“They can treat us as their guinea pigs, they can treat us as a petri dish, and as I called it, they treat us as a colony or a plantation,” said Michael A. Brown, DC council member at-large. Brown was one of six council members arrested along with Mayor Vincent Gray at a protest fueled by anger at the federal government’s budget deal.
“What’s next, we have to call them ‘massuh’?” said Brown.
We asked Councilman Brown to explain his comment further after his appearance on the Kojo Nnamdi Show today, and he said it was “a little taken out of context.”
“I definitely said it, and I’ve said it before. But in context, some of the folks on the Hill treat us like a plantation here in the District of Columbia,” he said. “And when you use the term plantation it means, in context, it means folks want us to call them massuhs. But it’s in context of the plantation discussion as to how we’re treated on the Hill.”
The rhetoric surrounding D.C. statehood has been growing more and more heated in recent weeks, most notably with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton saying Congress’ budget actions were the equivalent of “bombing innocent civilians.” It also isn’t new to use the history and legacy of slavery power dynamics when talking about D.C. independence. In 2007, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty declared that D.C. Emancipation Day would be dedicated to “the continued pursuit for full democracy” with a voting rights march to the U.S. Capitol to demand representation in Congress.
Much of the recent talk has been aimed at reaching a wider audience than D.C. residents already fighting for statehood. Rather, local politicians have been making the rounds and speaking to national (and international) media outlets to alert people to “our plight here in the District of Columbia,” Brown said. “And if some of the shock value harms people, sorry, but that’s the bottom line. We need to elevate the discussion so people outside of D.C. can understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”
And Brown, for one, doesn’t think that framing the debate in such stark terms is in poor taste.
“I think you will find that anyone who makes an analogy comment is just trying to give an example of how we feel here in the District of Columbia relating to our lack of independence,” he said.
How much of this has to do with race and class? D.C. is still largely a black city with more poor folks than rich ones. When asked how much of this debate has to do with race, Brown said some of it does, but it’s largely political in nature.
“There’s a sense that if the District became a state those two senators would probably be left-leaning, and they may be people of color, so I think yes, I think there is a hint of race but I don’t think it’s the leading [issue]. I think it’s more political than anything,” Brown said.