Annette John-Hall: Sorry, there's no need to flash the race card

Call it the case of the Loose Leaf Race Card.

Usually, I hate the term race card. Overused and misused, it's an offensive catch-all preemptively thrown out to dismiss any valid concerns about race. Accuse someone of playing the race card, conversation over.

Talk about a stacked deck.

But sometimes, you just gotta call it for what it is.

Which takes me back to the petty drama that played out in City Council chambers last week.

Opening session of Council was a typical uneventful legislative yawn, that is, until Latrice Bryant, the 36-year-old legislative aide to W. Wilson Goode Jr., pulled out her loose-leaf notebook and started scribbling.

Sitting behind her boss, she flashed her crude messages one by one for all - and especially the cameras - to see.

FOX 29 are racist.

Really?

Jeff Cole KKK.

No!

FOX 29 (with a slash through it).

What?

Now those are what you call race cards. In every sense of the word.

Turns out Bryant, who takes home $90,000 a year, was none too happy that investigative reporter Jeff Cole of Fox29 News had been documenting her comings and goings for weeks, trying to prove that she had a habit of conducting personal business on company time. And she wasn't about to answer his questions, nor was she available to answer mine.

Fox was to air its investigation last night.

No doubt Fox thrives on the chase, but Cole has earned quite a reputation doing these kinds of government-waste investigations. And it really doesn't matter to him whether the person doing the wasting of taxpayer money is black or white.

To make matters worse, as he was entering chambers, Goode, standing up for his top aide - the one who handles his schedule, takes his meetings and helps push his legislative agenda - pointed his finger at Cole and warned him, "Don't you ever disrespect a black woman like that again!"

Especially one who's already disrespecting herself.

The whole thing could be laughed away as stupid if it weren't so damaging to those who really are victims of racism.

The irresponsibility Bryant displayed was an example of "the race card being played in the way that [white] people imagine," explained Penn professor John L. Jackson Jr., who cites plenty of examples of real racism in his book, Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness. "It really does do a disservice to the more serious and subtle forms of racism people encounter every day."

"Everything that says it's racism is not," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, of the National Action Network.

Fox29's Claudia Gomez went straight to Sharpton, the civil-rights activist who was in town Monday.

But even Sharpton took a pass on the controversy.

Without proving motive or a discriminatory policy, it would be "sort of like the boy crying wolf - when the boy's really just being a fox," he said.

Real racism and disrespect of black women?

Please. I could show you bulging files of venom if you really want to talk about the real thing.

For his part, Goode agreed that Bryant's antics were "absolutely inappropriate - an inappropriate response to her being rattled" and described last week's debacle as "my worst day in Council."

And what of his seemingly race-baiting defense of black women?

"Fox was disrespectful," Goode explained. "I think they treated [Bryant] with physical aggression in a way I don't think they would treat their mothers or sisters."

But interestingly, he doesn't think Fox's investigation was necessarily unfair.

"If it points out that our timesheets were not done accurately, that is actually constructive and causes us to remedy the situation," he told me.

I respect Councilman Goode. Smart and outspoken, he has worked closely with Mayor Nutter on tax credits for businesses that hire ex-offenders, and has been vocal over the lack of minority participation in building trades during the Convention Center expansion - both race-sensitive issues that others shy away from.

So if he wants to canoodle with Bryant, as the Fox29 story suggested, that's none of my business.

But he should stick to the worthy causes. Defending a staffer who'd rather play her cards from the bottom of the deck is not one of them.

 


Annette John-Hall's columns will appear Wednesdays and Sundays through Jan. 4. Contact her at 215-854-4986 or ajohnhall@phillynews.com.