Race and Class Politics: Fayetteville Style
I love and greatly appreciate America and Fayetteville. Consequently, this is proving to be a very difficult and painful emotional and mental time for me as I watch what I believe is the demise of our Country. A major cause of this demise is the detrimental misuse of race and class in the national political process. Now race and class politics is showing itself again in Fayetteville. This condition is most evident in the mayoral race between incumbent mayor Tony Chavonne and challenger Nat Robertson. A starting point for understanding my contention is coverage of this general election race by The Fayetteville Observer. On a single day, two articles referred to the cost of an ad sponsored by Mayor Chavonne during the September “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” show. This was the season premier and featured the Jubilee House that was built in Fayetteville. Note the headlines: (1) Mayor’s ‘Extreme’ ad costly; (2) Mayoral showdown set. Add to these the headline “Race for mayor pits grass-roots against money and recognition.” This article opened with the line, “If Fayetteville’s mayoral race is decided by who has the most campaign money and widest name recognition, Nat Robertson knows he doesn’t have a chance.” The first of the articles mentioned above was under “Inside Politics” while the last two were written by Andrew Barksdale. The “grass-roots” article also, early on, mentioned Chavonne’s ”$92,000 campaign war chest.” Throughout the articles I reviewed, Nat Robertson was portrayed as “running on a shoestring budget backed mostly with personal loans…” and Roberstson indicated he was focusing on “a grass-roots campaign of knocking on doors…” In addition to the tenor of The Observer’s coverage, an article on 20 October 2011 by Gregory Phillips under the headline “Crimes, jobs focus of forum” quoted Nat Robertson as describing himself as “the other guy in the race: You. I work for a living-hard.” At a time when President Barak Obama, with the seeming cooperation of so many in the media, is driving a wedge between the wealthy and the remaining citizens of this Country, it is no stretch for me to sense the same process with The Fayetteville Observer and Nat Robertson. Therein is the class piece. Now move to just one of several indicators of the “race” component of this destructive “race and class” political strategy. An Observer article by Andrew Barksdale on 20 October 2011 under the headline “Evans assails mayor’s leadership” reported on a news conference held by County Commissioner Charles Evans. This line from the article speaks volumes: “Evans said Chavonne often finds himself in the midst of controversy, ‘especially when that controversy has racial overtones.’” Later in the article, Barksdale summarizes comments made by Evans and others regarding the ongoing attention to statistics showing that black drivers are stopped and searched three times as often as white drivers. Although not present at the news conference, mayoral candidate Nat Robertson reportedly said, “I don’t know if there is racial profiling, but the numbers that I have seen certainly point toward that.” I was not at this news conference, but I have no reason to doubt that the Barksdale quotes are accurate. That being the case, the picture is clear that Mayor Chavonne was painted as, at best, racially insensitive. My experience is that among black citizens, this picture is read to say he is racist. Nothing in the article shows that even one piece of factual evidence was presented to support the negative claims that were made or implied regarding Mayor Chavonne’s handling of matters involving racial overtones. The sad fact is most people are justifiably so busy making a living they must depend on sound bites and maybe a few newspaper articles as information sources for their political decision-making. In this atmosphere, it is difficult, if not impossible, for even an amazingly capable leader such as Mayor Chavonne to win substantial support from persons who are exposed to “class and race politics” without knowing the full story. For example, the Mayor’s extremely commendable work on Hope VI, on improving the Fayetteville bus system, promoting this City as a wonderful place to live, acting to address the real causes of joblessness, and quietly helping young people prepare to succeed in life, get lost in the haze of “class and race politics.” We must see the haze for the unfair and destructive force that it is and vote for proven character and leadership. Fayetteville needs Tony Chavonne for another term as mayor.