Saturday, February 11, 2006

Steele on Stem Cells ...

Recent remarks by Maryland Lt. Gov. & U.S. Senate aspirant Michael S. Steele that compared stem cell research to Third Reich experiments on Jews in WWII add another bizarre twist to that ongoing saga of foot-in-mouth disease called the Black-Jewish Relationship. Media outlets are as eager to highlight the tensions between these two historically oppressed groups than the many instances when they have partnered and coalesced. But, Steele's remarks reflect the frequency with which high profile Black political figures are publicly chastised for disputed references to the the Jewish community.

As to Steele's comments: politically irresponsible and foolish; but clearly not "anti-Semitic." He knows that and the Jewish community in Baltimore and Washington know that. Still, we agree with this assessment in the attached Washington Post article:

Keith Haller, who conducts polls for Maryland media and others, said his recent surveys show that Steele has "risen above the cacophony of partisan battles" in the state. "His popularity has been steadily soaring, so he certainly didn't need to engage on this issue, in such an awkward way."

This is another example where Black Republicans must face the balancing act between appeasing the interests of White conservatives and the reality of campaigning for elected office. Steele need not worry; Republicans and conservatives want Maryland so bad that he can scrap the pro-life platform and not stress about losing their votes. But, if he keeps it up, he could lose precious African American votes (accounting for over thirty percent of Maryland's electorate) once they start feeling he's a bit too Right for their comfort.

And perhaps, in an odd sort of way, he has reached that pinnacle of national prominence where it was only a matter of time before this happened. From Malcolm X to NOI Minister Louis Farrakhan; from one-time Black Presidential candidate Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to the late Khalid Muhammad - there is an uncomfortable history.

But, there are also those moments of collaboration where both groups stood arm-in-arm. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it: "The racists and the segregationists make no fine distinction between the Negro and the Jew." This is true, underscored by the horrific parallels of violent oppression against both groups. Finding a common bond in their histories, and despite the disagreements and differences, Blacks and Jews have long been close partners in the human rights movement. The rise of racism and anti-Semitism in the United States culminated in the civil rights movement. And despite the 1991 Crown Heights riots, that relationship endures.

One will not glean that from the attached article. That is unfortunate. And Maryland Congressman and Democratic Senate front-runner Benjamin L. Cardin will certainly exploit Steele's comments in total ignorance of that tested, yet proud legacy. Steele could avert sudden political disaster by reclaiming the personal ties between these two groups. Ultimately, Cardin can't relate to that. Steele can.