I'm 'a member of the African-American community,' says white Dem seeking state House seat

A Democrat running for a state House seat in North Carolina has caused a stir in the election by claiming at a campaign event this week that he’s “a member of the African-American community.”

The candidate, Gary Shipman – one of three Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to take on incumbent state Rep. Holly Grange, a Republican, is white.

"I'm a member of the African-American community," Shipman said. "I've been where you are. I've been in your communities."

Shipman, an attorney and party official, tried to clarify his remark afterward, claiming he meant to say that he is out and about among the community, meeting with African-Americans and other voters, so he feels confident that they know him and he knows them, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

"I’ve eaten at many a fish fry held by my 'brothers' and 'sisters,' 'aunts' and 'uncles' in that community."

- Gary Shipman, Democrat running for Congress in North Carolina

“I’ve eaten at many a fish fry held by my 'brothers' and 'sisters,' 'aunts' and 'uncles' in that community; I’ve celebrated birthdays, births, marriages, graduations, Christmas, Thanksgiving, July 4, etc., with many members of the African-American community," Shipman wrote in an email to the newspaper.

"There are people within that community and elsewhere that refer to me (and treat me) like their 'brother' or 'pops' or 'uncle', and I refer to them (and treat them) like my 'brothers', 'sisters' and children," he wrote.

He added: "Like other members of my family, many members of the African-American community have called me in the middle of the night when someone was sick or to come help them or some other member of their family, and I’ve responded — because they are my family.”

Shipman and his Democratic opponents in the 20th District race – Leslie Cohen and John Bauer – were asked at the campaign event how they would promote inclusion and get African-American voters interested in their campaigns, the News & Observer reported.

Shipman said his remarks were intended as a response to Cohen, who said she would accept any invitations to meet with African-American voters.

Ultimately, said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of North Carolina’s Republican Party, it’s the voters who will decide who represents their values and their community.

But Shipman might not believe that his community spirit extends to private organizations such as golf clubs.

In 2013, he told WECT-TV that he did not believe that private clubs such as Georgia’s Augusta National were obligated to admit women or minorities, as Augusta did in 2012 when it admitted former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore.

“Private organizations that are not open to the public are run by their members who make the rules as to whether to admit or expel members in accordance with those rules,” Shipman told the station, “and courts, except under extremely limited circumstances, don't get involved.”