The memo reads, "For the last 25 years Atlanta has represented the breakthrough for black political empowerment in the South... In order to defeat a Norwood (white) mayoral candidacy we have to get out now and work in a manner to defeat her without a runoff, and the key is a significant Black turnout."
Atlanta's population is 57% black and 38% white. No white candidate has mounted a serious campaign for the office of mayor since 1973.
The Wall Street Journal's article quotes a prominent African-American political scientist who defends the Black Leadership Forum's memo. Bob Holmes, a Clark Atlanta University professor who serves as the editor of a publication titled The Status of Black Atlanta, calls the attempt to protect black political clout in Atlanta "inevitable."
The Obstacles of Being a White Candidate in a Majority-Black District
This latest example of overtly racial political campaigning underscores the obstacles white candidates face when running for office in majority-black areas.
There are only two white members of the U.S. Congress who represent majority-black districts. One of them is Steve Cohen, who in 2006 became the first white congressman elected to represent Memphis, TN since 1974. Since taking office in 2007, Cohen has worked to represent the interests of his black constituents.
Cohen attempted to join the Congressional Black Caucus, an organization with the stated goal of "positively influencing the course of events pertinent to African-Americans." Although the bylaws of the caucus do not make race a prerequisite for membership and specifically prohibit any discrimination, Cohen was denied membership because of the color of his skin. Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr., D-Mo. explained why the CBC rebuffed Cohen:
"Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. He's white and the Caucus is black. It's time to move on. We have racial policies to pursue and we are pursuing them, as Mr. Cohen has learned. It's an unwritten rule. It's understood."
Undeterred, Cohen went on to introduce a resolution formally apologizing for slavery in the United States. This conciliatory jesture didn't stop Cohen's black 2008 challenger from running television ads linking him to the Ku Klux Klan. Memphis's Black Ministerial Association backed the challenger, Nikki Tinker. One minister expressed what was likely the opinion of many members of the group when he said of Cohen, "He's not black, and he can't represent me, that's just the bottom line."
Cohen prevailed, but in 2010 he'll face a more formidable black opponent in Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. Although Cohen is the incumbent, Herenton has "deeper roots" among African-American voters and is thus widely viewed as the favorite.
The Obstacles of Being a White Candidate in a Minority-White Country
In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama defeated John McCain 96% to 3% among black voters. In the months prior to the election, the media obsessed over whether Obama would be harmed by the "Bradley effect" - the groundless belief that a large number of the white people who publicly profess to support the black candidate will secretly vote for the white candidate when they enter the election booth. In contrast, little attention was given to the demonstrative evidence that blacks preferred Obama over Hillary Clinton and John McCain because Obama is black.
Some white liberals acknowledged that blacks supported Obama because of his race, but they justified this racial favoritism by noting the historic nature of the 2008 election. According to this line of thought, the fact that blacks have been voting for white presidential candidates for over a hundred years is evidence that they'll continue to support white candidates in the future. It's not worth discussing blacks' racial favoritism in the current election because it's not something that will be repeated in future elections. Once the first black president has taken office, America will become post-racial, and blacks will evaluate subsequent candidates without regard to their race.
The black racial solidarity on display in Atlanta and Memphis calls into question the belief that Obama's victory ushered in a post-racial era. It seems there was nothing unique about the incredible level of support Obama received from the black community in 2008. Future black presidential candidates will likely enjoy similar levels of absolute support.
If the election of a black candidate signifies black political empowerment, then that candidate's subsequent unseating by a white challenger naturally signifies black powerlessness. A large number of blacks will rally around a black candidate to prevent what they see as the loss of black political clout.
Once whites are a numerical minority in the United States, it will become increasingly difficult for white candidates to be democratically elected at the national level. There will eventually be a point where whites are simply unable to acquire the votes necessary to win the presidency. The fear is that from that moment forward, the United States could come to resemble present-day South Africa, and whites would be powerless to stop it. If this isn't the future whites want, they should take a lesson from the Black Leadership Forum and work to protect their own political clout.