DETROIT (Talk Radio 1270) Congressman Hansen Clarke, D-13th District, was forced into an unusual position Wednesday, responding to allegations that he's masquerading as black to get votes.
Clarke is running for the newly redrawn 14th Congressional District, which includes Detroit, against two black women, Mary Waters and Brenda Lawrence, plus white men state Rep. Gary Peters and newcomer Bob Costello. Clarke joined one debate this election, a digital debate for CBSDetroit, then said he would no longer debate because the racial rhetoric was becoming overwhelming.
A robocall allegedly went on in the district this week saying Clarke is "not black." And Waters told the Detroit Free Press she's the only black Detroiter in the race.
A visibly upset Clarke called Talk Radio 1270 host Charlie Langton to discuss the race issue live, and talked about the issue again at a Detroit church appearance.
"Who really gives a care right now?," Clarke told Langton. "My opponents are so desperate they can't attack me based on what we're doing, based on my record, so they're going after my poor deceased parents who have been dead for 30 years."
Opponents have pointed out that Clarke's mother's death certificate lists her race as white, though Clarke describes himself as "multiracial" with a light-skinned black mother and Indian father.
Clarke said about his mother's death certificate: "That's the way it is, sometimes people viewed light-skinned black folks as being white."
Beyond that, he said his mother's race shouldn't matter.
And he blamed racial divides for the disastrous state of Detroit.
"Our region has been so divided based on race it's actually undercut our economic growth," Clarke said. "The only reason we're the only metro area in the country without mass transit is these politicians want to play race all the time. The costs have been enormous on us."
He went on to say racism has stopped business owners and new residents from coming to Detroit, where more than 80 percent of residents are black.
"When people believe they're going to be hassled because of who they are as a person they don't want to live in that community," the congressman said. "It's overall, it's part of the whole equation when you look at where to live. Nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where they feel their kids are going to get hassled and threatened and jeered. No employer wants to do that either."
He said his role as a multiracial candidate is to bring all sides together. He said his mother was Episcopalian, his father a Muslim, and he's a Roman Catholic.
"You know what that is? Typical American family. We're all diverse," Clarke said.
He added: "You want to talk about race mattering? It does matter. We have young black kids who can't read who are going to prison in droves, costing us billions of dollars, wasting these young men's lives and depressing our economy, robbing us of their contributions. That's what we need to focus on."
"... Don't cheapen people like that, that's been the problem in metro Detroit, we've appealed based on the worst of people and look what's happened to our city -- look at it ... It's because of this kind of ignorant perspective. We need to be focusing on serving and helping people."
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