Monday, October 7, 2019

Critics of Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson question her judgment after Facebook post

Things are heating up in Durham's City Council primary election. The attacks read like a battle for the soul of the city. It's a battle to unravel the meaning and significance of progressive identity.
For more details, go to Ade Toyesi Ibijok's (Nia Wilson) Facebook page and read the thread regarding an exchange involving a Facebook post of Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson. Here’s a tease to get you started:
“All of y’all having a field day over on Jillian’s FB page about a man who was born and raised in Durham and has done more for his community than any of you could dream of... you liberal ass privilege and white supremacy is showing. You wonder why I said vote for Joshua Gunn cause he ain’t so arrogant as to post pictures of someone opposing his campaign and talk shit about them. Because he actually does believe in a “Durham for ALL” (ain’t that the name of your organization). Who’s trolling who here?”
A bit more:
“Let’s talk for a moment about power and why these posts and comments are such a problem. The same standards we hold police, who have the power to kill us to are the ones we hold elected officials, who have the power to create policies that can harm people who don’t agree with them to. Based on these posts, tell me why any marginalized group of people should trust you?”
There’s more about the spreading of an alleged lie that Jackie Wagstaff, another candidate for office, threated to bring a gun to city hall. My reporting concludes that’s fake news. Tension began to swell after Rodrigo Dorfman wrote an email addressing comments Wilson made at a People's Alliance endorsement meeting. Wilson and others contend Dorfman's critique exposes racism within Durham's white progressive community.
Why does this matter? Because it may speak to a myriad of issues involving assumptions of power, accountability and privilege. It may confront what happens when people of privilege (mostly white) show up to evaluate the political intentions of people outside their understanding of who has the right to speak and how they engage in that speech.
Johnson posting pictures of a person wearing a t-shirt and passing out flyers requesting people to “Vote No” for her and another candidate is problematic. Why? Because she is elected to serve the person wearing that shirt ,and creating space for others to chime in is reflective, on the surface, of the type of lampooning that makes it difficult to trust.
People championing Johnson's work and advocacy are correct to point to her being a black woman with a passion to curtail adding more police. She helped  build Durham for All, a multiracial, cross-class progressive movement to impact local elections. Johnson is a strong proponent of criminal justice reform and creating affordable housing solutions to offset gentrification.
How does a black female credited with modeling support for progressive political agendas forfeit the support of black people most impacted by the type of disparity she addresses? The answer may be the result of discontent stirred by the vote of Johnson, Charlie Reece and Javiera Caballero against Police Chief C.J Davis's recommendation to include in the budget money to add 17 new officers. Johnson, Reece and Caballero solidified their position by running as a block in a campaign called Bull City Together.
Johnson's Facebook post is about how she responds to critics as a member of the Durham City Council. Citizens have the right to respond in ways that reflect their passion for what matters to them. This is about all of that.
But this also about the others on that thread who took time to take jabs at a man who works hard to get people engaged in the work of making his community better. Shame on all of you for spewing characterizations minimizing the integrity of his position. 
This primary uncovers heighted resentment toward Johnson and others who claim standing and speaking on behalf of black and brown people. This is an election regarding the messaging of white progressives and how these points are perceived as “we know more than you. Sit down and shut up.” It also unveils resentment stirred when a black woman takes positions with white progressives against a black man who's doing heavy lifting.
It’s brutal out here.

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