The unfinished African American journey out of Jim Crow and its narrow political mindset has reached a critical juncture in Memphis, Tennessee. There, in the city's 60 percent Black Ninth Congressional District, a first-term white incumbent whose voting record would place him solidly in the political bosom of the Congressional Black Caucus, is challenged by a young Black female corporate operative - an acolyte of Harold Ford, Jr., the worst Black congressman in modern history.
Nikki Tinker is backed by the full flatulence and awesome gluttony of the MemphisMemphisTinkerExplains Baptist Ministerial Association, greasy-fingered clergymen who have descended into homophobia so foul and raw it must embarrass the White Christian Right whose behavior they mimic. These politician-pastors oppose federal Hate Crime legislation because it includes protections based on sexual orientation, while claiming moral and racial authority over the secular lives of Memphis Blacks.
It is a perfect storm of corruption: Nikki Tinker, a physically attractive but intellectually vapid lawyer for regional boss-man Northwest Airlink/Pinnacle Airlines - whose principal duty is to keep unions in check - backed by a gang of gay-baiting preachers who never saw a Republican Faith-Based Initiative check they wouldn't cash. If elected, Tinker can be expected to act as a surrogate for her sponsor, Harold Ford, Jr., the Bush-loving former representative of the district, unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate, and now nominal chairman of the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).
The white boy in the race, Rep. Steve Cohen, previously a long-time state legislator who lost to young Harold "The Prince" Ford in 1996 but triumphed against a crowded field ten years later while Ford was courting statewide redneck voters, should by all principled political rights keep the seat. Since his swearing-in in January of this year, Cohen has voted his Black district's interests as diligently as 23 of the 40 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, earning an 80 percent grade (a "B") on the CBC Monitor's latest Report Card. Six Black congresspersons scored lower than Cohen, eleven higher. In contrast, the CBC Monitor named Harold Ford, Jr. "Lawn Jockey Emeritus" for consistently ranking at the bottom of every Black congressional class he attended since the watchdog group began tracking votes in September, 2005. In fact, Ford veered sharply to the right in his second term, in 1998, which means Cohen is the best - and "Blackest" - congressman the Ninth District has had in nearly a decade, and as progressive a representative as most Blacks on Capitol Hill.
However, literally nobody but the CBC Monitor keeps methodical track of such things, so Cohen must resort to behavior that some might consider, pandering. He has issued a document called "Steve Cohen's Position on the Covenant with Black America"; applied to join the Congressional Black Caucus but withdrew after noting the resulting discomfort among CBC members; and takes every opportunity to ceremonially show allegiance to the majority of his constituents. But most importantly, he votes correctly most of the time, and is careful to display a range of issues-positions on his web site, to prove it.
Challenger Nikki Tinker is encouraged to believe she can be elected simply by displaying her melanin. Tinker's campaign web site doesn't even bother to put forward a single substantive position, but is instead laden with meaningless "Nikki's Promise" items such as:
"I will place my satellite office in a community where people rely heavily upon public transportation (for example either the Hickory Hill community...
"I want to perform economic development in these areas. I have met with business leaders and expressed my dedication to helping to improve opportunity in these areas...
"Our children...need to know that we support them and that we have become successful not through professional sports, through rap music, nor through illegal activity."
The emptiness of Tinker's campaign literature is not due to a lack of proficiency with words. She is, after all, a lawyer - a corporate vice-president for "labor relations" for a right-to-work-state routed airline - the in-house executive in charge of suppressing excessive union activity. Tinker is well-trained in that regard. Previously, she worked at the union-hostile firm Ford & Harrison, which was honored this year by Chambers USA, "America's Leading Lawyers for Business." Such are Tinker's credentials for representing the people of the 8th poorest city in the nation.
Therefore, Tinker says very little, issue-wise, leaving it to the roaring, retrograde Black reactionaries in the pulpits to insinuate that Cohen is too friendly with folks who are supposedly even more alien to Black Memphis than his white self - gays.
Memphis is home to probably the largest concentration of backward clergy in Black America, and proved it in August when Black Baptists declared:
"The Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association stands in total opposition to any legislation that will silence churches on the matter of sin and abomination. It is our belief that the New Hate Crime bill is a subtle attempt on the part of the Gay Community to further legitimize itself as an acceptable lifestyle. We find nothing in Biblical Scripture to support the same.
"We also recognize the difference between homosexuals and homosexuality; God loves the homosexual but hates homosexuality. We further believe that all citizens of these United States of America are equally protected under the 14th Amendment of our Constitution.
"The new Hate Crime Bill spelling out specific groups is immediately a red flag for suspicion - attaching it to the Defense Authorization Bill raises further concern. All citizens are protected under the present laws.
"We go on record that we detest the alignment of African-Americans with homosexuals and lesbians as being equal. There is absolutely nothing immoral about being African American." - Dr. Basil Brooks, President
Ugly words - and stupid, too, unless one understands that this federal issue is being used as a local club to bludgeon the not-gay Rep. Cohen, whom key members of the Baptist group seek to associate with tolerance for sin and "abomination." It does not matter that, as Cohen has accurately noted, the entire Congressional Black Caucus (and 30 Republicans) support the Hate Crimes bill.
What we have in Memphis and across Black America is a confluence of old-line conservative Black preachers who know they will cash in politically and monetarily if they deliver their congregations to the boss-man's camp, and an equally ancient corporate enemy that has learned in recent years the art of grooming secular Black minstrel-politicians. Harold Ford, Jr. was once their favorite performer, not just in Memphis, but nationally. Nikki Tinker is his designated successor.
It appears that this type of despicable political tag-team - well-dressed corporate-trained Negroes from the suites operating in tandem with vile, spittle-spewing preachers working their shows in the ghetto - is the current model for corporate takeover of Black electoral politics, especially in the South. However, Memphis, in this primary season, presents a particular, transcendent challenge to African Americans. A white incumbent has reversed ten years of abject betrayal of Blacks by the previous, Black representative. He is challenged by the very same deceitful forces, who would no doubt continue the sell-out legacy. Will Blacks in Memphis vote their fundamental interests, or be hoodwinked by sucker-solidarity with the skin color of the criminal that is preparing to rob them?
If the answer is the latter, then Black Memphis will have shown itself to be too deeply mired in the Jim Crow experience, too addicted to hollow "Black faces in high places" celebrations to defend itself in the modern world, or to be of use to any of the rest of us.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com
© 2007 Black Agenda Report