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Bankole: Whitmer fails to deliver real change to Blacks despite promises, task forces


Bankole Thompson  |  The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is using the same techniques that the white liberal establishment has used for decades to pacify members of the Black community, and yet we see no real tangible political advancement.

Whitmer’s latest move to initiate a Black Leadership Advisory Council, which will serve in an advisory capacity on a number of racial inequality issues regarding state government, is just another institutional bureaucracy designed to shape the texture and the narrative about how Blacks have fared well under Whitmer. But the members of this powerless council are chosen by the state through an application process. Whitmer’s administration decides who is a Black leader based on its own preferences. 

Her Black lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist, who has no real political portfolio and no real budget but to serve as co-chair of a bunch of task forces, fully validates that opportunistic placation is all the governor needs to tell Black Michigan she is our chosen one. She’s the one Black people have been waiting for to fulfill the demands and moral necessity for racial equality. 

The angst against such manipulating racial politics without authentic and real progress for Blacks is what gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. For years, leaders of the white liberal order who push integrationist politics as concession have always selected their own Black leaders to deal with the Black community. 

For example, former President Lyndon Johnson preferred Whitney Young, former head of the National Urban League, over the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; King's vehement opposition to the war in Vietnam and King's consequential speech against the war at Riverside Church in New York did not sit well with many Democratic powerbrokers and members of the white liberal clergy. Johnson himself was concerned about his image in the Black community, and relied on Young as a buffer to improve his standing and against allegations that he was a southern bigot.  

So the practice of identifying pliable figures in Black politics and civic discourse and making them confidants and bestowing upon some glowing titles — that have no power — as symbolic representatives of the Black community, while masking the real needs of working class and poor people, is an old liberal playbook. 

Based on Whitmer’s trail of broken campaign promises, we shouldn’t expect much out of the ceremonial Black Leadership Advisory Council, which is more like a propaganda wing for the governor’s Black outreach efforts. 

After all, we are dealing with a governor who has failed to fulfill a major campaign promise she made during a poverty town hall at Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School. Desperate for the Black vote and seeking to win the Democratic nomination at all cost, Whitmer vowed during the 2018 gubernatorial campaign to appoint a cabinet-level poverty secretary. She reneged on that promise after becoming governor and instead chose the predictable, safe and ineffective route of a poverty task force with no executive power. 

Her ill-conceived move to shut down the only high school in Benton Harbor until she was met with unprecedented opposition that forced her to back off was another example of Whitmer’s many contradictions in dealing with the Black community. 

Even on police brutality, the most consequential issue of our time, Whitmer has taken no real sweeping action to directly confront systemic racism in policing. The governor probably believes she’s been a true friend to the Black community for the bureaucratic task forces she created to help her define the contours of her engagement. 

Days before the crucial Nov. 3 election, she dismissed Detroit in an interview, noting that a large turnout in the largest Democratic base in the state wasn’t needed for Biden to win Michigan. Minutes after Biden gave his victory speech as president-elect, during which he thanked Black people for supporting him, Whitmer sent out a tweet praising Detroit for coming out to vote. What a hypocrite. 

Dismissing Detroit has consequences. Whitmer should ask former Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard about how he became a one-term governor after Republican John Engler defeated him. 

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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