ABOVE: Mayor Sylvester Turner
“Be honest. If Sylvester Turner were White he would have made the cover of TIME Magazine following Hurricane Harvey”
Houston has always been a city of subtle and sophisticated, yet polarizing racism.
My boxing coach used to say that the most dangerous and damaging punch is the one you don’t see coming. So it is with racism. The most dangerous and damaging impact does not come from the overt racism you see, but it comes from the passive-aggressive bigotry we sometimes tend to miss if we aren’t paying close attention. I call it “designer racism.”
It may not look like much on the surface but in the end you pay a higher price for it.
I was reminded of this type of “designer racism” while reading a recent article written by the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board entitled “Remember the Villains of Harvey.”
While giving accolades to elected officials who worked around the clock and behind the scenes to help us recover, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and U.S. John Cornyn were mentioned, while the mayor of the City of Houston, Sylvester Turner, was not even mentioned at all.
As a matter of fact, in a city where the population is majority Black and Brown, no Black elected officials were even mentioned. That’s another story. I want to stay focused on Mayor Turner, however. Everybody knows that Mayor Turner displayed extraordinary leadership unlike anything this city has ever seen, before and during one of the most dangerous and destructive natural disasters in the history of the modern world.
It was a display of what we call in our culture…BLACK EXCELLENCE.
Hurricane Harvey was the September 11th of natural disasters. Just as Rudy Giuliani was praised as “America’s Mayor” following 9/11, it makes no sense to me why Mayor Turner was (and still is) being pushed further into the background in the aftermath of Harvey.
To not mention this brother when speaking about the elected officials who worked tirelessly around the clock to help the City of Houston as it was challenged with recovery and rebuilding, is like failing to mention Tom Brady in a discussion about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl over the Atlanta Falcons in historic fashion.
The truth is, Mayor Turner led this city through that storm like Brady has done many times before in a Super Bowl. However, it appears that many people want to pretend as if that didn’t happen. In the activist world we have a term for racial profiling called “Driving while Black.” It refers to a Black motorist’s likelihood of being pulled over by a member of law enforcement because of the color of his or her skin. In this context it’s clear that Mayor Sylvester Turner is dealing with a case of “Mayoring while Black.” Mayor Turner has to do ten times the work of his White counterparts in order to even get half the credit they do. It is what it is.
Before some of you try the old Jedi-mind trick of accusing me of being racist for calling out racism let me say that during Hurricane Harvey I did not give a damn that our mayor was Black. I had a newborn baby in my home and at no point did I know what was going to happen next. I was forced to depend on leadership. I did not like that feeling. For the first time in a long time I, as a man, was genuinely afraid. I did not need our leadership to be Black. I needed our leadership to be effective. All I can say is Mayor Turner stepped up to the plate in a major way.
While I respect the work that Ed Emmett did, neither he nor John Cornyn quarterbacked my family through that storm.
While my condolences go out to the families of those who lost their lives, experts were astounded that a storm of such magnitude did not claim more lives. And while so many people played a role, these experts agreed that it was leadership that made the pivotal difference. That leadership just happened to be a Black man who happened to be from Acres Homes.
Hurricane Harvey was just the tip of the iceberg. I simply do not have the space to talk about how, in just a couple of years, Mayor Turner is accomplishing more than his predecessors accomplished in their entire time in office. I simply don’t have the space to talk about constraints placed on Mayor Turner’s administration that weren’t placed on any of the previous mayors. While he and his leadership are not perfect, Mayor Turner could shape up to be the best mayor the city of Houston has ever had. That is the hope for some of us. That is the fear for others. The same mindset that could not stand to see a Black family in the White House is the same mindset that cannot stand to see a Black man lead the fourth largest city in America.
Take it or leave it.
Why this is so dangerous?
The energy of White Supremacy dictates that the greatness of Black people must be written out of history. One of the reasons Black America was given only one month as a celebration of Black History is because we have been effectively “written out” of the rest of them.
Truth is, some White people would rather swallow a bowling ball whole than give a Black man or woman his or her just due. It’s safe to say that Hurricane Harvey is part of America’s history.
Black children watched everything begin to fall apart during Hurricane Harvey, but they got a chance to see a Black man lead the city and help their families pull things back together. When you rob him of his just due, you also rob them. Our youth need examples – both past and present – of Black excellence, and not just in entertainment and athletics.
This is why publications like the Forward Times newspaper are so critical to our survival and success as a people. We must tell our own story.
Houston Chronicle’s editorial was obviously biased and agenda-driven. Sometimes what people don’t say is more telling than what they do say. So while everyone is sharing their best “Remember Harvey” stories, let’s not forget to remind our children of the role that Black excellence played.
From one Black man to another I want to publicly salute our mayor, Mayor Sylvester Turner, for his leadership during Hurricane Harvey. You didn’t make the cover of Time Magazine, but you certainly made us proud and deserve to be recognized.
I have more to say. Stay tuned.