(St. Petersburg) – The Tampa Bay Times reported Saturday on a cache of old Facebook posts by mayoral candidate and City Councilmember Robert Blackmon that some consider racist and sexist.
Per the Times, “The posts include several references to women as a “bitch” and three generations of women, including a 3-year-old, as “sluts.” They also included comments about Asian people and made light of removing tenants from a building.”
I want to home in one Facebook post in particular (below). This single four-line post is rich with at least a half dozen potential lessons on racial identity and politics that were left unaddressed in the Times coverage. A screenshot of it was depicted in the August 7th article, but without commentary on the multiple offenses it contains.
To be fair, Blackmon may have evolved past the thinking reflected in the six posts featured by the Times this weekend. After all, the post in question is nine years old. Blackmon was only 23 years old at the time. People do grow over time.
Yet, Blackmon has a decent chance of becoming our next mayor, and a mayor’s belief system heavily influences how they conduct themselves in office.
Even if he has matured beyond the mindset that calls a three-year old child a slut (and I believe he has), Blackmon’s youthful statements show us “his roots,” so to speak. Those ingrained and subconscious beliefs and values that he will war with or against while in office.
For that reason alone, they deserve coverage. But there is another benefit to giving more air to this topic. It provides a rare opportunity to build understanding around racial and ethnic identify, and how it is often misused to the detriment of people of color.
So here are three lessons from Blackmon’s alleged Facebook posts and his statement about them after the fact.
1. Spanish (capitalized) is a Language, Not an Ethnic Group
Blackmon’s May 2012 post referred to a “spanish bartender.” This is a no-no when referring to people who descend from Spanish-speaking counties or territories.
Persons who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino (or more recently and infrequently, as Latinx) do not use the term “Spanish” in describing themselves. Spanish is a language, not an ethnic group.
Here is some insight into how this diverse group prefers to be referenced. From a Pew Research report:
“Pan-ethnic labels describing the U.S. population of people tracing their roots to Latin America and Spain have been introduced over the decades, rising and falling in popularity. Today, the two dominant labels in use are Hispanic and Latino, with origins in the 1970s and 1990s respectively….More recently, a new, gender-neutral, pan-ethnic label, Latinx, has emerged as an alternative.
“In more than 15 years of polling by Pew Research Center, half of Americans who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking Latin America and Spain have consistently said they have no preference for either Hispanic or Latino as a term to describe the group. And when one term is chosen over another, the term Hispanic has been preferred to Latino. Importantly, the same surveys show, country of origin labels (such as Mexican or Cuban or Ecuadorian) are preferred to these pan-ethnic terms among the population they are meant to describe.”
It’s worth noting that Hispanic voters are a fast-growing group in St. Pete and Blackmon is currently their number one pick for Mayor. The latest poll shows Blackmon with 40% of the Hispanic vote, versus only 15% for the next closest rival, Ken Welch.
As of the 2020 presidential, just over 9,500 Hispanics were registered to vote in St. Petersburg (up 30% from the 2016 presidential).
2. She’s Racist and Thinks All White People Look Alike
Blackmon publicly accused the “spanish bartender” of being racist because she had apparently misidentified him. He wrote “That bitch is a RACIST and thinks all white ppl look the same.”
If she’s a racist for the supposed misidentification, then so are lots of people, especially those who identify as white.
It’s widely documented that, in general, people of all racial and ethnic groups are more likely to remember and recognize faces of individuals of their own race or ethnic group. This is called the “cross-race effect” or “other-race effect.”
Several studies have found that white persons are more likely than others to misidentify people of other race groups, which is more and more being documented as a factor in wrongful convictions, particularly convictions of African Americans.
A report by the Montana Innocence Project notes: “The problem with witness identification, for all defendants, is that misidentifying someone is incredibly common, contributing to nearly 75 percent of all exonerations based on DNA evidence. But for BIPOC, the problem is worse. Cross-racial identifications are frequently inaccurate because of own-race bias, the proven difficulty to identify facial characteristics in other races; this is likely why 42 percent of wrongful convictions based on misidentifications are cross-racial misidentifications.”
3. Blackmon’s Big Takeaway Misses Damage Done to People of Color
Saturday’s article by the Times says that Blackmon issued a statement on the damning posts wherein he said he doesn’t know if the Facebook posts are accurate, but that he acknowledges they are “inappropriate, shameful and embarrassing.”
It isn’t clear whether Blackmon’s statement was an apology, per se, or whether it made any reference to his bigoted words toward people of color and women.
The article indicates only one takeaway by the candidate:
“Blackmon ended his statement by saying the posts are “a reminder to young people that whatever they post on social media today can hurt themselves and others decades later.””
In other words, Blackmon’s big “lesson learned” is that one should not air their hurtful thoughts on social media.
Not that they should work to purge themselves of those hurtful, racists and sexist thoughts. But that they should be careful not to air them because they might come back to bite.
For those working to grow in understanding of structural racism, know that cultural representation or misrepresentation by people in power is one of the practices that perpetuates institutionalized biases.
We need a mayor who understands that, and who does all that they can to check their own beliefs about the people they aspire to lead.
Please note: TheBurgVotes sent a request to Blackmon’s campaign staff for a copy of the statement reported on by the Times.