Columns written for the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper, Berkeley, CA
Berkeley Daily Planet




September 24, 2009

One of the reasons I spend little time worry about—much less answering—my many critics is that so many of them, bless their hearts, spend so little time in the verification process.

In our modern times, too many charges are tossed out with only the echo chamber effect in mind. That is, if enough voices come back echoing the same the same charge, it does not matter if the facts asserted are true or not. There is a comfort in collective ignorance.

That was my impression when I came across a late August entry on the East Bay Conservative blogsite disguising itself as a discussion about race (“Race, Race, Race 24/7”).

The entry begins by the anonymous East Bay Conservative declaring that “I guess this might come as a surprise to Black people, but in my experience white men spend essentially zero time thinking about race and race relations. It’s just a total non-issue.” (Why it is the fashion for such blogsites to keep their posts anonymous is the subject of another discussion.)

Anyways, the EB Conservative does not give the impression of having considered that perhaps his/her “experience” may have nothing to do with what white men are actually thinking at all points during the day. Instead, she (or he) the implication of the blog entry is that somehow this “experience” extrapolates to a general truism about our good white friends. Or, at least, the male members of the group.

Me, I don’t pretend to speak for all Black People, I never have, but speaking for myself and only myself, it comes as something of a surprise that anyone has the, um, cojones, in these days and times, to purport to speak for “white men” on any given issue.

After saying that white men spend zero time thinking about race and race relations, the EB Conservative—presumably a white man himself because of the context, but I’m only extrapolating—then goes on to spend an entire blog entry talking about race and race relations, but then places the blame for it on the Black guy (in this instance, on me, not to put too fine a point on it).

“The thing that brought this topic to mind today,” the EB Conservative explains, “was J Douglas Allen-Taylor’s latest article in the Berkeley Daily Planet.” The article in question was an August 20, 2009 UnderCurrents column published in the Daily Planet and entitled “Pudding To Prove And Fences To Mend.”

“Allen-Taylor’s article,” the EB Conservative writes “discusses the ‘African-American/progressive coalition’ which drafted Ron Dellums into running for mayor of Oakland. He talks about Councilmember Jean Quan as having an ‘Asian American’ base of financial contributors. Just for fun, I started using Google to do image searches for the list of people Allen-Taylor discussed in his article. Pretty much every single person he said clearly good things about is Black—Ron Dellums, Barbara Lee, Sandré Swanson, Keith Carson and new police chief Anthony Batts. Allen-Taylor seems more skeptical of Quan, and he doesn’t seem to like Phil Tagami (who doesn’t look Black to me), Gilda Gonzales and Ignacio De La Fuente.”

There is something a little off-kilter about a person who writes a blog giving out views on Oakland political issues but then purports to have to do a Google search of the images of Oakland political figures to find out their race. Either that person spends little or no time in Oakland political circles, or else they are disingenuously trying to convince us that they are so “above” the issue of race that they never think of it when looking at others. I won’t try to figure out which.

Anyway, I feel like the fellow at the funeral who kept rising out of his coffin to make sure it was he who they were talking about, not recognizing himself in the remarks people were getting up to say about him. I don’t recognize my original column in the summation the EB Conservative provides.

Case in point. This is what—and all of what—I wrote about Congressmember Barbara Lee, California Assemblymember Sandré Swanson and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson in the original column: “It is hard to see a Barbara Lee or a Keith Carson or a Sandré Swanson emerging from the Dellums mayoral staff as such political powerhouses emerged from the Dellums Congressional staff.”

This is what I wrote about Oakland City Councilmember Jean Quan: “Ms. Quan is a relentless campaigner, knows Oakland city issues, has the credentials to run Oakland government, has a strong base of popular support, will probably have access to the same vast Asian-American financial base that poured money into Wilma Chan’s campaign for state Senate last year, and has piled up considerable political credits over the years. … I think counting Ms. Quan out of the top tier of mayoral candidates is a mistake”

Based in part upon these passages, the EB Conservative concluded that “pretty much every single person [Allen-Taylor] said clearly good things about is Black,” while Allen-Taylor “seems more skeptical of Quan.”

Perhaps you could read it that way, but only if you didn’t actually read my original column.

But that is often what these internet-driven “debaters” count on, that their readers and friends will only read their interpretations of other articles, without bothering to look for themselves at the original articles. Thus the echo chamber, where misinterpretations are confirmed over and over, in a closed debating circle.

The EB Conservative goes on to write that “to be fair, Allen-Taylor is largely reporting the views of others in this piece, so this tendency probably has less to do with him and more to do with the ‘African-American/progressive coalition’ he’s describing. But, I’ve called him on this question of race bias in the past, and he has more or less admitted it when it comes to his support of Dellums. My recollection is that he argued that there’s nothing wrong with one Black guy supporting another.”

While I cannot remember this particular exchange with EB Conservative—strange, because we’ve had so few exchanges—but I would certainly agree with the contention that “there’s nothing wrong with one Black guy supporting another.” Why would there be? I also see nothing wrong with a white guy, or girl, supporting another, or an Asian-American or Latino guy or girl supporting another. Or a Black guy supporting a Latino girl. Or an Asian-American girl supporting a white guy.

But that isn’t the point EB Conservative is not-so-subtly making is it? The point she (or he) is making is that there is something inherently suspect about an African-American supporting another African-American for political office. White folks support white folks for office all the time without the issue of racial bias being raised. But in the type of thinking advanced by EB Conservative, an African-American supporting another African-American for political office must be doing so—not for political reasons—but for reasons of racial solidarity.

But how is it that I came to be identified with “supporting” Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums?

To a great degree, it is because I choose not to blindly trot behind the collection of Oakland critics when they throw buckets of criticism at the mayor. If their criticisms are valid, I agree with them. But for the most part, I’ve found those criticisms far off the mark.

A case in point is a recent entry concerning the upcoming Oakland mayoral race in the Oakland blog of the San Francisco Chronicle (“Mayor’s Race Starting To Take Shape” September 18, 2009).

In the entry, the blogger, Jonathan Blair, writes in part that “Ron Dellums … never found his footing and lost credibility with the public when he failed to fire former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly for weeks after she was publicly accused of interfering in a police gang investigation on behalf of her nephew, a city employee.”

That depends upon your definition of “weeks.”

My records indicate that even though the incident in which Ms. Edgerly was alleged to have interfered with a police investigation occurred on June 7, the first news reports that Mr. Dellums was looking into those allegations were broadcast by Channel 5 News on June 19. That was followed up quickly over the next three days by news accounts in the Tribune and the Chronicle, and columns by Chronicle columnists Chip Johnson and Matier & Ross, all repeating the allegation.

On Tuesday, June 23, Mr. Dellums and Ms. Edgerly held the famous press conference in which Mr. Dellums said he had found no information to justify disciplining the City Manager, and Ms. Edgerly announced her December retirement.

Over that weekend and immediately following the press conference, there were repeated calls by Oakland officeholders that Mr. Dellums suspend Ms. Edgerly over those allegations, not fire her. ("People were outraged, and justifiably so," said City Councilwoman Pat Kernighan. "How can somebody be accused of something so serious and then there is no action whatsoever? She should have been placed on administrative leave immediately." Matier & Ross, June 26, 2009)

Six days later, Mr. Dellums put Ms. Edgerly on administrative leave for reasons not directly related to the original allegations of interfering with the police. On July 1 he fired her for insubordination.

By my count, it took Mr. Dellums 13 days to fire Ms. Edgerly from the day it became publicly reported that he was looking into the allegations against her. While it has never been publicly determined when Mr. Dellums began his investigation, to my knowledge no public criticism of his actions was issued prior to the June 19 Channel 5 report.

I know that many of my friends in the two local daily papers—the Chronicle and the Tribune—wrote continually last summer that Mr. Dellums bungled the Edgerly matter, and many people in Oakland hold to that belief. Myself, I happen to believe that firing a major city official in 13 days counts as a deft bureaucratic maneuver. And that, in part, is why have refused to chime in with the criticisms of Mr. Dellums on that point.

But hindsight should give everybody a better perspective on this issue. Who made any allegations against Ms. Edgerly about interference with a police investigation, and what came of those allegations? In the summer of 2008 there was a lot of talk and rumor about investigations into Ms. Edgerly’s alleged conduct. If any such investigations were undertaken they seem to have ended without action against her, not even a murmur.

But those who convicted Ms. Edgerly because of what they read from Chip Johnson and Matier & Ross appear to have conveniently overlooked that fact. Because if Ms. Edgerly did not interfere with an Oakland police action, as was widely alleged, then perhaps Mr. Dellums did not err in refusing to suspend her over those allegations. And that conclusion would not fit with the philosophy of that corps of hard-core critics of Mr. Dellums that he must be criticized for all things at all times, regardless of the weight or truth behind those criticisms.

But there is a final note of irony in the complaints by EB Conservative about my August 20 column, that irony implied in the title “Pudding To Prove And Fences to Mend.” The column was in part a criticism of the Dellums Administration. I wrote that when Mr. Dellums was elected, “it was assumed that the best and the brightest would flock to Oakland to work in a Dellums administration, and the most significant problem would be finding enough room at City Hall and within the city’s boundaries and budget to harness and use all the expected incoming talent. That, of course, has not happened. … [I]t is the failure to attract major talent to the city that has been the administration’s biggest single and actual disappointment. Until the Batts appointment, in fact, the Dellums administration was best-known for the chance that got away, the failure to put a star quality player in the post of city administrator.”

I’ve made other criticisms of the Dellums Administration in this column, my own criticisms, not the echo of others. But these don’t get repeated by my friends like the East Bay Conservative because to do so would mean to admit that a Black man was criticizing a Black man, and that would mean to admit that Black guys don’t always stick together simply because of race, which would throw out the entire premise of the East Bay Conservative’s recent blog entry, that race and Black racial solidarity are my main considerations in writing these columns.

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