Friday, October 02, 2009

SouthComm's Post Politics Blogger Draws Charges of Racism in Reference to African American Candidate Running to Represent North End

In a controversial post title this morning the SouthComm blog aggregator at the Post Politics blog referred to the African American State House District 58 challenger to Rep. Mary Pruitt, Steven Turner, as "Jason Powell in Blackface." Powell was the white challenger who ran against Pruitt in 2006. District 58 includes the North End neighborhoods (Salemtown, Germantown, etc), Downtown, portions of East Nashville and West Nashville, and the southern urban corridor to Berry Hill.

I can't claim to know what SouthComm editors are thinking in allowing this title to stand for 12 hours without comment, and the dozens of responses to the post have been mostly negative or seemed confused by the message intended in the title.

Provocation for its own sake that ends up reinforcing negative ethnic stereotypes is not good for anyone. But another question I have is whether said aggregator drew the flippant concept from another local blog's recent title referring to Barack Obama:

I shouldn't dignify the offending Post Politics post with my own blog post on it, but it does involve a candidate for this district, so it's news to us.

UPDATE: SouthComm CEO Chris Ferrell responds to reader outcry in the comment section of a separate SouthComm blog a little over 24 hours after the insensitivity was committed with a concession that his political blogger screwed up and a defense of himself and his corporation against criticism:
Kleinheider messed up. His post was completely inappropriate as were his initial responses.

Most blog posts are not edited. We trust our writers to post content that is appropriate. Most of the time they do that, but in this case Kleinheider did not. If this had been a news story for the Post or the Citypaper or the Scene it would have been edited and that headline never would have been made public. When the Post editor, Geert De Lombaerde (to answer the question asked above), learned of the post and responses he instructed Kleinheider to stop pouring fuel on the fire with his responses ....

Maybe it was a mistake in judgment to leave the headline up, but we rarely change content once it is posted unless there is a factual mistake.

We asked Kleinheider to write a thoughtful apology rather than an off the cuff response. At some point Friday it will be posted on Post Politics. It was his post and I thought the response should come from him. However, in light of some of the comments here tonight I had to write my own response as well.

One of my first thoughts when I read some of these comments was that those without sin should cast the first stone ....

With the caveat that all of us white southerners have some degree of guilt for benefitting from structural discrimination, the notion that SouthComm is run by a bunch of racists is simply ludicrous. First of all, I have operating responsibility for the company. The investors are not involved in editorial decisions in any direct manner. So the charges leveled at them are just not related to the reality of how this organization functions.
I think the fact that Bruce called Kleinheider out on this blog is an example of our commitment to independent voices ....

If you want to call me a racist for allowing this headline to remain, then I would suggest that you are making a broad judgment based on a narrow slice of information. While much of this discussion was taking place here tonight I was at Pearl Cohn watching my son play football for his very integrated public middle school. I’m pretty comfortable that any complete look at my career on the council will reflect that among white council members, no one had a better record of advocating for programs to improve the lives of African American (and other minority) members of this community.

The subject of Ferrell's reference to throwing fuel on the fire was initial debate between Kleinheider and former District 58 candidate Jason Powell. Here is the exchange as it appeared on Post Politics:
Jason Powell writes
October 1st, 2009 12:00 pm

Please kindly change the title of this blog posting. I find it inappropriate and disrespectful to the campaign I ran and the campaign Steven Turner is running.


Jason Powell

Kleinheider writes
October 1st, 2009 12:16 pm

Please kindly change the title of this blog posting. I find it inappropriate and disrespectful to the campaign I ran and the campaign Steven Turner is running.

Okay, hang on. I’ll get to you in a minute. Right now I’m busy going back and retroactively making all my post title’s “appropriate and respectful.”

Could take a while.

Kleinheider's mea culpa mentioning District 58 candidate Steven Turner appeared several hour ago:
Many, many people have asked me the now obvious question “What were you thinking?”

The political answer, the pragmatic answer, the “smart” answer to that question would be “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. I apologize and I assure you it will never, ever happen again.”

Nine of ten people in my position would give that answer to save their skin, go along to get along and live to post another day. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m that tenth guy.

I can’t say that I didn’t give the post title any thought — because I did. I give most of my post titles thought — the ones that provoke any kind of thought or response anyway.

As you may notice if you stop by here for any length of time, this is an aggregation site. I find things I think are interesting and informative at the local, state, and federal level and share them here. Sometimes I engage in a bit of news analysis or commentary and occasionally even some original reporting. But chiefly, this is an aggregation site.

As aggregation can be a bit boring, I like to spice up the titles a bit. Sometimes it is a movie reference, occasionally some interesting alliteration, sometimes a joke. Often irreverent and frequently disrespectful, they are designed to give a chuckle or make one think. Many times they are vague and ambiguous forcing the reader to ask “What does that mean?”

In fact, I often get emails asking that very thing about titles and I am loathe to explain. I like ambiguity. It would be silly to call blog post titles “art” — clearly they aren’t. But, to me, they are similar in that they frequently are better left unexplained.

Those that know, know. Those that misunderstand, misunderstand. And those that come away with something totally different than my intent share their impressions and make me think.

Suffice it to say, in the last 24 hours, I’ve had a lot to think about.

To those that I offended, I am truly sorry. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. My intent was to provoke a positive discussion. In that, I failed. Because, while I certainly incited something, it wasn’t the least bit constructive.

You see, I remember the race between Jason Powell and Mary Pruitt in 2006. Pruitt had, to this observer, clearly outstayed her welcome in public office. She had had legitimate ethics charges leveled against her. With a fresh progressive qualified challenger running against her, it seemed plausible (on paper anyway) that she would go down to defeat. Powell, by all accounts, ran an exemplary campaign that year. But, he ultimately fell short.

The reason was seldom said but clear as day. Jason Powell was white in a district that wasn’t.

Steven Turner is an outstanding individual who stands tall on his own merit but his brand of progressive politics, while different on the margins, are strikingly similar to Powell’s. Yet Turner has a chance at victory over the entrenched incumbent where Powell did not.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Kleinheider isn't the first of us that said something he'd probably would like to have reworded.
    But this really isn't "racist".

    One day people are going to have to learn not get a little bit tougher of a hide.
    I don't explode on everyone who says something bigoted about Christians or Southerners or Whites or what have you.

    Sure, those kind of references strike a nerve in some. But what Kleinheider was saying is even clear to me and I know none of these people.

    Get a hide, people. This is the internet.