The race-baiting wave of 2020-2021 took a slightly unusual turn over the weekend when a Los Angeles Times opinion writer named Erika D. Smith published two pieces about the California recall gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder. She leads off her articles with these headlines:
As you can see from the titles alone, Erika is going full-on racist. The funny thing is that Larry Elder is a black man. Not even a pasty black man like Barack Obama, but black in the classic fashion. Yet, for Erika, he is a racist, and not only is he a racist, he is a white supremacist. In other words, an “Uncle Tom”, that is, one who accepts his role as a member of an “inferior race.” How come she says this?
Looking at the first piece proved unfruitful since the piece is behind a paywall. But the second one drew national ire from conservatives. Looking at the piece, it seems difficult to make the connection between Mr. Elder’s campaign rhetoric and behavior and “blacks are inferior people” style racism. Don’t take my word for it; I am giving you the full piece below, reprinted with no editing or emphases.
However, I want to ask you, Dear Reader, to think about a few questions as you go through the piece:
In these questions, you are more likely to find that Erika Smith believes in the perpetual victimhood of black people. She even makes this more special by capitalizing the word “black” but leaving “white” (the other race, those dastardly people!) uncapitalized.
Some things she says are true. Mr. Elder apparently does part ways with the accepted thinking of the “leadership in the black community” (we will not capitalize any colors). He seems to hold blacks to the same standard as everybody else. I would opine that Erika Smith does not, and she probably does not realize that it is she who is being racist:
By singling out a race – either up or down (and with blacks she has actually done both, by capitalizing their color and by insisting that everybody – white people especially – are insistent on keeping black people down), Erika is being racist.
Anybody who acts like the rules should not apply to them because of some victim status (real or imagined) is insane. Slavery has been gone since 1865 in the United States, and Elder himself is an example of a man who worked hard and found success, just the same as anybody else. Even if there is a sense of systemic racism in effect behind all the times Mr. Elder was pulled over by police (reportedly between 75 and 100 times in the first year that he had his license… back in… when? 1967? 1970? Well, the city of Los Angeles was shaken by the 1965 Watts riots. This would have increased police scrutiny, and it does line up with a possible first year of having a driver’s license. It was not possible to confirm when Larry Elder got his license, but most American kids get it as soon as they are able, and I would not expect Larry to have done anything different in a city where driving IS the only way to get around.
By Larry’s own admission, his having a smart mouth got him in plenty of trouble with the police. Not his being black. A white man saying exactly the same things would have gotten the same or similar treatment from the police. I know this personally. Now, let’s get on to Erika’s piece. I cannot find a single point where Larry Elder can be proven to be racist. But I can find a lot of places where he upholds the notions of liberty and personal responsibility.
But perhaps these principles are racist, because for Erika, apparently, black people are incapable of handling these, and therefore must be treated as special cases… and given lots of money. As though that has ever worked.
Larry Elder smiled the smug smile of a Black conservative who could very well be liberal California’s next governor.
“Where do you start with the damage Gavin Newsom has done to the state that we both love?”
He leaned forward to gaze across the room of white Republicans who had come to a hear him speak in Orange County.
“Rising crime? [It’s] because of this phony narrative that the police are engaging in systemic racism and cops are pulling back,” Elder said. “… When you reduce the possibility of a bad guy getting caught, getting convicted and getting incarcerated, guess what? Crime goes up.”
Then another smile, this one even more smug than the last.
“Can you say, ‘Duh?’”
I won’t lie. Few things infuriate me more than watching a Black person use willful blindness and cherry-picked facts to make overly simplistic arguments that whitewash the complex problems that come along with being Black in America.
And throughout his career — as a radio host, as a talking head for Fox News and now as a gubernatorial candidate — Elder has made a point of doing just that, usually with a lot of taunting and toddler-like name-calling of his ideological enemies in the process.
As longtime political consultant Kerman Maddox put it: “Larry Elder goes out of his way to be at odds with the leadership in the Black community and at odds with the thinking in the Black community.”
Like a lot of Black people, though, I’ve learned that it’s often best just to ignore people like Elder. People who are — as my dad used to say — “skinfolk” but not necessarily kinfolk.
That’s certainly how many of L.A.’s Black and politically powerful have tried to deal with him over the years. As The Times once wrote of Rep. Maxine Waters’ refusal to be a guest on Elder’s radio talk show: “Why should she boost the ratings of a man who ridicules her by mixing a recording of a barking dog over her sound bites?”
But with polls showing that nearly half of likely voters support recalling Newsom and that Elder is in the lead to replace him, ignoring the self-proclaimed Sage from South-Central is no longer a viable strategy. Particularly for Black people.
“He is a danger, a clear and present danger,” said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
It’s not just that Elder would be a Trump fanboy Republican trying to run a state dominated by Democrats. Or that he has zero experience in elected office and clearly doesn’t have the temperament for governance. (He can’t even take questions from journalists without losing his cool.)
It’s that — perhaps out of spite or perhaps out of an insatiable need for attention — Elder opposes every single public policy idea that’s supported by Black people to help Black people. This has been true for decades, but it’s particularly problematic given the racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd.
“We have been having a series of real uncomfortable discussions about systemic racism in institutions across this state,” said state Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles). “About how to really peel back the layers of ignorance or ineptitude so that we can deal with them in very real ways. And Larry Elder is someone who just fundamentally doesn’t believe that [systemic racism] exists.”
He also apparently doesn’t believe that racial profiling exists. This is despite telling The Times’ editorial board that police pulled him over “between 75 and 100 times” the first year he had his driver’s license.
Elder scoffs at the many efforts to reform the criminal justice system and to root out racial bias in policing by requiring more transparency and accountability from officers. Instead, he keeps trotting out statistics that purport to show that Black people are particularly prone to murdering one another.
“Do we still have the phenomenon where a young Black man is eight times more likely to be killed by another young Black man than a young white man?” he told the Republicans in Orange County. “If the answer to those series of questions is yes, I submit to you that systemic racism is not the problem.”
Elder mocks critical race theory, though I’m not sure he understands what it actually is. That doesn’t bode well for ethnic studies in California.
If he’s elected, the task force studying reparations for Black Californians would be toast. As would yet unsigned bills to allow police officers to be decertified for misconduct and to support community-based alternatives to 911.
Then there are Elder’s views on masks and vaccines for COVID-19.
It’s particularly telling that a week ago, a who’s who of Black elected officials, from members of Congress to the L.A. City Council, lined up at Kedren Community Health Center to urge Black Angelenos to get vaccinated. The rates continue to be abysmal, and Black people are still dying disproportionately.
Elder, meanwhile, was off somewhere tweeting his grievances over mask and vaccine mandates, promising that as governor, he will “repeal those before I have my first cup of coffee — and I don’t drink coffee.”
I would’ve asked Elder to explain his views, but his campaign hasn’t returned my messages. However, I’m fairly certain he would say his thinking is the result of being free and independent, rather than a believer in the victimhood messaging that’s supposedly perpetuated by Democrats.
He’d also probably say, as he did on Tavis Smiley’s talk radio show recently, that he does care very much about Black people.
“I believe that many policies that have been implemented by the left, often with the best of intentions, have a disproportionately negative effect on Black America,” Elder said.
Some Black people do agree with him. We aren’t a monolith, so it’s true, he does have fans who are Black and are likely to vote for him.
But it’s also true that Black people, particularly Black Angelenos, overwhelmingly vote Democratic. That’s the foundation of a new campaign, launched by local, state and federal Black elected officials from L.A., to increase turnout among Black voters for the Sept. 14 recall election.
The campaign wasn’t created because of Elder’s standing in the polls, Kamlager told me, but that “accelerated its intensity.”
Indeed, his candidacy feels personal. Like an insult to Blackness.
L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas: “My grandmother would say, ‘Use your talents and your gifts for good and not to bring other people down — particularly those who don’t deserve to be down.’ And that’s what Larry fails to understand. He’s throwing out all of that rhetoric about minimum wage, all that talk about ‘poverty pimps,’ all that anti-vaccine and all that anti-every-damn-thing. It’s not only politically but intellectually offensive.”
L.A. City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson: “These recalls are clown shows and he is a clown. So it’s not surprising that he signed up for it and is leading it. He’s got a lot of experience being a clown.”
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst and author: “The only positive I see in an Elder candidacy is that it is yet another wake-up call for Democrats, in California and nationally, to not take Black and people of color’s votes and support for granted.”
Najee Ali, a longtime South L.A. activist: “He would be a disaster for the Black community. We would suffer greatly. He’s the Black Trump. And I’m speaking as his friend,” though Ali acknowledges that the friendship is “strained.”
There’s also the fear of how the Republican Party would use Elder, governor of the bluest state in the U.S.
Maddox, the political consultant: “He would be their No. 1 message carrier going into the midterm elections in 2022 and the presidential election in 2024. They would use this guy as a tool — and he would be perfectly willing to be used because that’s what he does already. He’s a foil for those people who want to be convinced that there is no racism in America.”
Abdullah of Black Lives Matter: “Anytime you put a Black face on white supremacy, which is what Larry Elder is, there are people who will utilize that as an opportunity to deny white supremacy. They say, ‘How could this be white supremacy? This is a Black man.’ But everything that he’s pushing, everything that he stands for, he is advancing white supremacy.”
Black people know better than anyone how dangerous Elder is. He is the O.G. troll that no one was supposed to feed. But here we are.
Newsom hasn’t been perfect. It took far too long for the state to roll out COVID-19 tests and vaccines equitably. And if hundreds of thousands of Californians weren’t still waiting on their unemployment checks, the level of fraud and mismanagement of the Employment Development Department would almost be comical.
But, as Kamlager said, “I’m not interested in going back to Jim Crow because I want to have a Black person as governor.”