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Monday, Feb. 10, 2020

Talking Out of Turn

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Do some people just need to stay in their lane? Some think so.

In his 1957 speech entitled, “Give Us The Ballot,” Martin Luther King Jr. did not advocate for the right to vote simply because he wanted to see more black people in office. No, not at all. He wanted more than that – he wanted to be able to choose men “of good will” who would “do justly and love mercy.” He wanted to be able to select men and women based on their character and who exhibited “strong, moral and courageous leadership.”

Even after 60 years, it’s timeless advice that still rings true today.

And yet, it seems, whenever someone in the black community exhibits “strong, moral and courageous leadership” that doesn’t match the narrative that black people stick with one another, no matter the facts or circumstances, so-called other black “leaders” immediately shame them.

Remember when Kanye West said that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”? The media loved him for it. He served their narrative. So-called black “leaders” across the country applauded his boldness in getting an important message across in an unapologetically direct language.

But then, do you remember when Kanye met with President Trump at the White House a couple of years ago and was unapologetically direct about his support for the president, wearing his red “MAGA” hat and saying he looked up to Trump?

Well, this time around, the media’s reaction to Kanye’s directness regarding Trump wasn’t love. It was rage. Kanye was called a “house Negro” and thought to be mentally ill. They called Kanye illiterate. Don Lemon on CNN said Kanye was acting like a dancing minstrel show. Many in the black community withdrew his “black card.”

That’s just ridiculous. And all because Kanye dared to think outside the “box” to which he was supposedly assigned as a member of the black community, or as Representative Maxine Waters put it, Kanye simply talked “out of turn.” Really?

So when Shreveport City Councilwoman LeVette Fuller dared to think outside the “box” regarding her support (or lack thereof) for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) proposed between the city of Shreveport and prospective developers of Cross Bayou, the reaction was similar to what Kanye had experienced – plus a recall movement to remove Ms. Fuller (a woman of color) from office.

How dare she have the audacity to challenge the idea that black Americans are not one-dimensional or that they should not forever be enshrined as part of a monolithic voting bloc instead of as the independent thinkers they are, with beliefs as diverse as our country?

And the shameful assault on Ms. Fuller came from nearly every corner of the black community, including pastors and elected officials alike.

They said her lack of support “was a slap in the face of the city’s black population” and that her “no” vote would end the development of the “largest realestate project in the history of the country led by a minority firm.” And that’s not to mention how her lack of solidarity with the other black members of the city council was disrespectful to civil rights leaders, such as Harry Blake and the late Dr. C.O. Simpkins.

Councilwoman Fuller fired back by saying, “I stand with my entire district, and any assertion to the contrary is disingenuous and categorically dishonest,” adding that “(w)e will not be manipulated by self-serving opportunists because we all understand that we only move forward as a community that analyzes facts to make well-reasoned assessments. That is why you elected me, and I swore an oath to do exactly that.”

But to her critics, it made no difference. They are stuck in an aging, outdated paradigm of thinking that individual prospects for success are ultimately tied to those who look like them. Or put another way, her critics believe Councilwoman Fuller ought to put the well-being of black voters ahead of everyone – and anything – else including the desire to vote only for legislation rooted in “wellreasoned assessments” and not based on the color of one’s skin.

The bottom line is that if we’re always asking first if an idea is a good one for this group or that group – whether it’s black Shreveport or white Shreveport, or LGBTQ Shreveport or (fill-in-the-blank) Shreveport – if that’s the first question you’re asking yourself, then do the merits of any idea or proposed legislation at City Hall – or the qualifications of any candidate on election day – really matter at all?

If everything else is secondary to the color of one’s skin and the protection of “your” group, then how can we possibly move this community forward if we’re still sorting our good ideas from our bad ones in the same way we do our socks when they come out of the dryer – according to color?

Martin Luther King Jr. said it exceptionally well: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

We’ve had enough of the latter in our city. It’s way past time for us to do the former – and shame on anyone who is doing anything but.

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.

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