Opinion » Editorial

Our Ms. Brooks


At a given point in Monday's public meeting of the Shelby County Commission, District 2 commissioner Henri Brooks saw fit to remind her colleagues that an African American is no longer, as was the case in the early days of the Republic, officially reckoned as three-fifths of a person and that the Civil War was over "and y'all lost."

It was somewhat uncertain as to who the "y'all" was, inasmuch as several of the whites in attendance, both on the commission itself and in the audience, were either Northern-born themselves or descended from bona fide Yankees, and several of the blacks in attendance, both on the commission and in the audience, had opposed Brooks on her two major initiatives of the day — the first one an effort to squelch grant proposals relating to the county's Community Services division.

Without presenting any evidence, Brooks implied that the grants would be funneled to members of a "clique," potentially to "undesirables," and, in any event, to administrators who might not "look like us" — the latter formulation being established commission code for "people of another race," in this case, clearly whites. One of those administrators, Dottie Jones (referred to by the commissioner with shocking condescension on Monday as "sweetheart"), is head of Community Services and is well-known to be the object of a continuing vendetta by Commissioner Brooks, the origins of which remain obscure. The grant proposals passed with only Brooks in opposition. So much for Brooks' oft-repeated contention that she is the very soul and representative of the African-American community.

She had better luck in gaining adherents for her second major crusade of the day — this one to substitute a redistricting plan (designated 2-O) for one (2-J), initially approved by Brooks, which had already passed the commission twice and was up Monday for its third and final reading — requiring the nine votes it received two weeks ago.

The major difference between the two plans was that 2-J posited seven majority-black districts out of 13, a ratio corresponding to the proper black-white population ratio in Shelby County, while 2-O designated eight such seats, a ratio inconsistent with current population realities. Oddly, for someone rightfully indignant about the now blessedly voided three-fifths rule referred to earlier, Brooks seems to be embracing a variation of that principle in reverse.

Suffice it to say that Brooks' use of racially volatile argument was sustained, though it included a denial that it was impossible for her to be a "racist" — this being a variation of a once-fashionable but clearly outmoded theme, that only those in charge of a society can truly be racists. This was a peculiar argument for someone demanding disproportionate political control to be making.

The long and the short of Monday's meeting was that neither redistricting plan got the needed nine votes, but 2-J will go forward, for Chancellor Arnold Goldin to rule upon.

Brooks is right: The Civil War is over, won by those who fought and died under a flag whose contemporary version the commissioner, for reasons of her own, refuses to pledge allegiance to, though she insisted Monday she was proud to engage in the liberties of the nation it represents. Some ironies are too obvious to point out.

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