realized my mistake. In my best campaign suit, I raced between the studio and where I had left Ed, who, by this time, made his own way to the studio on foot carrying the signs. Well, we were a few minutes late but the crew was forgiving. Once the props were in place, the show began.

I had the idea of a hokey beginning to liven things up. Like a carnival pitchman or a slick salesman in an infomercial, I would perform the following routine: First the camera would focus for five seconds or so on the blue campaign sign that read “I want my dignity and I want it now!” Then the camera would shift to me. Standing up like a carnival barker (the type once satirized by Johnny Carson), I would say: “I found my dignity in political activities - and you can, too!” I would poke my finger in the air for emphasis. Then, being the charming salesman, I would say: “Hi! I’m Bill McGaughey, candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis with New Dignity Party. I hope you can spend the next half hour with us for what I think will be a most interesting discussion.” Then I would sit down and introduce Ed Eubanks, seated in a chair next to me, with the New Dignity Party placard in between.

Not being a skilled actor, I can’t say that the intro went quite according to plan but it was close enough to begin the show without visible embarrassment. We wanted the camera to focus next on the sign that showed the party’s three issues. I then would say that our discussion would be primarily about the first issue: identity. We would be talking about race, in other words.

some of the points made

The conversation that took place over the next half hour was so long and varied it would be difficult to give a brief summary. Even so, here were some of the points raised:

Ed said first that he had looked at my paper, “Getting to the Heart of what I Believe” which proposed that white men were being “besieged”. It seemed to him that “the wolf was complaining about Little Red Riding Hood’s assessment of him”. White men were complaining about the victim’s expression of grievance, in other words.

I responded that I was objecting to Ed Felien’s characterization that I was complaining of “discrimination” when really it was about being defined by others in negative ways. Everyone had the right to define himself or herself in a positive way, I argued. You define your own identity, not someone else’s. A healthy sense of identity does not require someone else to stand in a negative relationship to oneself. One stands on one’s own two feet.

Yes, Ed replied, but your scheme of identity suggests that people should develop “an intense amnesia” about the past - a lack of historical understanding. Is the rape victim’s identity divorced from that of the rapist? Being a white male, I, of course, didn’t want gender or race now to determine “how the pie was split”, Ed argued. Yes, I admitted, slavery did exist a hundred or so years ago. But I didn’t live then. Why are you blaming me for associations you make with my race? You can bring up these historical grievances but justice is based on existing relationships.

You white males have all the benefits of past history, Ed argued, while I walk around with the “stones” of that history. There are too many black people in prisons and not enough in universities. My response was that equating privilege with the whole white race was a stretch. How can one say that all 200 million white Americans are “privileged”? Privilege and disadvantage are to be found in all races.

On the other hand, it’s also true that most of the privileged people in America are white. Does that mean, because some Wall Street traders hurt people, I should share in their blame because they were white? No, we need to draw our moral categories more tightly so that the people who actually did the hurting are the ones being blamed. Don’t project Wall Street’s guilt on the entire white race.

My people are hurting, Ed argued. Am I “playing the race card” if I raise the subject? We live in a country based on free speech, I replied. You can talk about anything you want. You can try to deal with grievances of every kind.

But how do we redress grievances and not take away from someone else’s “rice bowl”, Ed asked? You “change the paradigm”, I proposed. Instead of arguing over racial injustice and fighting over a limited supply of rice, we ought to be talking about enlarging everyone’s rice bowl. For instance, a shorter workweek would give jobs to more people - make everyone more prosperous.

We blacks didn’t develop this system you’re complaining about, Ed pointed out. It was foisted on us by whites. That’s true, I conceded. Then, said he, if we (blacks) were collectively exploited, the remedy will come through collective action. I don’t know how to get anything done politically except as members of a group. Can that group include whites, I asked?

What’s wrong with black and white people together struggling for a more just society, I asked? This us vs. them mentality should be converted to “us” ordinary people fighting against “them”, an abusive leadership class. My quarrel, I said, is actually more with white people than it is with blacks. White people should not submit to the degrading identity being foisted on them by the cultural elite.

I held up a newspaper. Here’s an article about the foreclosure crisis. The article says that a larger percentage of blacks were hurt by foreclosures than whites, women were hurt more more than men, and black women were hurt much more than white men. What this information suggests to me, I said, is that the foreclosure crisis was a cabal of white men who wanted to hurt black people and women. Nonsense. The crisis was caused by a housing bubble that burst.

The bubble burst because housing prices were too high, because unscrupulous realtors and lenders pushed unsound loans on people to generate fees, and because there are not enough high-paying jobs to support the mortgage payments. That would be the adult way to analyze the problem. Instead everything is about gender and racial discrimination. I would love to talk about real problems and real solutions but “they (the media) won’t let us”. They prefer to have everyone fighting each other.

Ed thought President Obama had a “blind spot” not to acknowledge that race played a role in the opposition against him. I said in response that I thought Obama was smart not to play up race. If he had campaigned on the prospect of becoming the first black President, he would never have made it. Obama should downplay race and simply do the best job he could while in office.

Ed wondered how the race question related to local politics. I brought up the example of city inspectors closing down Uncle Bill’s Food Market. We had a white mayor and a black City Council member financially ruining an African immigrant. How that related to race, I did not know. All I knew was that the city’s action was unjust and injustice should be opposed whichever race it affects.

“ I don’t think people should cry ‘wolf’ unless there is a wolf,” Ed remarked. After a pause, I smiled and asked “What do you mean?” Ed said he meant that if there really is a wolf, the people being fleeced have a right to complain. I agreed, in principle.

I said then that if New Dignity Party ever came to power and I had anything to do with it, the first step in the party’s agenda would not be what you think - repealing affirmative action and the like - but trying to build up people’s dignity and self-esteem. People need to work at this: form groups, think and discuss how they can improve their lives, perhaps by following the example of heroes.

If it were up to me, I said, I would declare a national holiday on the day (June 4th) in 1896 when a white man, Henry Ford, first drove an automobile on the streets of Detroit. That act changed the world, and the change benefited all people. He is a hero of mine.

Why don’t you pick someone more representative, Ed suggested - someone like that Missourian Jesse James? We both laughed. Ed thought I was more “idealistic” about race relations than he was.

The program ended on the note that we were beginning a much needed racial discussion: “Politics is about change, and this is our attempt to bring it about.” The cameras faded at that point.

Ed and I both thought we had done well in the conversation. So did the MTN staff. We had handled one of the most delicate political subjects with mutual respect and good will.

In a few days, I received a DVD of the program and a letter with dates when it would be aired. Our half-hour program would be aired eight times on Channel 16 between October 5th and October 30th. I posted the schedule of airings on NewDignityParty.org. I also listened to several of them and recorded the show on blank VHS tapes. Ed Eubanks, in St. Paul, could not receive Minneapolis cable programs, so I sent one of the tape copies to him.

I’m sure plenty of people living in Minneapolis watched this program or at least part of it. Curiously, no one mentioned this to me in person except, after the election, one of my fellow candidates, Bob Carney, who thought I had overstated the importance of race in contemporary politics. He is an idealist, I think. Don’t confuse silence with lack of concern.

 

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