Charge of stereotyping fails in the Pratt furor

April 10, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

DEAR DELEGATE Rawlings et al:

On Thursday, this paper printed a letter from you and eight other members of the House of Delegates objecting to an editorial cartoon that ran March 29. The offending drawing was "outrageous" and "cater[ed] to vile racial stereotypes," you wrote.

The cartoon showed Julius Henson and Joan Pratt seemingly embracing in a Sunpapers editorial office as an unsuspecting woman walked in on them. The caption read, "You can't do that in The Sun's editorial offices!" Your letter said that the cartoon "missed the point entirely. [It] shed no light on the real difficulty posed by Ms. Pratt's appointment of Mr. Henson to a top administrative post in the comptroller's office. ... [It] only served to trivialize and demean relationships between African-American men and women."

Although I feel you have confused the cartoon with the novel and movie "Waiting to Exhale," your objections and concerns have been noted. You, all of you, are quite correct to object to any cartoon, editorial, article or column that may stereotype or degrade black people. To do less would be to abrogate your mission as black lawmakers.

Mind you, I don't quite agree with your assessment of the cartoon at all. Whether or not Pratt and Henson are romantically linked is precisely the "real difficulty" here. Pratt, by appointing Henson to his $79,900-a-year post without even interviewing another soul, got exactly what she deserved in the cartoon. As you pointed out, she and Henson are both adults. She's old enough to take her lumps, especially since she's dug in her heels and insisted that all her critics -- from The Sun to the City Paper to the Baltimore Afro-American -- are wrong and she's right. My sympathy for people tends to be inversely proportional to their intransigence.

Still, because all nine of you felt compelled to publicly criticize the cartoon, there is another matter on which I think you as elected officials should go public. What, exactly, is your opinion of Pratt's hiring Henson? What do you think of the Baltimore Afro-American's take on Henson: that he is obnoxious, intrusive and an albatross around Pratt's neck?

What of Pratt's explanation that Henson is eminently qualified to oversee the city's $3.2 billion real estate portfolio and that there is nothing wrong with hiring him because men hire their friends all the time? Is she wrong? Or do the nine of you follow the same criteria in your hiring practices?

I know the black Zeitgeist says it is wrong for African-Americans to air dirty linen in public, that blacks shouldn't criticize other blacks, especially elected officials. So if you can't criticize Pratt because of racial loyalty, do it on behalf of the 35 percent of Baltimore's residents who aren't black. It's time we make a grudging acknowledgment of the existence of the whites, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and other groups who live in the city. All of you represent districts in the city and hence have a stake in speaking out for all its residents.

And on that vexing matter of racial stereotyping, won't you please address how you feel about the racial stereotyping we blacks did that resulted in Joan Pratt's being elected in the first place? We elected her and rejected Julian Lapides, who had experience, competence and a reputation for honesty. Unfortunately for him, he also had the effrontery to be born white and male.

So we went with the stereotype that says that only black politicians can represent black interests, totally ignored the truth that sometimes the most qualified candidate will be a white male and elevated the rookie politician Pratt to the comptroller's office.

I know as well as you how much an imperative black political empowerment is. Lack of black political empowerment often led to some pretty uncomfortable, even grisly, consequences for us. But we shouldn't cling to the principle so blindly if it means we're going to keep a Julian Lapides out of office.

Your letter said, "We may question [Pratt's] judgment on the matter" of appointing Henson. You may or you may not. Which one is it? On Monday, City Solicitor Neal Janey issued an opinion advising Pratt to make public details about Henson's background and qualifications for the job. Janey's opinion prompts two other questions. The first is: Do you think Pratt should comply? The second, and perhaps more important, is this:

Why couldn't you, as lawmakers, have made a public request of Pratt to do as Janey advised?

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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