It’s uncomfortable to talk about race.
It seems that most whites don’t like to discuss race–and neither do some blacks.
However, how can we have an intelligent conversation about Birmingham without race when race is almost always the central issue?
Last week I was wheeling my shopping cart through the produce section of Publix in Vestavia Hills when I was confronted by a casual acquaintance.
With a scowl on his face, he announced to everyone within hearing distance, “David, I know you’re a proponent of regional collaboration, but that will never happen—and you know why?—because of blacks. For many years whites ran Birmingham and they controlled the money. Now blacks have the power and they’re never going to give it up.”
People throw that objection in my face. They assume they’ve had this great epiphany I’m hearing for the first time.
Trust me…I hear it all the time.
Startling change in Birmingham politics
But in case you didn’t notice there’s been a startling change in the political landscape in the City of Birmingham.
In the most recent city election, two white candidates won City Council seats in predominately black districts.
Hunter Williams won in District 2–a district that is about 55% black and Darrell O’Quinn, District 5, unseated Jonathan Austin– the President of the City Council. District 5 is more than 70% African American.
The newly constituted City Council then selected long serving white City Councilor Valerie Abbot as City Council President. The Birmingham City Council is composed of six African Americans and three whites.
What’s going on here?
I call it the Obama-Trump effect.
In 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama was elected America’s first African American president. He won both elections even though blacks represent only 12% of the U.S. population. A lot of white folks voted for Obama.
Then in 2016 Donald Trump, an unlikely candidate, became our 45th President when most everyone thought it was inconceivable.
I think the simple answer is that the U.S. voting electorate is fed up with the status quo and is willing to vote for candidates who they believe can make their lives better.
This is not about whites taking over Birmingham government
I want to make it clear that this article is not about whites coming into power to take over Birmingham. The City of Birmingham is 73% black and black citizens will drive political decisions for years to come.
You can be assured that the new white city councilors are going to be very sensitive to the needs of their African American constituents or they are going to have very short political careers.
Birmingham made great progress under the leadership of William Bell.
Now Randall Woodfin has been elected Mayor.
Mayor Woodfin has the reputation of being energetic, hard -working, smart, and open minded.
Mayor Woodfin and the newly constituted City Council represent a fresh start for Birmingham and our region.
Our young folks, both black and white are tired of their future being diminished by old fuddy-duddies who still think in terms of race as it was in the ’60’s.
Birmingham has come a long way.
Historically race has held us back–but it appears times are changing.
Let’s attack our challenges together and build an exciting future.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org