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.
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. ++