Black Enough, or Liberal Enough?

For the first time in a long while, Washington D.C. might re-elect a mayor with some modicum of competence. He’s far from ideal, but Anthony Williams is a sight better than his predecessor, Marion Barry.

Where Barry was a demagogue who exploited racial animosity for political points, Anthony Williams is a technocrat who avoids racial nose-thumbing. He seeks only to run an efficient city.

Not content to leave well enough alone, the Washington Post continues to publish letters to the editor, guest op-eds, and entries from its own columnists suggesting that Williams isn’t "black enough" to lead D.C. This is an absurd, insulting and racist notion. What’s more, recent polls show that the idea is held by only a tiny percentage of D.C.’s black residents.

On Sept.1, the Post ran yet another op-ed on the nature of Williams’ color, this time by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. Bond correctly pointed out that, like Williams, Louis Farrakhan wears bowties; like Williams, W.E.B. DuBois went to Harvard; and, like Williams, Marion Barry was a non-native "carpetbagger" before ascending to the mayoralty. No one could seriously question the "blackness" of Farrakhan, DuBois or Barry, Bond noted, so why question Williams?

Bond concluded: "African Americans properly reject as racist allegations from others that we all think, look and act alike. Why should we impose these reactionary notions on one another?"

Indeed. But where has Bond been all these years?

Williams is a Democrat, and a leftist one. It’s easy for Bond to declare allegations that "we all think alike" are racist while he’s defending a man he largely agrees with. But ask Julian Bond about the "blackness" of men like Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly or Shelby Steele.

Bond and the NAACP have made it clear that while black leaders are free to wear bowties, attend Harvard and play tennis, they aren’t free to espouse rightist political philosophy. That would be a violation of their "blackness."

At the NAACP national convention in July, Bond questioned the "black" bona-fides of not just Connerly, but of the growing number of black Democrats who oppose the NAACP’s positions on issues such as school vouchers and tax cuts. "Oh they are colorblind all right," Bond said. "They are blind to the consequences of being of color."

In 1998 Bond called Republicans "the white people’s party," implying that any real person of color couldn’t possibly vote Republican. That same year in a speech to the National Press Club, Bond attacked Proposition 209, an effort spearheaded by Connerly that effectively ended affirmative action in California’s public university system. Bond called white supporters of the measure "white racists," and, referring to Connerly, said that "they are joined today by black self-haters and apologists."

In a 1999 speech to the City Club in Cleveland, Ohio, Bond likened Connerly to Eugene "Bull" Connor, the notorious Birmingham sheriff who released police dogs and fire hoses on civil rights protesters in the 1960s.

The organization Bond chairs is just as determined to preserve its definition of acceptable "black" political philosophy -- and assassinate the racial identity of any black person who dares to question it.

Speaker after speaker at the NAACP convention unleashed a barrage of hate and vitriol at blacks who failed to toe the liberal monolith. They were called "Negro wanderers" who want to "maim and kill other blacks for the gratification and entertainment of ultraconservative white racists." They were called "Negro Dr. Kevorkians," and "foot-shuffling, head-scratching …Uncle Toms." A black academic called them "frustrated slaves crawling back from the plantation."

In 1997, the NAACP protested a scheduled appearance by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at a fundraiser in Maryland for a Boys and Girls Club in Delaware. The NAACP's Maryland chapter said Thomas was not a "proper role model" for black youth. Chapter president Hanley Norment called Thomas "a lawn jockey for white, conservative politicians." Thomas backed out of the event.

Two years earlier, the national NAACP had nominated the late gangsta’ rapper and convicted felon Tupac Shakur for one of its coveted Image Awards. Apparently, in the NAACP’s world, a "felonious rap star" is an acceptable image for black youth, but a "conservative Supreme Court Justice" is not.

In 1998, the NAACP again protested a Thomas appearance before the National Bar Association, the professional organization for black lawyers. This time, Thomas delivered one of the more powerful and moving speeches ever given by a sitting Supreme Court Justice. "I have come here today...not to defend my views," Thomas said, "but rather to assert my right to think for myself; to refuse to have my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave, because I'm black. I come to state that I'm a man, free to think for myself and do as I please. I've come to assert that I am a judge and I will not be consigned the unquestioned opinions of others."

The NAACP seems to disagree. Black people aren’t permitted to think for themselves, only as the NAACP instructs them.

Perhaps Julian Bond is now prepared to tell black America that it is safe to vote Republican, support school choice or oppose affirmative action—or at the very least, tell them it’s okay to think for themselves and still be black.

Radley Balko is a writer living in Arlington, Va. He also maintains a weblog at

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