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Commentary: Black Racism?

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by someone attempting to smear Congressman Hansen Clarke, who faces a tough primary race next month to try and keep his job.

The writer told me that he had uncovered the fact that the congressman’s father was from a different country and gave his son a different name, which he later changed. Well, not only had I known that, I had written about it.

Clarke has never made a secret of either that his father was from Pakistan. Nor was it a secret that the boy was named Molik Hashem, a name he later Anglicized.

Other politicians, by the way, who ended up changing their names from the ones they were born with include President Gerald Ford and Congressman John Dingell’s father, who held the seat his son now does.  When I was unimpressed  with the name change, the slime artist then sent me a copy of the death  certificate of Hansen Clarke’s mother, Thelma Clarke, who died in 1976.

Clarke had told me she was black and a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The death certificate says she happened to be white. Then I saw where this ugliness was leading. These days, it is mostly taboo for whites to talk about the phenomenon of black-on-black racism.  

But this is what this was. People would rightly condemn any white person today who said they wouldn’t vote for anyone who had any African-American ancestry. But to do the reverse is sadly acceptable in some parts of Detroit today. I found this out first hand when I was writing about Freman Hendrix, the former deputy mayor of Detroit.

Hendrix is culturally and completely a part of the African-American community as they come. But his mother was a blond, blue-eyed Austrian war bride, who fell in love with Freman’s father after World War II, and came to live with him in a black neighborhood back in the late 1940s. I thought that was a heroic and inspiring story. But Hendrix was then nastily attacked by some of his opponents as not being black enough.

That may have been a factor in his loss to Kwame Kilpatrick, and as everyone now knows, the voters paid the price. I wasn’t eager to write anything about Clarke’s ancestry, but the death certificate did contradict what the congressman told me. So I asked.

Painfully, Clarke told me that his mother was a black woman who had taken pains to pass for white, something common years ago. She did this, he told me, because she thought it would give her only son a better chance in life.

What nobody can deny is that in the world in which she grew up, that was sadly true.

What is even more true is that none of that should matter to voters choosing a congressman. I am talking about this, by the way, because one of his opponents is attempting to use this.

Mary Waters now claims that as a result of this so-called revelation, she is the only black Detroiter in the race. I don’t believe that is true. But she is indeed the only candidate convicted of a recent misdemeanor in connection with a bribery scandal. Let’s hope the voters have the ability to discern what matters most.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.


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