Awkward moments in local racism

Gerald Benjamin and John Faso

In thoroughly unsurprising news: Opponents of Congressional hopeful Antonio Delgado, Rep. John Faso’s Democratic challenger in the 19th, are making a big fat stink about Delgado’s brief stint in the mid-aughts as rapper AD The Voice.

What did shock me, though: The celebrated Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz, sounding off on the social evils of rap to the New York Times. Here’s a snippet:

“Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?” said Mr. Benjamin, a longtime political science professor, adding that he personally did not consider rap music to be “real music.”

“People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture,” Mr. Benjamin said.

“But, you know, who understands those rap guys?” Benjamin did not add, though perhaps he should have.

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Et tu, Gerry? It’s pretty breathtakingly racist, but also, it’s just embarrassing.

I confess I feel like a real Pollyanna being surprised by this, but Benjamin’s avuncular dogwhistling honestly shocked me more than anything else in the news this week. Russian spies infiltrating the NRA? The President of the United States groveling to Putin? Terrible, but hardly surprising, given the way the wind has been blowing since 2016. But SUNY New Paltz’s decorated éminence grise, the architect of the Ulster County charter, that reliably thoughtful voice of civic reason, railing against the hippity-hop like a stock character in a ‘90s sitcom? Pearls were clutched.

Not being a scholar of hip-hop myself, I cannot personally opine knowledgeably on the artistic merits of Delgado’s album, but I have heard enough pickup trucks go by on Margaretville’s Main Street with the bass thumping to be able to comfortably say that we do, indeed, respond to this part of American culture around here. Last year, the Margaretville high school chorus performed a very zesty rendition of “My Shot” from Hamilton at their spring concert. Let me tell you, if you have never heard a teenage girl from rural Delaware County spit “Wait’ll I sally in on a stallion with the first black battalion” as John Laurens, it is a thrilling experience.

Anyway, if this is the worst they’ve got on Delgado, a Harvard Law graduate and a Rhodes scholar, it’s pretty weak sauce. Although there is also that ugly C-word to contend with: “Carpetbagger.”

Regular readers of this column will be unsurprised to hear that I believe it matters where you grow up, for public service purposes. It’s not the only thing that matters, not by a long shot, but having roots in a place does shape your experience and judgment.

Delgado, alas, is not one of us. As a youth, he was brought up far from the hills of NY-19, in a mysterious and faraway land known as — hang on, let me examine my notes here — Schenectady.

Last I checked, Schenectady was about as upstate New York as it gets. If Faso’s allowed to get away with being Mr. Upstate after going to high school in Queens, it seems to me his crew ought to extend Delgado a little more gentlemanly courtesy on this front.

In other awkward racism news, the ongoing effort by local activists to end the sale of Confederate flag merchandise at the Delaware County Fair has gone to a weird place.

In 2015, local activist Leslie Kaufmann, a 4-H volunteer who used to help run the rabbit barn at the fair, reached out to the board of the Delaware Valley Agricultural Society asking them to ban the sale of Confederate flag items at the fair. They turned her down flat, and later banned her from the fair for good measure. Since then, her quest has become a local movement, dubbed Fair For All; last year, they gathered some 600 local signatures on a petition for the cause. (Full disclosure: One of them’s mine. Let it go, guys, the pro-slavery banner isn’t a good look on anybody.)

This year, the fair board is looking to split the baby: Their policy, as it currently stands, is to allow vendors to sell flag items, but not to display them. If you want to buy a Dixie flag, you’ve got to ask for one under the table. It’s a solution guaranteed to rile up everybody with an opinion on the matter.

As a sponsor of the fair, Cornell Cooperative Extension — and, by association, Cornell University — has gotten itself embroiled in the mess.

Fair For All supporters recently wrote to Delaware County Cornell Cooperative Extension, asking them to weigh in against the sale of flag items. DCCCE director Jeanne Darling wrote back in support of the fair board’s new policy, claiming to be taking a “neutral stand” on the matter, and citing support from the local chapter of the NAACP for the compromise.

Inconveniently, the Oneonta NAACP did not enjoy being used this way.

“No approval from the NAACP was sought and none was given,” wrote chapter vice president Regina Betts to Fair For All supporters, in emphatic all-caps. “All can be assured that I and the NAACP would not agree to the sale of racist material. To suggest otherwise is calumny!”

Tip for organizations facing potential racist PR disasters: If you’re going to use your black friend as a get-out-of-racism-free card, you should probably check with your black friend first. ++

There are 11 comments

  1. Penny

    Thanks, Delgado represents a power that the Republicans are jealously trying to keep the lid on: Smart, young, artistic and politically active. The tide is turning.

    1. Patricia Wilson

      but he actually made it worse (and that was hard to do) by basically saying, “oh my bad, I had no idea all rap music isn’t racist, sexist, and vulgar, like what I’ve heard.” So he “apology” was as poor as SUNY New Paltz’s response!

  2. Jane Freiman Schanberg

    It is curious that Mr. Benjamin apologized to his University but did not deign to include Mr. Delgado in what read to me as not much more than a carefully litigated attempt to keep his job. Unfortunately for Mr. Benjamin this is a matter with greater import than his career. It is, sadly, another one of what I have come to call “old Republican white man” incidents which reveal innate insensitivity and deeply imbedded prejudice against minorities and women among men of a certain age and orientation who are accustomed to deference.. Mr. Benjamin should gracefully and immediately step down from his current post if he truly cares about SUNY New Paltz. He has had a wonderful and estimable career which now, through his own hubris and cultural ignorance, has ended.

  3. NY-19 Report

    Benjamin’s comments are dumb but I wouldn’t discount the effectiveness of the attack. Most district 19 voters probably don’t have a problem with a guy who put out one rap album, but a significant number probably do have a problem with the viewpoint that the country was built on a foundation of white supremacy and that there’s no such thing as a righteous capitalist. These may be mainstream positions in the Democratic Party of 2018 but that’s a new phenomenon. Delgado would have been better off if his album was about smoking weed in a Benz and popping bottles in the club.

    1. JamaicaonHudson

      First, the founding fathers were slave-owners (or apologists for them). They were racists and, might I add, elitists. They did not believe in non-landowners (white, black or otherwise) voting or holding office. What the Founding Fathers objected to is not being King.

      As far as the ‘righteous capitalist’ comment, Matthew 19:24 said as much (i.e. not impossible, but extremely difficult). Anywho, I prefer intelligent discourse in a rap to idiocy spewed from self-proclaimed ‘stable geniuses’.

  4. Bruce E. Woych

    New Paltz professor apologizes for remarks about Delgado’s rapping past
    By Matthew Nanci / Times Herald-Record
    Posted Jul 18, 2018 at 3:04 PM Updated Jul 18, 2018 at 8:23 PM
    NEW PALTZ —
    {http://www.recordonline.com/news/20180718/new-paltz-professor-apologizes-for-remarks-about-delgados-rapping-past}….Gerald Benjamin’s statement on reaction to his statements is included in this local report and the report is worth reading over what is posted officially at the Benjamine Center itself to (above link by Lisa Harris). addressed to “Colleagues and Co-workers” (not to the people of the 19th Congressional District.
    There is no regret in the apology, only an admission that GB was careless with the wording, much like Trump this week. He corrected this with new wording but all the innuendo and inference and DAMAGE was done. He made surehe listed the NY times link to reinforce his words for those that may not have caught them the first time. GB is not an amateur. He has been around politics for a long time and knows what he is doing. He regrets using the “casual phrase” –“people like us” —but GB knows that ‘identity politics’ are the keys to what today is called a ‘dog whistle’ approach to political signaling. And again, GB is a very experienced person with
    political credentials outside the academy; from NY State Constitutional critiques to writing local Charters that direct power in small village, towns and cities. He is also an expert critic of gerrymandering. So why is it that
    when GB revises his wording and corrects for precision he makes his silent majority statement into : “the
    Republican use of his background as a rap artist was an attempt to open a cultural gap between Mr. Delgado and the majority of the district’s population.” and then covers up with “Academics should stick to what they know.” So I am puzzled. Because even when you take the implicit racism out of his Faso backing statement of bias, my understanding is that the Great 19th congressional District is known as being a solid Democratic distict; isn’t it? So in that respect a man who knows gerrymandering would know that he is once again pulling the wool over our eyes with references to the rural majority —which is really a very slick version of moral majority and silent majority isn’t it GB? And frankly, you can not get off so easy claiming to be a simple academic.
    “Academics should stick to what they know.” ? You know exactly what you are doing. And we do too!

  5. Bruce E. Woych

    Quoting from the NY Times, the Times Herald-Record ( Matthew Nanci ) reported:
    Benjamin said “this is about culture and commonality with the district and its values.”
    “Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?” Benjamin told the Times.
    “People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture,” Benjamin said in the story.
    ———–
    consider a political history well known (I expect) by a Political Science professor established and experienced:
    “Nativism is informed by the notion that the sensibilities and needs of the “native-born” should be accorded absolute priority over those of newcomers, that they should be given preference simply because they are “native-born.” At the same time, nativism reflects a conscious attempt on the part of the “indigenous” population to defend, maintain and revive the cherished heritage of its culture. In the American case, this was Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. American nativists held that Anglo-Saxon Protestantism undergirded the essential moral and intellectual qualities that were indispensable for democratic citizenship. This made American culture superior.(https://www.fairobserver.com/region/north_america/nativism-populism-radical-right-parties-europe-us-news-analysis-11281/)”
    There is a radically distinct divide between “people like us” and “We The People” and we are living in an
    estranged time under a President that is exploiting this to the extreme. John Faso is riding on those coat tails, and a professional like GB does not make off hand remarks to the NY Times and not mean what he says.
    All this week we heard walk back his language, and I don’t think it is appropriate for GB to apologize around the issue to his friends and colleagues, or even to the people of the 19th District that he essentially iomplied were a majority of bigots. GB need to apologize to Delgado, …or; Retire the SUNY New Paltz position he so casually abused to help a political friend amplify dirty political tactics raised, and adding some of his own
    tricks of the trade-craft.

  6. Ron Lodrini

    Isn’t everyone tired of this nonsense the Democrats come up with to divide us and cause more trouble in this country! Their only interest in the minorities in this country is for the vote and power. That is the reason they support illegal aliens because they scare them into their party! Hillary Clinton was always pictured with Black & Hispanic woman around her when she campaigned for President. Then at night when all the cameras where off her she would slither back to Westchester County and the town of Chappaqua… where no blacks or minorities could afford to live! The American people can see through all this and how low the Democrats in this country will go for power and the vote! After 8 years of one of the Racist presidents this country has seen in modern times, Obama tried to destroy and set back the accomplishments of the white race in this country and doing it he set back race relations 50 years. Along with the Fake News and the Media,(CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN) they tried to steal another Presidency away from the American people with Hillary Clinton. It failed for ONE REASON…As one Great Republican said,” You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Abraham Lincoln Yes we do live in desperate times and the Left Wing Democrats are desperate to get back in power…and as we know will do anything to obtain it. Donald Trump is Our President and the lack of respect they show him and the office of president is a total disgrace! What are they teaching our youth in this country? To Obstruct & Resist! That is their battle cry and contribution to making this a better country… sounds very constructive & forward thinking. That is the reason they will lose the support of all true Americans, Black, White, & Hispanic, who want to make America Great. Show respect for all the people who gave their lives for this wonderful country in every war & battle they fought. It’s not because they were native-born, but because they gave their blood and lives for this country & flag and deserve people to stand and respect our anthem & country! God Bless America!

  7. Bruce E. Woych

    cognitive dissonance: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously
    see: https://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/behavior/how-cognitive-dissonance-affects-us-crazy-political-times.htm

    Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting, contradictory attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors driving an individual to reduce the discomfort and restore balance, etc. dissonance theory does not state that these modes of dissonance reduction will actually work, only that individuals who are in a state of cognitive dissonance will be driven to reduce the extent of their dissonance rationally or irrationally which sets up a mental state creating a fallacy of distinctions.

    “When events make us experience existential threats that are in contradiction to expectations of happiness and well-being, we are driven to make changes in order to restore consistency to our world,”

    . “Finding scapegoats to explain the precarious state of the world during hard times helps people’s mental equation.”

    And then there’s the proliferation of fake news and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway’s accusation of alternative facts. This kind of confirmation bias, or the tendency to only accept information that conforms with pre-existing attitudes, is tied to our drive to resolve psychological discrepancies. We search for information that is consistent with our beliefs and follow like-minded news sources to avoid cognitive dissonance.

  8. Frederick

    Hey Kids – First, this isn’t “Rural New York” – this is a growing urban-suburban area, so know that FACT.
    Second, Faso is a flunkie of a man who occupies the White House who loves to “Grab PU$$Y” – we have Trump on camera – video and sound saying so in his own voice; and then there are the affairs with strippers, multiple divorces and the thousands of other “immoral” things Trump has done and continues to do – so if you want to play that game B R I N G I T ON. Third, this “issue” brought forward by white male Conservatives is such an amazing, unabashed race-bait it is kind of making me want to puke. Lastly, Faso is complete and utter coward who’s been hiding in a closet or elsewhere since he was elected.

    Personally, I’ll take an explorative explative from a creative person over the perverse, sexual abuse of a white man any day.

    PS – I’m a white man.

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