Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker epitomizes an unfortunate trend in black politics: the rise of the pro-corporate front man.
Controversy is still swirling over Booker’s comments on “Meet the Press” on May 20 when he defended Bain Capital and said that President Obama’s commercials against Mitt Romney’s role in the private equity firm were “nauseating.” Booker later backpedaled, and his communications director just resigned in the aftermath of the controversy.
But Booker’s original comment should not come as a surprise, for he is the prototype of a new generation of black politicians who cozy up to corporate America. This generation includes former Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and even Obama.
On the first weekend in May, Booker appeared alongside Fox News host Juan Williams and Republican Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana to sing the praises of charter schools and school privatization and to denounce teachers unions at the annual conference of the Alliance for School Choice.
It wasn’t a big step for Booker. It’s where he’s been all along, since his first late 1990s gig as a founding board member of the right-wing Bradley Foundation’s Black Alliance for Educational Options. What’s new is that in 2012 black Democrats with national profiles like Booker can appear in public at such conferences and almost no one says a peep.
These new black politicians still call liberally on the images of struggles past. They drape themselves in kente cloth every now and then, and they remember Martin Luther King’s birthday and Black History Month. They come together to celebrate and congratulate each other frequently, at occasions like the Congressional Black Caucus’s annual conference. But their politics have been forsaken.
Atlanta’s Mayor Reed, for instance, called himself a “civil rights lawyer.” He forgot to mention he was defending corporations that violate the civil rights of actual persons.
Today, black politics isn’t about addressing black unemployment, which is at levels not seen in many years.
It’s not about the catastrophic fall in black family wealth that has resulted from the foreclosure epidemic, also disproportionately concentrated in black neighborhoods.
It’s not about addressing the issue of black mass incarceration, which has shredded our families and futures.
It’s not about stopping the wave of foreign wars, which King called a demonic suction tube drawing resources away from programs for human needs. There seems to be no room for any of these concerns in today’s black politics. All that’s left is re-electing the black president, protecting him and the first lady from insults and shoring up the careers of black mayors and congressmen.
All that, and getting paid.
Contact Dixon, managing editor at Black Agenda Report, at firstname.lastname@example.org.