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MPRAC Sponsors Open Discussion of Race

Ever since it was disclosed that Chris Stewart (a candidate for the Minneapolis School Board) was associated with a website that imitated and satirized Congressional candidate Tammy Lee’s campaign website in a racially derogatory way, there were calls for Stewart to resign his newly elected position on the school board. Bill McGaughey, a reporter for the Watchdog newspaper who had worked in Lee’s campaign, was among those pressing for the resignation through postings on the Minneapolis e-democracy forum. The flurry of comments concerning the Stewart controversy made it quite clear that a common set of facts did not preclude sharply divergent interpretations. One’s opinion on the website and possible resignation depended upon one’s preconceived attitude toward race.

McGaughey received a private email from Stewart and sent a response. He then proposed to Stewart that both participate in an open discussion of race. This would be an opportunity to get at the racial attitudes that underlay the controversy. Chris Stewart agreed. A meeting was set up in the community room of the Washburn public library in south Minneapolis for 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, December 2, 2006. A possible moderator, Alberto Monserrate (publisher of La Prensa newspaper), had a scheduling conflict so the Watchdog newspaper publisher, Jim Swartwood, agreed to assume this role. Swartwood also arranged for the event to be videotaped and shown on the Minneapolis cable-access station, MNT, in three half-hour segments.

About twenty-five persons participated in the Saturday-afternoon meeting. Some were landlords belonging to Metro Property Rights Action Committee. Others were participants on the Minneapolis e-democracy forum. Participants were asked to introduce themselves and declare their agenda or interest in the event. Additionally, some stood in the back of the room wishing not to be identified. Reporters from the Star Tribune, Insight News, and the Spokesman-Recorder were on hand. The latter two were newspapers predominantly serving the African American community.

Chris Stewart opened the discussion by stating that the residents of Minneapolis needed to overcome racial obstacles and barriers in order to meet unprecedented challenges that would face the next generation of Americans. This would be a period, he said, of economic distress. It was imperative that Minneapolis school children be properly prepared through education. Stewart declared himself to be a social conservative who thought that identity politics was often unhelpful. While he had supported Keith Ellison for Congress, he would not have done so if Ellison had run as a “black candidate” or a “Muslim candidate” and not as someone who intended to represent everyone, Stewart said.

Intending to have a hard-edged discussion of race, Bill McGaughey attacked the double standard in racial discussions which says that only white people can be racist because race is defined as prejudice plus power and white people have all the power. He pointed out that the Civil Rights movement was a national struggle which pitted the emerging class of college-educated managers and professionals (mostly in northern states) against white segregationists in the south. When the federal government enforced desegregation, it was a case of the politically powerful defeating the relatively weak rural south. So this whole talk of a racist white power structure oppressing blacks was a canard.

McGaughey also expressed the opinion that even today the political and corporate power structure is lined up solidly in support of such policies as affirmative action to benefit black people at the expense of whites. Almost no one today will come out in favor of anything looking like “white racism”. Instead, white people are universally stigmatized as a people enjoying undue privilege at the expense of blacks. Knowing this to be untrue but not wishing to be called “racist”, most whites keep their opinions on race relations to themselves. They become cynical about the official lies told in society or use coded language when referring to racial matters. The purpose of this forum, McGaughey said, was to empower participants of all persuasions to speak their mind openly and let free speech produce a better racial understanding.

Chris Stewart said that he, too, was for free speech. He interpreted McGaughey’s arguments, however, as an expression of self-perceived white victimhood. White people claimed that the corporate structure put them at a disadvantage when, in fact, whites continued to hold most of the good jobs. Stewart said that he had been a consultant with several large employers. The reason for affirmative action, he thought, was mainly to help corporations prepare for the future. Because of the low birth rate among whites, the future population would increasingly consist of persons of color. Companies needed to hire racial minorities to deal with their future customers.

McGaughey agreed that whites continued to hold most of the best jobs but argued that the “disadvantage” was more a political or cultural thing - a subtle message that white people were bad or were overly privileged. Low-level white employees were first stigmatized and then abused. If blacks thought they would benefit from this situation, they would be sadly mistaken. The corporate managers intend to outsource both black and white people’s jobs, he said. There is no longer any sense of community between the political and business elite and the people who depend on their leadership. Maintaining racial divisions were a key to this type of exploitation.

Howie Gangestad, a northside landlord who introduced himself as a “slumlord”, said that his tenants were mostly black. Many or most were on welfare. He claimed that this was the only type of tenant who was willing to rent in the neighborhoods where his buildings were located. Sheila -, an African American woman who said she lived in Cottage Grove, challenged Gangestad’s claim that he had to take undesirable types of tenants. If you consider them bad tenants, don’t rent to them, she said. She also said that white racism was alive and well in places such as Cottage Grove where a driver had stopped to shout the n-word at her pre-teen daughter.

When Gangestad said that he rented both to families with young children and to known sex offenders, Sheila condemned him for putting the children at risk. Gangestad responded that the sex offenders have to live somewhere. Why not in his buildings? The political establishment was being hypocritical about the fact that a certain percentage of city residents have criminal tendencies or are otherwise unfit to occupy rental property in Minneapolis. The city prefers to blame landlords for those problems, he said.

Part of the discussion concerned Chris Stewart’s role in the website that satirized Tammy Lee’s campaign website. Terry Yzaguirre, who publishes a conservative blogsite, criticized Stewart for his role in producing a “racist” site which, if a Minneapolis teacher or student had created it, would bring serious disciplinary problems. Yet, he was allowed to assume a position on the school board. She also considered this to be interference in a Congressional election campaign. Stewart responded that the website was clearly labeled “political satire” and, despite reports, had been so since its inception. He said that he, too, found the satire to be quite objectionable.

Summing up, Bill McGaughey criticized the “double standard” implicit in political correctness where one group (whether it be blacks, women, or gays and lesbians) is assumed to be good and its demographic opposite bad. He said this was prejudice of the sort which the original Civil Rights movement condemned. A black racist is cut from the same cloth as a white racist, and the two should be treated in a similar way. Stewart again argued that his goal was to get past race and conceptions of victimhood so that the community could prepare to deal successfully with problems of the future.

The meeting room had to be cleared promptly at 6 p.m. Even so, the participants stood around in various informal discussions. An unidentified white woman, presumably a political liberal, came up to Sheila - afterwards to congratulate her for her part of the discussion. She asked Sheila how long she had known Chris Stewart. Sheila said she did not know Stewart but pointed to Bill McGaughey as the person who had brought her to the meeting. At this point, Sheila later told McGaughey, the woman gave her a dirty look and abruptly walked away.

McGaughey, for his part, passed along to Stewart a request that he speak on another subject at a future meeting of Metro Property Rights Action Committee once he had several months under his belt as a member of the Minneapolis School Board. Stewart said he would be glad to participate. Both agreed that there had been a good exchange of views and the meeting had been successful.

As of this date, only the Spokesman-Recorder has published an article on the meeting. The other two newspapers which sent reporters to the meeting have evidently decided against it. Perhaps the idea of black and white racists (or persons considered such) sitting down together to hold an amicable discussion does not fit the existing paradigm of news coverage on this subject. It wasn’t what the editors were expecting.

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