As TSU president James Hefner has been under fire for significant lapses in financial management and for admitting he lied to auditors who were trying to assess the extent of the damage at the public university, his supportersmost of them black community leadershave come out of the woodwork to defend him.
They've minimized the damning results of the state audits, dismissed Hefner's untruthfulness as so much fluff and otherwise found no reason to be disturbed that Hefner was granting scholarships for which there was no funding.
In the eyes of these apologists, critics of Hefner are either racist or hopelessly misguidedor both.
In the meantime, African American leaders are also doing their best to shelter Lt. Gov. John Wilder, who has led the Senate now for 33 years and will ultimately be remembered more for his adeptness at self-preservation than for his leadership or public policy cunning. Wilder recently uttered comments to a group of Carter County Leadership Tomorrow members that were at best hopelessly out of touch and, at worst, outright racist.
To recap: Robert Davis, a former Marine and the only African American ever to serve on the Carter County Commission, accused the veteran legislator of telling the group that "because of affirmative action favoring blacks, women and other minorities, people like me...could no longer get decent jobs." (Bear in mind that Wilder has the floor, and has for three decades, as arguably the second most powerful person in Tennessee. Most people would think that's a pretty good job.) Davis wrote in a letter after Wilder's appearance that the Senate leader "blatantly singled me out and asked if I had anything to say" and refused to shake his hand at the end of the meeting.
Wilder apparently responded to Davis' letter with a telephone call during which Davis alleges that Wilder apologized only for Davis' feelings about what was said rather than what was actually said and how. Wilder, on the other hand, seemed pleased with the exchange, telling the media that Davis now "understands what Wilder is. Who Wilder is. That I like black people."
Uh-huh. Does he also have black friends?
The initial comment, and Wilder's response, are characteristically embarrassing. The 82-year-old Wilder has needed to either forfeit his helm, or be removed, for a decade or so nownot because he's too old, but because he's a poor reflection on the state Senate and the state as a whole. He's a poor communicator and a passive leader, except when it comes to his re-election as Senate speaker.
But, as with Hefner, black leaders, including Memphis state Sen. Roscoe Dixon, are busy making excuses for Wilder. "Sometimes, he talks in circles," Dixon told the Associated Press. "You have to know Wilder to know that he goes off on tangents sometimes."
Last year, state Sen. David Fowlerwho is, unlike Wilder, an East Tennessee Republicanmade some ill-advised remarks about the lottery scholarships, saying college students might spend the money on cocaine if it went directly into their hands. It was indeed offensive, and the Black Caucus made a stink about the whole thing. But what Wilder said was much more insulting than that, and we've heard nary a peep.
No doubt some readers will think that the Scene is a bit out of line editorializing about what black leaders should do and think. Race is such an unsettled question that even discussing it is often undertaken at one's peril. Nonetheless, as we look at the Hefner and Wilder situations, we are compelled to ask certain questions.
Don't people such as Hefner and Wilder actually detract from the causes of black empowerment and positive race relations? Don't Hefner partisans who try to make the issue about race, when it doesn't have anything to do with race, only erode relations between blacks and whites? Doesn't Hefner's lack of fiscal discipline do long-term harm to that state-funded historically black institution? Wouldn't African American students and community leaders prefer a leader who is untouched by scandal? And a Senate leader who does something besides amuse a press corps that's heard all his nuttiness before?
Neither the Wilder nor Hefner situation will likely be resolved to our satisfaction. Even though both men are inept and ought to go elsewhere, they'll remain where they are. And that strikes at the very heart of the tragedy.
We as a people are incapable of the tough work and honest talk that would be required to remove them. Issues of race have come far indeed. But they've got a long way to go.
Tisk tisk tisk
I was at Cleopatra it was awsoooooooooome
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