Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee is a rarity in Congress, but this is really not about him.

He is  a white lawmaker representing a majority-black district.

He was first elected in 2006 to fill the vacant seat of Harold Ford Jr. who was running for the United States Senate.

Cohen faced in 2008 a primary challenge from a black candidate, Nikki Tinker. The Washington Post’s Mary Ann Akers reported then that the campaign against Cohen had gotten unusually ugly:

“Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen and the JEWS HATE Jesus,” blares the flier, which Cohen himself received in the mail–inducing gasps–last week.

Circulated by an African-American minister from Murfreesboro Tenn., which isn’t even in Cohen’s district, the literature encourages other black leaders in Memphis to “see to it that one and ONLY one black Christian faces this opponent of Christ and Christianity in the 2008 election.”

Akers also quoted from an editorial in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Last summer Cohen came under attack from black ministers who challenged the congressman’s support for federal hate crimes legislation to protect gay rights. The paper wrote that the “real motive” behind the ministers’ attacks was revealed later by Rev. Robert Poindexter who, according to the Commercial Appeal, said of Cohen: “He’s not black and he can’t represent me, that’s just the bottom line.”

Then as now Rev. Poindexter had this misconception about the nature of political representation in a republic–namely, that his congressman’s job is to represent him “as a black” rather than “him as a citizen”.  Over the years we have continued this misrepresentation that has led to deliberate efforts to draw “majority minority” districts like the one Cohen and Shaw in the state house now represent.

This is the folly of thinking that a society can practice identity politics on one hand without opening itself up to the ugly side of such politics.

In this city, we have two representatives seeking the title of Mayor of the city of Jackson and the racial divide is growing when it shouldn’t be. The job is going to be difficult enough without the stigma of race, so quit looking at the color of their skin and look at what they will bring to the table.

Of course, since they are both liberal democrats, that is ugly enough as it is.

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