Greg Aymond Needs to Apologize

Although I have never met Greg Aymond, a local attorney and the proprietor and operator of the blog CentralLAPolitics, I have spoken with him a handful of times, and despite the fact that, on core political issues, we remain diametrically opposed, I respect his willingness and desire to engage in local governmental decisions, even when I completely disagree with his analysis. Our local democracy requires rigorous engagement and analysis, and it depends on people willing to contribute to the public discourse.

Earlier this year, while I was in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, I had a brief exchange with Reverend Al Sharpton, and when he learned I was from Alexandria, he said, “Great city. Great people.” I know his brief impression of Alexandria was based on his visits related to the Jena Six and his encounters with the magnanimous radio talk show host, Tony Brown. Reverend Sharpton, who has built a controversial career, in large part, by championing causes and cases related to racial inequality and injustice, recognized the strength of Alexandria’s diversity, which, of course (and with all due respect), must have been magnified to him in the context his trip to Jena. And he remembered Alexandria as a great place with great people, in large part, because of our capacity to embrace our diversity.

However, our cohesion as a community is undermined by those who attempt to use race as a wedge in order to divide and distract. As a white man who has benefited from educational, institutional, and societal advantages because of, among other things, his race (and indeed, who has only been made fully-aware of those advantages because of a conscious and deliberate decision to enroll in African-American Studies courses as an undergraduate), I have come to understand the complex dynamics of denial. And as a citizen who is actively engaged in local government, I have also come to understand the ways in which certain individuals, for their own personal reasons, seek to amplify racial divisions in the hope of creating political will.

In his groundbreaking speech on race, President-elect Obama articulated perfectly the frustrations of many white Americans who have refused, on principle, to be held hostage to the specter of white guilt:

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

Some may disagree with me on this point, so please forgive me in advance: But I believe we are blessed and incredibly fortunate to have a President who possesses such an incredibly empathetic and brilliant understanding of race– and perhaps even more importantly, a President who has repeatedly demonstrated his own propensity to speak candidly on this complicated issue. Indeed, the next President of the United States wrote two bestselling books that explore, in detail, the discourse of race and politics in American life.

That said, as much as I admire Mr. Obama’s candidness, I do not believe it’s sufficient to excuse white anger as merely a symptom of economic frustrations. White racism does exist, and as much as we would like to explain it away or unpack its meaning as a symptom of an overarching frustration about economic inequities, racism is actually very simple-minded. (And, indeed, it does work both ways).

This brings me back to Mr. Aymond. On the day after Barack Obama was elected the next President of the United States– a day in which the nation celebrated a profound and historic moment when the racial barrier to the highest office was shattered, despite our country’s shameful history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the bloodied march toward civil rights, a day in which the rest of the world, for the first time in years, looked to America in awe of the realization that our founding promise (that all men are created equal) was not merely words on parchment but a fundamental part of our identity as a culture– Mr. Aymond published, on his website, a piece entitled “The N***a Street Thugs of Alexandria,” featuring the names and photographs of seven African-American leaders and blanketly accusing them of unspecified corruption.

Quoting:

Do not be mislead for one minute. we the citizens of Alexandria are not being preyed upon by a new criminal conspiracy. It is a group of “N***a Thugs” who have nothing more in mind than an opportunity for corruption based on race.

All in the same building, Lawson, Brown, Sanders and Goins, have spread their tentacles with Johnson, Lavardain and Hobbs to weave their way onto the City government to keep us the good white and black residents of the City of Alexandria ever vigilant. We must forever keep watch over this criminal gang and report them at every opportunity to the State Police, the Attorney General, the District Attorney, the Ethics Board, the Legislative Auditor, and the F.B.I. to ensure that we all play by the rules or that those that don’t wind up in the state or federal pen.

Mr. Aymond’s post was immediately picked up by talk radio host Tony Brown, and copies of his post were allegedly distributed during an Alexandria City Council meeting.

To be sure, no one has ever questioned Mr. Aymond’s fundamental right of freedom of speech, however vulgar and offensive it may seem to some. But there remains a glaring hypocrisy: Mr. Aymond attempts to suggest “an opportunity for corruption based on race,” yet he structures his criticism in sickeningly offensive and racist language. And considering his frequent admissions and references to his brief stint in the Ku Klux Klan, some people may not appreciate or understand his plea for residents to be “ever vigilant.”

In Mr. Aymond’s view, African-American leadership is coagulated and commingled, based out of a small building housing an insurance agency and a law office. Notably, at the time of his posting, Mr. Goins and Mr. Larvadain hadn’t even been sworn in, and at no time have Ms. Brown or Mr. Sanders served as elected officials.

Leonard Ford, a friend of CenLamar, responds on Cenla Light:

Here’s the thing. Why is it that when a group of black individuals, especially if they are involved in city government, are looked at more closely and picked apart for coming together to discuss issues that relates to the black districts of Alexandria? That seems to be the norm as of late. When white individuals, who were involved in city government got together to discuss issues relating to the white districts of Alexandria, no one said anything about it. They were seen as the good guys just doing their job. But that’s the way it is here in Alexandria. Black equates to bad, and white equates to good.

It appears that ever since the makeup of the Alexandria City Council became majority black, Aymond has been keeping his eyes glued to city government. I guess he has appointed himself as watchdog to keep everybody in line, especially these seven blacks and others that he seems to have disdain for. He fails to realize that those whites in city government also must be watched, as they are not exempt from wrongdoing. I believe that he knows that, but prefers not to bring it to light. Right is right, and fair is fair. If we have “n***a street thugs,” then I’m sure that Aymond knows just as I know that we also have “cracker street thugs,” “redneck street thugs,” and “honkie street thugs.” Why not list their pictures on his Web site?

Mr. Aymond attempted to explain that his misspelling of the n-word was a purposeful act and that, based on the use of the slightly-altered word (spelled differently for colloquial purposes, not as a way of designating a definitive autonomy from the accurately spelled word) in certain “rip rap” songs (as he calls them), he intended readers to interpret a different meaning.

I’m sorry, Mr. Aymond. I don’t buy that, and I doubt your readers do either. And in all seriousness, I question your cultural literacy on rap music and wonder who on God’s Green Earth would believe that although you were seriously accusing people of coordinated corruption, you were only attempting to be playful by misspelling the n-word.

Intelligent and informed criticisms are much more difficult to construct than simply tossing out a few rhetorical grenades. I’ve been called a socialist gimp (or some variation thereof) enough to know the playbook.

Unfortunately, grenades can still inflict a lot of collateral damage and confusion, and in Mr. Aymond’s case, they can obviously exacerbate racial tensions. But they’re only destructive, not constructive.

Your words, on this issue, have been destructive.

Be a man. Apologize.