I'll Show You How To Race-Bait Properly

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From Memphis:

The black candidate, former Mayor Willie W. Herenton of Memphis, has argued that Tennessee needs a black voice in its currently all-white delegation. He is running a blistering campaign against Representative Steve Cohen, a fellow Democrat with a precarious hold on the majority black district.

"To know Steve Cohen is to know that he really does not think very much of African-Americans," Mr. Herenton said in a recent radio interview on KWAM. "He's played the black community well."

Matt correctly notes that this sort of deliberate race-baiting often fails, not because of ideals, but because of its hamfisted appeal; The key is to give the voters a reason to justify their racism, not enroll them in your racism. That said, I hate this sentiment:

"This seat was set aside for people who look like me," said Mr. Herenton's campaign manager, Sidney Chism, a black county commissioner. "It wasn't set aside for a Jew or a Christian. It was set aside so that blacks could have representation."

This is a disreputable feature of a certain kind of politician who came of age in the 60s. The key to the critique lay in conflating black people who vote with black people who are looking for votes. The district was created so that people who look Herenton would be well-represented, not so that people who look like Herenton would have a job for life. The argument is insulting to the actual voter because it says that he/she shouldn't have the right to choose, but should have his/her choices dictated by politicians.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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