It’s not nice to call people names. Period. And yet sometimes you could; and even maybe sometimes you should: especially when their blandness and sterility negatively affect the lives of millions they are supposed to be representing in the corridors of power. Let’s take a look at the State Legislature’s Black and Hispanic Caucus.
In a recent column I told you all that the first black person elected to the state legislature was in 1917.That was arguably one hundred and forty years after the body was created. I also told you that some 20 years later the first Puerto Rican (Hispanic) was elected. Today there are 150 seats in the Assembly, and 62 in the Senate (possibly going up to 63 in the next redistricting phase). Over seventy-five per cent of the state representatives in New York are white (Caucasian). Most of the whites are males. Most of the white males are in denial relative to issues around empowerment, racism, inclusion and power-sharing.
These legislative numbers are subsumed within a state population estimated at around 20 million people this year; with a little over 60 per cent projected to be white. While white males make up roughly three in ten residents here; they make up close to seven out of every ten legislators in Albany. Thus the New York state legislature is in no way reflective of the demographic distribution statewide.
Immediately one can see that to fulfill the broad civic ideals of empowerment, inclusion, shared decision-making and mutual (racial, nationalistic, religious and ethnic) respect, the next set of lines drawn up for redistricting (reapportionment) should be very sensitive to increasing minority representation. I don’t see this as rocket-science folks.
But where are the voices crying out for inclusion and empowerment; voices and eyes which should be the watchdogs for democracy? Aren’t there organizations specifically created for these types of political discussions? Like the NAACP; or the League of Women Voters pushing for more women in the legislative branch; or the Urban League; or the Black, Hispanic and Asian caucus of said legislature.
The preliminary lines released by the legislative task force empowered to draw up the new lines, show that minorities have once again been short changed. So let’s talk about the Black, Hispanic and Asian Caucus some more: especially since over this upcoming weekend, the members, their friends, staffers, et al, will be having one big party in Albany; as they do every year at this time. This big boogaloo/shindig is really a bugaboo of sorts, since it has become nothing short of an annoyance for many black thinkers living in New York; given the fascinating history of the Caucus’s genesis.
It was during the 1966 Legislative session that the formal beginnings of the New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus took place. Black and Puerto Rican Legislators joined together and paid a visit to the office of Anthony J. Travia -then speaker of the Assembly. This meeting was later christened "the Midnight Walk," because it took place during the early hours of the morning. It was then that the Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, through their spokesman Percy E. Sutton, began as a unit to systematically negotiate for more power in the Legislature.
Sutton was later to become Manhattan’s Borough President. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1977. He was a colorful black politician/lawyer, who lost many races seeking public office until an advisor told him to highlight the fact that he was the attorney for the man known as Malcolm X. He eventually did: and the rest is now fodder for Black-history month (February).
The Caucus demanded to share some of the power in the body. They also demanded positions in the leadership structure and assignments on the major committees within the legislature. In return for their continued support of the democratic leadership they were successful in accomplishing some of their immediate goals. As an illustration of the power which they had gained, the Black and Puerto Rican legislators were given the majority whip position, chairmanship of two committees, and representation on the powerful Assembly committees (Ways and Means, Banks, and Codes). They also hired Blacks and Puerto Ricans on their staffs.
Later that same year, through the efforts of the Caucus, the Legislature approved the historic program called Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge". It is commonly referred to as the "SEEK" program. This was and still is, a program designed to assist educationally and economically deprived students at the City University of New York, by providing services, finances and activities, which would help them achieve and accomplish higher academic, professional, social, cultural and economic goals.
In 1975, the turning point for the caucus came when its members successfully held up passage of the state budget until they received increased benefits for African American and Hispanic New Yorkers. Also during that year the caucus opened its first administrative office and hired a staff for the purpose of conducting research, monitoring legislation, and handling programmatic development within state agencies. In an effort to be more inclusive the Caucus changed its name twice: from “Puerto Rican” to “Hispanic”-in order to reflect the growing Latino membership for other parts of the Caribbean, the South, and Central American Diaspora.
In 2005 it changed to "NYS Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus", having welcomed its newest member: the first Asian American elected to New York State Legislature.
Those who participated in that fateful “Midnight Walk” (and are now departed), are surely turning in their graves, seeing what this body has devolved into. Recently assembly member Karim Camara (43AD/Brooklyn) was selected to head this body. The hope is that under his leadership it will regain its earlier efficacy.
The Caucus has become -over time- a mediocre political alliance, that has tried to give (with measured successes) the middle-class, the poor, and also the working class people of this state, a small voice (compared to its real potential) in state government. It could (and should) have been a more dynamic and vital component of the State Legislature since its creation.
From the onset, the main goal of the caucus has been to unite African American, Hispanic and Asian legislators as a powerful force in the State Legislature. The founders were determined to use their voting power and numbers -no matter how small- to ensure that their constituents (mainly the under-privileged people of New York State) were well-represented and fairly treated. It has grown in stature somewhat; but given the maladies afflicting the Black and Hispanic communities in the inner-cities of this large state, there is so much more to be done both inside and outside this body, that you wonder if leaders have the political will. You see, there are issues around political and electoral reform that must be first addressed within the state legislature itself. Who is going to bell the proverbial cat?
I am not going to go through a litany of all the problems facing us in communities of color here. I’ve done that too many times; and in too many columns over the past seven years I have been writing here on these blogs. I have also written about it in mainstream newspapers and periodicals. I have spoken on radio and television about the metastasizing black and Hispanic communities in this city, state and nation. I have even critiqued President Obama for the disappointing way he has speciously argued that there is only one-America: ignoring the fact that there is not only a Black-America; but a Hispanic-America too. Both of which are quite real and separate from the other Americas (White, Asian, Native-American, plus). This has always been the case. We deny it at our collective social-peril.
I am not going to call out names in this column. I am not going to beat up on the members of the caucus for failing to generate a comprehensive study showing how badly blacks and Hispanics have fared in this state (compared to other racial, ethnic, religious and nationalistic groups) since 1966. And yes; I am talking about economically and educationally (which is the key to economic advancement).
When you could only graduate one in every four black and Hispanic males from high school -which has been going on for decades now- you shouldn’t be amazed that prison populations are crammed with Black and Hispanic males all over this country. Lately, the fastest growing demographic in prison populations is Black and Hispanic females. Similar to the fastest growing demographic for new HIV-AIDS cases.
I am not going to castigate those electeds who have failed repeatedly in addressing the structural racism afflicting communities of color. Neither am I going to attack those electeds who have perpetually failed to find answers to the nagging structural socio-economic issues/problems in communities of color. Most have failed to impress upon their white brothers and sisters in the legislatures, the profound need for sustained governmental intervention. It’s as though they are ashamed to beg for help.
In this column, I am not going to posit that Black and Hispanic electeds have -for the most part- failed their communities while participating in an orgy of self-aggrandizement at the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. It is self-evident by now, I am sure.
I am going to hope that after this weekend of partying, debauchery and decadence; and after the fucking of husbands, or wives, or lovers, and/or staffers of someone else, that caucus members will then create a list for those of us out here who try to be hopeful. A top ten list of all the goals they hope to accomplish before this legislative session ends in December 2012.
From such a list we could then glean what their priorities are for this session of the legislature. Let’s start with redistricting. Then let’s get to the way budget items are (re)allocated every year. At the end of the day and night: the rich get richer and the poor get shafted. Let’s get to education. And housing. And quality health care in needy communities. And so on and so on. Let’s get to work.
Stay tuned-in folks. One of these days Black and Hispanic electeds will be forced to get serious: you will see. Otherwise we will just have to keep calling them names.