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Why We Need a Democratic Presidential Forum on Race

“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”  ― Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations & recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is time for the issue of race to be addressed forthrightly, no holds barred. It is an issue that must be addressed before it is too late and the Democratic Party must take the lead. In order to take on the issue, the South Carolina Democratic Black Caucus and the constituents that we represent call for a Presidential Candidate Forum on Racism in America to be held in South Carolina. This forum will allow candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination to make their positions clear on issues such as reparations and white privilege; and it should be as soon as possible but before the Democratic primary. 

For those who cry “race-baiting” or deny that communities of color are coming under attack, I ask you to take an objective look at our President’s rhetoric and the language of his most ardent supporters.  To tell a group of minority women who are sitting American Congresswomen to “go back to where you came from” or to chuckle when a rally-goer yells out “shoot them” in reference to Central-American migrants is undeniable hate-speech and the very definition of dog-whistling.  

What the President and his apologists fail to realize is that words have power and very real consequences in the lives of everyday Americans.  Just look at recent events.  

In the span of just eight days, America had three mass shootings in three separate parts of the country, killing at least 35 people. At least one of those shootings can be directly attributed to racially motivated hatred with the killer circulating a manifesto that laid out a plan to divide the United States into territories based on race.  Although the motives behind the other two killings have not yet been confirmed by authorities, the fact that these mass shootings are happening at all and that any of them can be attributed to racial hatred should be a matter of grave concern for all Americans. 

So far, the Democratic Presidential candidates have only just begun to demonstrate a willingness to address the matter head-on and attempts to speak on the issue have shown that they have yet to fully understand how to navigate the topic.  During the most recent debate cycle, Vice President Joe Biden threatened to “hit back” if other candidates, specifically Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, attack him on the issue of civil rights. Essentially, what we see here is the white guy daring the black candidates to challenge his civil rights record; particularly his record on mass-incarceration and busing, and proffering a thinly-veiled threat if they do. 

Why does Biden think this is a winning strategy? Because he knows that Harris and Booker are vulnerable on the issue of race. What makes them vulnerable? They are vulnerable because the last thing they want is to be seen as is too pro-black or — dare I say it– as black candidates; as if they can somehow hide it.  So let’s be very clear here. The white candidate dares black candidates to be black and the black candidates want to be seen as black, but not too black for fear of isolating non-black voters. 

There is an old saying that “the path of least resistance makes for crooked rivers and crooked men”.  The Democratic Party has become one long, meandering crooked river heading for the disaster of another lost presidential election because we continue to take the path of least resistance.  If we cannot solve the problems within our party we do not deserve to lead.  

The time to take a stance is now.  South Carolina is not only the first Primary state in the south but also a state with 850,689 African American registered voters and where 66% of the Democratic electorate is African American. A Forum on Racism in America will allow us all to have an honest conversation, address the elephant in the room, and layout plans and policy proposals on how we want to define ourselves as a party and take on the hard issue of race with an eye towards healing. 

As Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Caucus, I intend to do my part to take a stand and offer an endorsement of the candidate who demonstrates a commitment to minority voters in word and indeed.  The candidates who invest in minority media outlets, who spend time in overlooked communities, and have the humility to listen to the concerns of voters who have felt pushed to the sidelines will be vetted and fully assessed; as this is not a decision I will take lightly.

Democracy and freedom hang in the balance. The answer is not to shrink from our responsibility and hide our heads in the sand by acting as if the elephant in the room is not there.  The issue is race. The Democratic Party and the country must have this discussion now. Time is of the essence.

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Johnnie Cordero

Johnnie Cordero is an African American thought leader who identifies as a Radical Centrist. He is the current Chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina. Cordero is the host of the “Radical Review” podcast and is a frequent political contributor and commentator for The MinorityEye. Cordero holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and a Doctorate in Jurisprudence. He is the author of ‘Total Black Empowerment: A Guide to Critical Thinking in the Age of Trump.’ His new book ‘Theodicy and The Power of the African Will’ is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online book sellers.

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