Race no reason for Best ouster

I took a break from blogging over the long weekend but not from writing.  My bi-weekly column was due on Monday so I reserved some time to say what I wanted to say about some aspects of Thursday night’s Commissioner meeting.

I called Commissioner (and fellow wife-had-breast-cancer club member) Kirk Perkins on Saturday to thank him for his failed efforts toward trying to stave off Thursday’s train wreck.  As we talked, he said he was dismayed and dissappointed to have been on the receiving end of Alston, Coleman and Davis’ efforts to connect anyone who voted to fire Willie Best as possessing racist tendancies.  He was confused by that charge from black commissioners and by some Simkins PAC members who previously had expressed confidence in his judgement.  Perkins told me that some of Guilford’s black leadership had, in the past, told him he has “a good heart.”  Wait… I’d heard that before.

When a black leader pronounces that a white person has “a good heart”,  that white person has been determined to demonstrate empathy and good judgement in matters of race and can be trusted with civil rights.  But all of that was apparently thrown out the window Thursday night in favor of a more narrow message: “…fire a black man and we’ll label you a racist.â€?  My “good heart” didn’t like what I witnessed…

“As I sat in the audience watching Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, several of Greensboro’s powerful black-centric political action committee sat behind me and still others occupied commissioner’s chairs before me.  All were bristling for a fight they knew was already lost…”More...N&R mast_1_27.jpg

By David Hoggard

7/6/06

“This community can only withstand so many events which negatively impact on race relations.� These undeniably true words came from the Simkins PAC membership in the lead-up to the firing of Guilford’s first black County Manager.
 
As I sat in the audience watching Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, several of Greensboro’s powerful black-centric political action committee sat behind me and still others occupied commissioner’s chairs before me.  All were bristling for a fight they knew was already lost.
 
Willie Best’s fate had already been decided, and widely reported, in the days leading up to that specially called meeting, which wouldn’t normally be televised.  This one was, however, due in large part to the insistence of Commissioner Skip Alston, and now we know why: Alston wanted the largest possible audience to witness how he, himself, intended to “negatively impact� race relations hereabouts. 
 
Billy Yow himself couldn’t have done a better job of it.
 
Thursday’s meeting proved that promoting bad race relations isn’t the sole providence of white people.
 
There are those, such as my white self, working to improve race relations through the lives we lead and confronting ignorance we encounter.  We work from the outside.  We are the one’s who receive the highest compliment a black leader can bestow on a white guy: “You’ve got a good heart�, they’ll say in private conversation… meaning, “Even though you aren’t black, you can be trusted to do the right thing.�
 
Although I don’t know all of the Commissioners equally well, I do know Paul Gibson and Kirk Perkins are white guys who’ve been said to possess “good hearts�.  But now, because they voted to fire a man whom they thought was not up to the task of leading Guilford County, a man who happens to be black, their “good hearts� are deemed good no more. 
 
I assume we “good hearts� earned that honor due to empathy and independent thinking in matters of race and the public good.  But from the vitriol expressed Thursday night by our black Commissioners toward the “good hearted� sitting with them, doing the right thing was redefined as, “…fire a black man and we’ll label you a racist.�
 
There’s no question that Willie Best was treated badly by a majority of the Commissioners in the lead-up to Thursday night’s debacle, but what’s new about that?  Our Board of Commissioners is nationally recognized for their total ineptitude in employee relations.  They are equal opportunity jack-asses in that department. (Edited out of original submission)
 
In light of the fact that support for Best’s removal easily crossed normally uncrossable party lines and included formerly “good-hearted� commissioners, it is easy to side with the majority view that Guilford County’s management needed a change for the stronger.
 
Alston’s claims of future chairmanship maneuvering as the prime motivator for Best’s ouster don’t hold water.  Such arrangements would necessarily involve Republican power broker extraordinaire Steve Arnold, who denied involvement openly and forcefully.  Describe Arnold with whatever words might come to mind, but I doubt “liar� would be one of them. (Edited out of original submission)
 
Despite loud, ugly, racially divisive ranting by black commissioners Alston, Coleman and Davis, Willie Best was not fired because of the color of his skin, but for the content of his leadership style.  Best endured exactly the same embarrassments, disrespect and degradations that have been, before Thursday night, reserved by our commissioners for whites only.
 
To our black leadership I say ‘welcome to the club’; equal treatment is what you and all “good hearted� folks have been working toward all these years. 

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10 Comments

  1. Posted July 5, 2006 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Nelson used the Best situation to help further his cause. It is the second of six examples nelson provided in his declaration. http://thetroublemaker.blogspot.com Are you going to support nelson and the new CWP?

  2. Posted July 5, 2006 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    “He was dismayed and disappointed to have been on the receiving end of Alston, Coleman and Davis’ efforts to connect anyone who voted to fire Willie Best as possessing racist tendencies.”

    David, as we’ve discussed before on this blog to the point of nausea, often people talk right past each other because they are talking about different things.

    It’s one thing to hurl an insult, issue a challenge, and put someone on the defensive by saying “you, sir, are a racist.” It’s more offensive than calling someone an asshole, because it suggests an utter lack of compassion, integrity, and self-awareness. There aren’t many white people who could field such a direct accusation with grace.

    It’s another thing altogether, however, to call out the existence of racism in our decision-making, our interactions, our hiring and firing, our media, our body language, etcetera infinity. Racism exists – we didn’t cure it, and we don’t yet live in a society that is truly equal. We all act in ways that are at least somewhat attributable to having grown up in a society that is white-dominated, and which consistently values white over black, sometimes in subtle ways we might not notice if they aren’t pointed out to us — news coverage of missing white women vs. missing black woman, for example. Often our actions are subtle and unconscious, and we disown them as orphans because, hey, I’m not racist. Must be all those other people who are causing your problems. I’m clean. Search the next guy, maybe you’ll find some prejudice there.

    The point is that racism is in us, through us, and all around us. Blaming its victims for calling attention to it, as if there wouldn’t be any problems if they would just hush up, or worse yet accusing them of being the carriers of the disease, is an indulgent white coping mechanism that really speaks to the weaknesses and fault lines that yet exist between Americans due to this issue. It actually speaks volumes about the extent to which minorities in this country are right on target: we have huge mountains to climb on this, Denial sometimes the highest in view.

    There is a difference between pointing out racism in action, and pointing at someone and calling him or her a racist. If we could have a breakthrough in understanding that, we would be closer to having discussions in which one side understands what in the world the other side is talking about.

    I know you disagree and look forward to your response, but I promise this won’t be another 90+ comment thread (from me, anyway).

  3. Posted July 5, 2006 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Oh, one more thing — do I think Willie Best would have been treated differently if he were white?

    I’ve lived in Greensboro nearly 20 years. White men are accorded an extra helping of respect and deference from the very first moment they step into a room.

    Absolutely. Yes. 100% without a doubt. The situation would have been completely different.

  4. Posted July 5, 2006 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Oh, one more thing — do I think Willie Best would have been treated differently if he were white?

    add Annie Stevens to that list Chewie.

  5. Posted July 5, 2006 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, one more thing-I forgot you dont respond to me.

  6. Posted July 5, 2006 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    As before, I’m with Chewie on this. The reason we can’t find a solution is because we can’t even come to a meeting of the minds as to what, exactly, racism is.

    Do I think Best would have been treated differently if he were white?

    Absolutely.

  7. Spyderbonez
    Posted July 5, 2006 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Do I think Best would have been treated differently if he were white?

    I believe Jenks Crayton is white—-what kind of respect did he get???

  8. Posted July 5, 2006 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    My whole point is that our board of Commissioners treats people badly and Best got their same ol’, same ol’.

    Perhaps Best would have been treated differently if he were white, I’m not arguing the commissioner’s level of disrespect for employees. I’m just pointing out that he was treated badly and what’s new about that. When a group of our commissioners gets in their mind that someone doesn’t smell good to them – things turn ugly… and have for years.

    OK, perhaps if Best were white our fearless leaders would have waited until a regular meeting to do the deed, I really don’t know. But that is not the point of my column and this treatment is nothing new. And I really don’t think Willie’s race entered into the decision. The commissioners are, for the most part, inept in such matters. PERIOD.

    I think what you guys are actually arguing is that Best should have been treated better BECAUSE he is black. I think that would have been a damn good idea actually. Surely the majority of the Commissioners knew that a firestorm was going to come from the black community. If they had chucked their normal way of handling personnel matters and slowed down and been judicious, even-tempered, compassionate, … even fair… perhaps we wouldn’t be having these conversations. But Nooooo. They had to go and treat Willie Best just as badly as other targeted employees.

  9. Posted July 5, 2006 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and set the record straight. The “racist tendancies” thing I attributed to Perkins, and that Chewie picked up on, was me stumbling over words and meanings, not him. Actually he was just dismayed and disappointed at the characterization of his motives and his vote to do what he really thought was right for Guilford County.

    Perkins tried to be the peacemaker and made attempts to set a 60-90 day “cooling off period” to re-evaluate everything (an idea that a majority of the commissioners supported behind closed doors, I’m told). He says he voted to fire Best only after the manager declined the offer during executive session.

  10. Posted July 6, 2006 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Of course another piece of the dynamic is the way the Commissioners treated one another. In public. Putting that behavior and the firing in the context of a requirement that the manager must be “very overly qualified,” (I extend my offer of the MLA Stylebook to local politicians as well.) and we’ve got an explosive situation. Now who’s going to step up to the plate?

    Re: Best not wanting a “cooling off period,” I can understand his not wanting to drag this thing out.