John DeBerry is a state representative from Shelby County, a member of the Tennessee legislature's Black Caucus, and, as evidenced by his tie, a man deeply concerned with multiculturalism.
Recently, Stacey Campfield, a white state representative from Knoxville, asked to join the Black Caucus. Campfield's request was denied, prompting him to compare the group's bylaws to those of the Ku Klux Klan. He later published a portion of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech on his blog, for which he received numerous complaints and death threats. The caucus, meanwhile, is considering more inclusive membership, so the Flyer talked to DeBerry about having a white member on the Black Caucus. -- By Ben Popper
Flyer: What was your first reaction when you heard about Campfield's request to join the caucus?
DeBerry: With any organization that has constituents in a specific market, when someone outside asks to join, you wonder what the agenda is. But that is irrelevant. To me, if he asks to join, he should have been welcomed in. It's as simple as that. It should never have become a story. I tell people frequently that I've been black for quite some time, but we have to realize that there are issues that are bigger than our ethnicity, our gender, our region, or our culture.
Do you think a white person could be an effective member of the Black Caucus?
I was elected to be a legislator, to serve District 90, which is black folk, white folk, men, women, rich and poor, Asians and Hispanics. Any organization on Capitol Hill that uses state facilities, I have a legitimate right to ask for membership. It might be irrelevant for me to go to the East Tennessee Caucus and ask to be a member, because their issues are different.
So if it's irrelevant for you to join that caucus, is it irrelevant for Campfield to join yours?
The melanin has to become irrelevant. We're more similar than we are different. Unless we're ready to say black folks think one way and white folks another, black folks want one thing out of life and white folks want another. East Tennessee has different topography and different needs.
Do you think this will impact the bylaws or the membership of the caucus?
Yes, if it has the impact of telling us all that we are being drowned in trivialities. We have to get back to governing, and we can't govern because we've got all these little spats going on. Don't get me wrong: I am not at all justifying anybody's motives, on either side. Everyone keeps looking at the state of Tennessee and we keep giving ourselves a black eye. My position at this point is that we need to send a better perception of who we are. Every time we make the national news, it's for something stupid.
And this issue seems ready-made for the national news.
Of course it is, but just because somebody hangs a noose you don't have to stick your head in it.