It didn’t take long for Howard Dean, the new Democratic National Committee chairman, to show his credentials as a graduate of the Trent Lott school of racial sensitivity training.
His remarks, at a meeting with the uniformly Democratic Congressional Black Caucus, that Republicans would need the “hotel staff” if they wanted to fill a room with blacks, tell us a lot about the man. They also tell us a lot about the Democratic Party that has chosen him to lead it out of its abyss.
Dean and his party are frozen in a time warp. Their sense of the social realities of our country and the challenges confronting us haven’t changed since 1965.
Surely Chairman Dean knows that our secretary of state is an African-American woman from Alabama. Or that there are now three black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
I wonder if he appreciates that the percentage of black households earning over $75,000 a year has more than quadrupled over the last 40 years. Or that there are now over 1 million blacks in this country with advanced degrees.
Perhaps Dean didn’t take notice that 1.5 million blacks voted for George W. Bush in 2004 – double the black vote that he got in 2000. I think that’s enough to fill a room. And, Mr. Dean, most of those 1.5 million black folks who voted for Bush are not hotel staff.
Blacks have moved on and moving on requires open eyes and open minds. If Dean’s eyes were open he’d be aware that his 40-year-old stereotypes have little to do with black reality today. He’d also be aware that prescriptions that blacks need and seek today are far different from the conventional wisdom of 40 years ago that more government is the answer for every social problem.
If Dean were paying attention, he’d be watching the reaction that Bill Cosby is getting in his inner-city tour around the nation with a message far different from what blacks are hearing from their Democratic representatives.
Inner-city black parents are getting Cosby’s message that taking control of their future starts by looking in the mirror and not by looking to Washington.
Cosby wants blacks to believe in themselves. Dean wants blacks to believe in government.
Dean thinks that if you want to find a black in a hotel you go to the bell stand. There are blacks today who own hotels.
Last month this same black caucus met with President Bush to share its agenda with him. Every issue on the agenda – whether jobs, crime, education, health care – was defined by a government spending program.
The president’s sop to them was a new inner-city government spending program he announced in the State of the Union address.
However, the president’s core message of ownership, responsibility, faith and freedom is far more in sync with what blacks need and want.
Dean and his Democrats should start watching the Cosby show and return their “Amos ‘n’ Andy” tapes to Blockbuster.
A few years ago I spoke in a hotel in the South. The event was sponsored by a conservative foundation and the audience was white. Here’s an excerpt from a letter I got after the event that might help Dean understand what many blacks who are still working in hotels are thinking:
“Serving in the Banquet Department of the hotel at a function sponsored by the John Locke Foundation allowed me to stay in the hall and listen to your presentation about your adversities, including the issues of ‘living on the edge.’ I knew at that instant the correct turn at the crossroad before me. My experience of meeting you kept a lamp of hope lit in my heart. I am now off drugs and back in college after 32 years, with a 4.0 GPA and pressing toward the mark every day. A healing in my life was initiated that day.”
Imagine if this woman who heard me speak that day heard Dean’s joke about blacks instead.
The Democrats’ selection of Dean as their chairman tells me that they are getting more rather than less deaf.
Democrats need to wake up.
(Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education (www.urbancure.org) and author of the recently published book “Uncle Sam’s Plantation.”)