May 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm EDT | by Lateefah Williams
D.C. election shows need for dialogue on race

The time has come to have a citywide dialogue on race. In these so-called “post racial” times, it is considered taboo to mention race and anyone who does is blasted with the invective that he or she is “playing the race card,” a term that is offensive because it insinuates that racial disparities don’t exist and are a game played by those whose only intention is to “race-bait.” As a result, race becomes the elephant in the room that many know is relevant, but no one dares speak about.

The special election for D.C. At-Large Council member is the latest example of this.  A committed, progressive activist was maligned for daring to respond to a question about race without being politically correct enough to carefully parse her words to not really address the question. This activist was educated at the University of California at Berkeley and has a history of being committed to progressive causes, such as civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, workers rights and poverty issues. This committed, progressive activist has been a member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the District’s largest LGBT political organization, since 1978—only two years after its founding and long before it was popular to be supportive of LGBT rights.

If you heard such a background, most people’s first thought would probably be, “Sounds like your typical Berkeley liberal.” However, for some reason, the candidate that fits this profile, Anita Bonds, was not characterized this way. Rather, despite her long history of being liberal or “progressive” on the issues, not only was she not given the “progressive” title, but she was painted as being anti-progressive, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It’s hard to believe that the reason isn’t because of the package that this particular progressive comes in. In this city, progressive has become code for young and mostly white. While most so-called progressives are open to the idea that someone like me, a well-educated, 30-something, African-American lesbian, could be progressive, most residents did not even open their minds to the possibility that Anita Bonds, a heterosexual, college-educated, African-American grandmother in her late 60s, could be.  To many, Anita Bonds’ attributes represent conservative, middle-class, African-American culture, which is assumed to not fit the progressive profile, so she was automatically labeled as non-progressive, with no true attempt to determine if the label fit.

During a candidate forum on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Bonds was posed with a question about whether race was a factor in the campaign and she responded in a manner that addressed the concerns of some residents who fear that their needs may not be adequately addressed if they don’t have somewhat proportionate representation on the Council. That doesn’t mean that those people, or Bonds when speaking of their fears, feel that only African Americans can represent African Americans.

To put it another way, there are two openly gay members of the D.C. Council—David Catania and Jim Graham. If, in 2014, David Catania gives up his seat to run for mayor or attorney general and Jim Graham is defeated in the Ward 1 primary, both very real possibilities, there is a chance that a city as “progressive” as D.C. will not have any LGBT representatives on the Council. If that occurs, we would likely see a movement to find and/or groom an openly LGBT candidate for the following Council race. In fact, if such a scenario were to occur, I could see the Victory Fund, whose mission is to help LGBT candidates get elected, actively working to recruit and train LGBT candidates and this would be a great service to the city. After all, marginalized communities have struggled for visibility and representation and are therefore particularly sensitive to losing that representation.

That is why it was disheartening that when Bonds honestly mentioned this concern when responding to a question addressed to her, instead of trying to understand the concern and getting at the root cause of why some people in this city feel marginalized, she was demonized and cast as a bigot. This rhetoric is not only false, but it’s extremely harmful to the city because we can’t move forward as a united city if we are not willing to listen to others’ perspective. When we silence views that make us uncomfortable and challenge the myth that race is no longer a factor, it actually exacerbates tensions because it causes those who feel marginalized to allow those feelings to fester among themselves.

Many African Americans felt that several white candidates were also playing racial politics by using terms like “progressive” or “reform” that appeal to white voters and expressing concern about splitting votes in the western part of the city among the other “progressive” or “reform” candidates. Thus, both white and African-American candidates realized the sad reality that most of their votes would come from those of the same background.

Bonds had strong multiracial support from people who have worked with her in the past and the same can be said for some of the other candidates. I truly hope that those who did not support Bonds use the next 20 months to learn more about her, and reach out to her office so she can understand their concerns and address their needs. I think they may be pleasantly surprised. In the meantime, we should all commit to creating a forum to openly discuss racial divisions, instead of pretending they don’t exist. It’s the only way for us to unite as a city and move forward.

Lateefah Williams is a writer, attorney and community activist in D.C. She is the immediate past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the District’s largest LGBT political organization. Read her blog at, email her at or follow her @lateefahwms.

  • What a total load of identity politics crapola. This is why I don’t know a single LGBT District voter who, like myself, cares one iota anymore what the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club or the community’s supposed “political leadership” thinks. The only thing humorous, or perhaps saddening, is that the author has no idea how ridiculous it all sounds.

  • Lateefah, excuse me, but Anita was not demonized, she was criticized. She called me to discuss the matter after it blew up and explained that her motives were good ones, and I was glad to hear it; but she had made an overt racial appeal. If she thought that non-African-Americans can represent African Americans, then that is what she should have said at the time. I wish to stress that I am eager to work with her as with the rest of the members of the Council, and I am sorry to open this up again, but I am not going to let this skewed article go without a response.

    Some of us have been discussing race in this city for decades. I personally have written enough on it for a book, precisely because effective activism in D.C. requires navigating the multiple forms of diversity in our city. My coalition efforts range from working with the NAACP to leading a petition effort in 1999 demanding justice for Tyra Hunter. I have proudly voted for many black candidates. I even stood outside the Wilson Building last summer and spoke at a rally criticizing the U.S. Attorney for its manipulative, selective leaks attempting to bully Mayor Gray into leaving office instead of indicting him (assuming they have the evidence). We do not need outsiders, including DOJ officials, deciding who runs our city. This does not mean I cannot criticize an African American official like Marion Barry, whose constituents continue to elect him despite the poor job he has done for them and the racially divisive remarks he keeps making to manipulate his base. Since we've had D.C. home rule (flawed though it is) for four decades, we should be able to give out both credit and criticism where due, rather than engage in evasive happy talk.

    But hold on a minute. Was Lateefah not present at the Stein Club endorsement forum when Philip Pannell, a prominent, longtime black gay activist and past president of Ward 8 Democrats, strongly criticized Anita Bonds? Was his opposition inconvenient to her spin on this? I never offered anything close to his harsh words. This does not break down neatly along racial lines.

    As to Lateefah's claim that people said Anita was anti-progressive, can she cite specifics? I don't recall seeing such a statement. As for GLAA, our March 13 news release announcing our candidate ratings said this: "Democratic incumbent Anita Bonds (+6.5) agreed with GLAA on every issue. Her questionnaire showed a good understanding of the issues. Her record in favor of LGBT rights goes back many years." We did not lower her rating when we later criticized her.

    When I drafted GLAA's statement criticizing Anita, I explicitly stated that we did not object to ethnic pride. We simply believe that all in our city should speak and act as if they take Dr. King's challenging words seriously. People, including candidates for public office, should "be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Any further dialog on the subject should not be based on facile and patronizing mischaracterizations like those offered above by Lateefah. We have proven that we can do it right. Without a strong, broad, racially and religiously diverse coalition, we would not have won marriage equality in the resounding way that we did.

    • My response to Lateefah Williams' factually challenged article in the Blade.

    • Richard, I totally agree and think it was a very poor choice of words on Anita Bonds part. She was not one of the candidates I would have expected to say something like that. When she said it what came to mind was how Marion Berry had use the same type wording in his effort to discourage black voters from voting for someone white. We should absolutely be voting based on the character of the candidates and I have voted all races and parties in maintaining that belief. I have also put sexual orientation aside when picking the best person as we should always seek the best candidate.

    • Richard you said: When I drafted GLAA’s statement criticizing Anita, I explicitly stated that we did not object to ethnic pride. We simply believe that all in our city should speak and act as if they take Dr. King’s challenging words seriously. People, including candidates for public office, should “be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Any further dialog on the subject should not be based on facile and patronizing mischaracterizations like those offered above by Lateefah. We have proven that we can do it right. Without a strong, broad, racially and religiously diverse coalition, we would not have won marriage equality in the resounding way that we did.

      Do you really think the majority of DC White voters vote based on that?

  • Okay I’m going there regardless of what Anita Bonds said. D.C has a RACE problem and it is NOW more than before. First off the Blade itself has racial politics when reporting the results of the special election they said this

    QUOTE But Democratic candidate Elissa Silverman, who came in second place citywide, won in 12 of the city’s 14 precincts identified as having high concentrations of LGBT residents. Mara came in second in the same 12 precincts, with Bonds coming in third.

    Bonds won by a wide margin in the two remaining “gay” precincts so white is LGBT and Black area is considered “gay”? ENQUOTE….SERIOUSLY???

    So let me understand this having high concentrations of LGBT residents = White

    two remaining “gay” precincts, one in Anacostia and the other along the Southwest waterfront area= Black

    Are you kidding me?

    This city does have a race problem. As far as the LGBTQ Community goes.It has never been color blind. It’s just as segregated as the south. Case in point when African Americans started going to The Fireplace Caucasians left in droves and went elsewhere and the same thing has now occurred at Remington’s. So much for Unity HUH?

    Now DCist is now claiming that DC is the “Vanilla Village” Last time I checked singuarly by race African Americans are still the MAJORITY residents of the city. We know that many are hoping and praying that continued Gentrification will run them to Maryland and out of District….GOOD LUCK with your prayers to those that are praying for such.

    But lets put Anita aside for one second. Do you think any of the White at large members would have won if it were not for Black support? But we can’t say the same for White DC voters.

    Lets talk about the Anita results shall we? From the Blade
    Precinct 14 (Dupont Circle): Silverman, 44 percent; Mara, 37 percent; Bonds, 6 percent
    Precinct 15 (Dupont Circle): Silverman, 43 percent; Mara, 39 percent; Bonds, 11 percent
    Precinct 16 (Logan Circle): Silverman, 46 percent; Mara, 32 percent; Bonds, 11 percent
    Precinct 17 (Logan Circle): Silverman, 36 percent; Mara, 34 percent; Bonds, 15 percent
    Precinct 18 (Shaw): Silverman, 40 percent; Mara, 18 percent; Bonds 24 percent
    Precinct 22 (14th & U Street, N.W. corridor): Silverman, 45 percent; Mara 31 percent; Bonds, 13 percent
    Precinct 23 (U Street & Columbia Heights): Silverman, 48 percent; Mara, 21 percent; Bonds, 17 percent
    Precinct 24 (Adams Morgan): Silverman 51 percent; Mara 20 percent; Bonds, 13 percent
    Precinct 25 (Adams Morgan): Silverman, 41 percent; Mara, 34 percent; Bonds, 8 percent
    Precinct 36 (Columbia Heights): Silverman, 45 percent; Mara, 36 percent; Bonds 20 percent
    Precinct 89 (Capitol Hill): Silverman 50 percent; Mara, 36 percent; Bonds, 4 percent
    Precinct 90 (Capitol Hill): Silverman, 47 percent; Mara, 36 percent; Bonds, 6 percent
    Precinct 112 (Anacostia): Silverman, 5 percent; Mara, 4 percent; Bonds, 78 percent
    Precinct 127 (Southwest Waterfront): Silverman, 29 percent; Mara 20 percent; Bonds, 39 percent

    I see many white voters including LGBTQ didn’t have much LOVE for Ms Bonds OBVIOUSLY!

    Also this is a comment that came from another Chris after Anita won the election

    Chris April 25, 2013 at 10:22 am What is sad is the low turnout and failure of DC Board of Elections and Ethics to have a more current list of eligible voters – I found in my precinct a person who moved four years ago still on the books. With so much at stake next election this has to be rectified! BRING BACK THE OBSERVERS!!!

    What is at stake? A Black person still becoming Mayor? Is there really a push to run Blacks from DC?

    Peter while your response is valid and understandable. I feel many white voters in this cIty Gay and Straight just don’t share your values regarding this. I hope I am wrong to feel this way but a lot of us Blacks see this daily!


    • Chris, you are so right. The gay community in D.C. is very segregated and white gay males distance themselves from black gay men. However, no one wants to admit, we have a serious race problem in D.C. between blacks and whites. This can be said for America as a whole.

  • My reasons for voting against Bonds had nothing to do with race or progressive stance. She has been working side-by-side with corrupt and now convicted city council members. I voted for a breath of fresh air.

  • Rick, my article was not “factually challenged.” This is what I’m talking about. You’re so defensive that you missed or couldn’t see the point and aren’t open enough to understand my perspective. You responded as if I was talking about GLAA and GLAA wasn’t even on my mind when I was writing this, so all of your comments focusing on that one organization’s actions does not refute the truth of my article. Also, she WAS demonized for her statements in both newspaper articles and by everyday people.

    It is a fact that Elissa Silverman and Matthew Frumin were considered the “progressive” candidates. This was so pronounced that Anita Bonds asked Silverman on the Kojo Nnamdi Show what makes her progressive. Silverman stated her support of sick leave and a living wage. Anita responded, “I have gone on record in support of living wage and sick leave. Yes. So that’s why I was a little confused.” (The show transcript is online for your review). Bonds would have had no need to ask this question if she was also being portrayed as being progressive.

    Furthermore, the Washington Post did an article on how Silverman asked Frumin to leave the race due to concern of splitting the progressive vote. (Note that I’m only citing these examples in response to Rick and not in criticism of Silverman, as I actually like her and probably would have supported her if Anita wasn’t in the race.) The examples I gave, however, clearly show that this was a major theme of the campaign and if you truly did not know that Anita was being portrayed as anti-progressive, you should engage with more folks in the city, particularly younger folks (and I’m saying this as a younger person).

  • Lateefah, I welcome your article. I supported Elissa Silverman, but I agree with you that race continues to be a major issue and that many people who consider themselves progressive are blind to it. Progressive policies will not be able to win out until we forge a racially diverse, united movement. So you got that right!

    With that said, I do not agree that Anita Bonds is progressive. She has an excellent record on LGBT issues, but that does not define a progressive. Anita shows rhetorical support for a lot of good policies, but I have not seen her walk the walk in recent years. Perhaps she did a lot of good work in the early Barry years, I don’t know. But on statehood (just to take one example), she’s all rhetoric. Under her leadership, the DC Democratic State Committee (DCDSC) has contributed zero to this effort. I can personally attest to that, having gone to the DNC last year with the DC Statehood Coalition, which did most of the work, while the DCDSC enjoyed the parties. The only member of the DCDSC who worked for statehood was Robert Brannum, but he did so on his own.

    On economic issues like the living wage, paid sick leave, Walmart, progressive taxation, and funding for safety net programs, Anita has been awol. Sure, she can say she supports these things during a candidate forum. But what has she actually done? The way it seems to me, she mostly represents the interests of her employer, Fort Myer Construction — hardly progressive values there.

    Please tell me what work Anita has actually done at Chair of the DCDSC and as an individual that furthers progressive causes? I sure would like to know.

    • Kesh,

      What has Anita Bonds done? During election day, I was campaigning outside the Lafayette Elementary School in far Upper NW as a lonely supporter of Anita Bonds in an area where the voters were overwhelmingly for other candidates. A well dressed white man (lets talk race, shall we?) came up to me and told how wonderful it was to see someone was present at the precinct for Bonds. He said he knew her from the days when the District was tanking, when Barry went to jail, when Peebles got his free two million tax refund and left for Miami, when MCPD Police Chief Larry Soulsby and others were taking bribes. He said Anita and the other “church ladies” – his words not mine, – rallied together and kept this city going and so now everyone wants to live here. Lucky us, Kesh, et al, no one is embarrassed to be a “Washingtonian” anymore. This talk about race is only a cover for the convenient amnesia that afflicts the self appointed LGBT and Progressive political chatterers.

      Bill Fuchs said the problem better than anyone although he may not realize it. Its all about who people think you hang with. He charges Bonds with corruption merely by association. Well, everyone is associated with something somehow. The late Meg Greenfield of the Washington Post said “political life in the nation’s capital to a “stunted, high-schoolish social structure” born out of isolation from the rest of the world and pervasive insecurities and dreads.” High school.

      Thanks everyone for not disappointing.

  • At Kesh….wrong wrong wrong! Open your eyes. Anita has supported sick leave, progressive tax and even wants to exempt 80yo residents from property taxes! Did you miss all that Kesh? Anita has pushed for more affordable housing in Ward 5…especially at McMillan. She support St Martins Church’s development of affordable housing, when many in Ward 5 were against it. Kesh back to the drawing board with your conclusions on Cm bonds; they sound more like delusions! Do some research on her and her work on the ANC and DCDSC and you will see the the truth not what Silverman or Mara wanted you to think!

  • @ Rick…again you missed the point…to quote Karly Simon…”you think the song is about you! don’t you!” It was about how “blacks” are not viewed as progressive in DC because of the “liberal white” newcomers have taken over the word progressive and in fact even the white liberals have no idea what they are talking about. Progressive in DC means young, white, liberal, walk-able, green roofs, etc. When it acutally is”Progressivism” a general political philosophy advocating or favoring gradual social, political, and economic reform. Modern Progressivism emerged as part of a more general response to the vast social changes brought by industrialization.
    It is left of center in the political spectrum and is to be contrasted with conservatism on the right and the revolutionary left, the former generally resisting changes it advocates and the latter rejecting its gradualism. This is what it is…not what DC voters have made it out to be in the way in which they but forward their local agenda.

  • Remember when “progressive” meant universal health care, worker rights and protecting social security rather than campaigns for Uber, food trucks and Bike Share?

  • “As to Lateefah’s claim that people said Anita was anti-progressive, can she cite specifics? I don’t recall seeing such a statement.”
    -Rick Rosendall
    Some of us understand you have other things to do, Rick. But Lateefah’s generally right about all of this– and especially on this point. Plus demanding Lateefah restate more false representations of Anita’s long, solid record as a strong progressive and LGBT-rights champion is a bit much.

    Beyond a mistaken rhetorical debating point, how does that help all of us now? That’s the kind of ‘dare you’ better left for the real oppressors of DC’s LGBT residents and stakeholders — like MPD’s discriminatory, biased leadership.

    Warm weather will be upon us soon. GLAA (+DCTC and GLOV) should remain focused on that more violently consequential prejudice. All LGBTQs need to be able to walk our city’s streets without fear of hate crimes perpetrators– and MPD nonfeasance.

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