Imagine for a moment that Salt Lake City was hit by a massive earthquake that toppled buildings, destroyed infrastructure and made the city unlivable for months. Much of the city's population fled, many never to return. Then imagine that the mayor began wistfully extolling the virtues of his town in barely veiled racial euphemisms. "Salt Lake City has always been a plain vanilla town," he says, at first only before audiences he thinks will warm to the message. Then, as the city starts to rebuild, the mayor hints that he's not thrilled that many of the jobs to rebuild the city are going to Latinos and blacks, many of whom did not live in Salt Lake before disaster struck.
Before long, the mayor gets bolder in his appeals. "It's time for us to rebuild Salt Lake City -- the one that should be a vanilla Salt Lake," he says. "I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are, this city will be vanilla at the end of the day. This city will be a majority white city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have Salt Lake City any other way. It wouldn't be Salt Lake City."
Are you squirming yet? I certainly would be. And if this fictional scenario played out in real life with the mayor actively discouraging non-whites from moving into Salt Lake City, the feds would be on the case. Housing discrimination is against the law -- it has been since Congress passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968. A city official who made clear his intention to keep his city white would not only incur the wrath of the federal government, but he'd likely be hounded from office by the media.
So why is it that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin -- whose comments I've paraphrased above, substituting "vanilla" for "chocolate" and Salt Lake City for New Orleans -- can get away with such blatantly racist claptrap? Most major newspapers buried the mayor's comments, if they reported them at all, and those national news programs that played them did so largely without commentary. I can't imagine a white mayor praising the racial purity of a white community getting similar treatment.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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