Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Whites not allowed in Black Caucus

Josephine Hearn:

Freshman Rep. Stephen I. Cohen, D-Tenn., is not joining the Congressional Black Caucus after several current and former members made it clear that a white lawmaker was not welcome.

"I think they're real happy I'm not going to join," said Cohen, who succeeded Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., in a majority-black Memphis district. "It's their caucus and they do things their way. You don't force your way in. You need to be invited."

Cohen said he became convinced that joining the caucus would be "a social faux pas" after seeing news reports that former Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., D-Mo., a co-founder of the caucus, had circulated a memo telling members it was "critical" that the group remain "exclusively African-American."

Other members, including the new chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., and Clay's son, Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., agreed.

"Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. ... It's time to move on," the younger Clay said. "It's an unwritten rule. It's understood. It's clear."

The bylaws of the caucus do not make race a prerequisite for membership, a House aide said, but no non-black member has ever joined.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who is white, tried in 1975 when he was a sophomore representative and the group was only 6 years old.

"Half my Democratic constituents were African-American. I felt we had interests in common as far as helping people in poverty," Stark said. "They had a vote, and I lost. They said the issue was that I was white, and they felt it was important that the group be limited to African-Americans."

Apparently, the Black Caucus believes in promoting diversity, but not practicing it.


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