By James Hull
So, here’s my question: On November 9th after we’ve analyzed the gubernatorial vote, where will most of gubernatorial candidate Johnny DuPree’s votes have come from?
Will they come from African-Americans only, casting their votes for him simply because of his skin color? If that ends up being the case, never again can black folks get mad at white folks for supporting a candidate just because he or she is also white. We will have relinquished our ability to fuss at whites for making political decisions based solely on race.
Or, will Mayor DuPree get nominal support from Mississippi’s white moderates and independents? If he doesn’t, then maybe they should actually engage in the practice of diversity, rather than just promoting it with lip service.
And what about conservatives, black and white, who favor candidates with strong Christian values and a strong work ethic?
I ask these questions, not to support or endorse Dupree – that is not what this space is for – but to examine what our thinking is each and every time we go to the polls. Because, win lose or draw this year’s gubernatorial race should be one of the closest in the history of our state. Why? Because both Bryant and Dupree are worthy public servants with distinguished credentials. They have much more in common than they do differences.
Both Bryant and DuPree support Propositions 26 and 27 on the ballot.
Byrant pushes economic development, DuPree is a proven jobs creator as mayor of Hattiesburg.
So what is the most obvious and glaring difference between the two men? Skin color.
Therefore, in my mind, if Bryant wins in a cakewalk, with DuPree only getting votes in the black precinct boxes, or if DuPree wins with a deluge of white votes despite a low black turnout, that will tell me we have a long way to go in terms of how we relate candidates of color.
You see, in the first scenario (Bryant in a cakewalk), it will tell me that an overwhelming number of white Mississippians will still vote race, despite equal qualifications. They wouldn’t care if the candidate was George Washington Carver (esteemed scientist), Booker T. Washington (esteemed educator), Colin Powell (esteemed soldier and diplomat) and Herman Cain (esteemed Tea Party darling) all one perfect candidate, they still would not vote for him, because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a black man.
In the second scenario (DuPree wins with substantial white votes and low black turnout), it will tell me that African-Americans are still not ready for prime time. They will not have voted because they could not bring themselves to believe a black man can win statewide office in this state.
For the past six months, all I’ve been hearing is that DuPree cannot win because white Mississippians cannot – will not – put aside their prejudices and vote for the man strictly on his merits. I hear this from blacks, not whites. And I still don’t know what to make of that.
Maybe what it says is that many of my people have a self esteem problem with ourselves or a trust problem with whites.
Personally I cannot bring myself to believe that large numbers stay home out of frustration. Nor can I believe that large numbers of whites will reject DuPree simply because of his skin color.
For the record, I am not using this space to promote Johnny DuPree’s candidacy. But, as a community activist, I do aim to promote diversity. And as a political scientist, I am intrigued by the multiple confluences of race and qualifications in this race.
If Bryant wins as most predict – after all, Bryant is the conservative in this race, and Mississippi is a conservative state – my hope is it will be because Mississippians voted in their best self-interest, not by preference of skin color.
The way I see it, if Mississippians go to the polls and vote color blind, whoever wins, the night of November 8th should be one doozy of a nail-biter.
James Hull is an award-wining journalist and a political consultant. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.