Bringing Up the Obvious is a Problem in Portsmouth. Someone do us all a favor and hand Portsmouth’s Vice Mayor Liz Psimas and Councilman Bill Moody a history book. Or maybe just a laptop so they may Google a few things. We know they were taught nothing about the impacts of American racism in High School or college. With that, Psimas and Moody are offended that the Mayor of Portsmouth, Kenny Wright, dared to point out racial inequity and a white controlled good ‘ol boy system in the city of Portsmouth — particularly when it comes to allocation or resources and city contracts.
Wright pointing out the obvious in Black and white didn’t go over well with Psimas, who told the Virginian Pilot that Wright’s observations divide the city and cause racial tension. We figure Wright’s comments can’t cause any more racial tension than the results of 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow and 60 years of “separate but equal” so we think Portsmouth will pull through. Some whites would like to pretend that America’s racism and inequity doesn’t exist and have had no economic impact on the lives of its victims. Sorry, but Blacks don’t have the luxury of pretending racial inequities don’t exist.
It appears that two white members of the Portsmouth City Council know close to nothing about the history of Virginia or Portsmouth. That’s not surprising since the simple fact is many whites in the South like to tell themselves that their history is the gallantry and honor of Confederates and festive scenes from Gone With the Wind. But the reality in Virginia, where slaves were first brought to America at Ft. Monroe in 1690, is just a bit different.
Surely Vice Mayor Psimas and Councilman Moody are aware of the socio-economic history of Portsmouth and who controls their city? Perhaps if Psimas and Moody’s relatives had been prevented by law from living in certain places, attending certain schools or joining unions because of their skin color they would understand. Moody, who was a real estate agent, should know something about housing segregation in black and white in Virginia. These issues can’t be completely invisible to them. But as white Virginians we understand that they’ve been able to ignore issues that didn’t directly impact them or their relatives for most of their adult lives.
A story in the Virginian Pilot reveals the ignorance some have about the basic history of the place they grew up in. They ask: How dare Mayor Wright bring up the results of four centuries of systematic racism in Virginia?
Portsmouth City Council member Mark Whitaker told the Pilot the obvious part of that history via e-mail.
“The negative attacks faced by a socially and economically conscious majority black City Council is representative of the historical resistance that black leaders have faced who dare to address issues of social, economic and political injustice,” he said.
Attacks by the political action committee People for Portsmouth “are similar to the actions of the White Citizens’ Councils formed in July 1954,” Whitaker said. Both groups “attacked black leaders, resisted black progress and challenged the advancement of social and economic justice.”
Well at least someone knows the basic history of the Jim Crow South in America. That Mayor Wright went to the New Journal and Guide, one of the oldest Black newspapers in America and the oldest in the Commonwealth, was a tipoff. But it is great to see that Pilot writer Johanna Somers snuck a thoughtful piece about race and Portsmouth past her editors at the Pilot. Not a small accomplishment.