The good guys win one: A most satisfying little Memphis victory

No group is immune to knuckle-headed appeals to racial and religious antagonism or to the lure of the familiar tribe. So I was nervous about Nikki Tinker’s nasty primary campaign against Democratic Representative Steven Cohen in his majority-black Memphis district.

I don’t know the internal politics operating in that community. The Congressional Black Caucus had been a bit frosty to Cohen. As an Obama supporter, I was especially nervous about writing on this thing. This is not a great season to become enmeshed with something like this.

Like Mark,>I covered it anyway. As someone of Jewish heritage who often works in African-American communities, I took this personally. If I am not for myself, who will be? I added the following:

Many outsiders assume that African-American communities are anti-white and anti-Semitic. That’s just not my experience. Campaigns such as Nikki Tinker’s do such a disservice in feeding these stereotypes. News flash: This is not a great moment to send out this poisonous vibe.

Turns out, the vibe sent was a healing one. Debunking the stereotype, Memphis voters took care of business themselves in a richly satisfying landslide. You can’t always win, but it is richly satisfying when you do.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.