During a meeting Tuesday (May 20th) afternoon with the editorial staff of The New Tri-State Defender, County Commissioner Henri Brooks addressed myriad issues – including her highly criticized move to "correct" a speaker who asserted that in Memphis Hispanics are the "minority of minorities." Here is Part II of that Q&A session.
The New Tri-State Defender: Is there a difference between minorities as it relates to the law?
Henri Brooks: Quite frankly, there's an unspoken rule. Ethnic minorities do not compare themselves. If you look at Title VI, you'll find that Hispanics are mentioned and blacks are mentioned as protective beneficiaries. It just says that we have suffered discriminatory expenditures of federal dollars. So we're both in the same group. Title VI protects us both. So there's no need to compare each other.
TSD: Do you think your admonishment of Mr. Pablo Pereyra was misconstrued?
HB: In Memphis and Shelby County, the backdrop here...everything is about race, whether we want to admit it or not. It's just a fact. It's a reality. I'm not in denial. If most of us would come out of denial and deal with the substantive issues of race or talk about it in a substantive way, in a setting, then I think we might move a little further than where we are now. It takes individuals who are intelligent, who have knowledge of history...who have some self-esteem...who have knowledge of self to be able to talk about that. And I can do that.... As I expressed in committee, I am who I am and I am proud to be who I am. I am a black woman and I am proud of my ethnicity.
TSD: If the issue was the same and Mr. Pablo Pereyra were to address the commission again, would you respond the same way?
HB: Yes I would. I stand by my comments. I said nothing wrong. It was factual. It was correct. As a schoolteacher, I corrected a young man who made a mistake. If you get up in front of me and make a historical or factual misstatement, I will correct you. I would not want anyone to think that his condition, or his story...well, his experience here in America is just like mine. It's not. It's totally different. And I can say that in a non-confrontational way, in an instructional way. If he doesn't understand, he needs to understand. So I would like to think that I helped someone with an accurate knowledge of history.
TSD: Your "detractors" or "opponents" have called you a racist. Can you respond to that assertion?
HB: How can I be a racist? They need to go and look up the definition of racist. People are talking, but they don't know. They're speaking hateful terms or ugly terms... so their intent is to malign or marginalize me. But what they've done is marginalize their intellect because they're not taking the time to just go to Webster and look up the definition of racist. Now do I love my people? Of course I do...and proud to be a black woman...very proud to be black and, secondly, female. I support my people. I support the least of these. Some of the least of these are not my people. They don't look like me. They look like the gentleman who stood before me, that came before the committee.
TSD: Will the fallout jeopardize your chances of winning the Juvenile Court Clerk's race?
HB: This is not going to hurt nothing. My base is going to vote for me anyway. I have sense enough to know...I'm old enough and have seen the polls to know that white people in this town do not like opinionated, strong, intelligent black women who speak truth to power, know what they're talking about, and can back it up with research.
I'm really clear about who my supporters are. This is not going to hurt my chances at all. The only thing that will hurt my chances is that our people won't come out to vote. ... I'm gonna get my base out and I will be winning. Juvenile Court can start packing up now. I've already started going down there.
People have been so supportive. And what has really been encouraging ... the black women who have been so supportive. Goodness gracious! What they've done is send people to my campaign headquarters. When black women support you, you know you're doing the right thing.
TSD: Will the fallout hurt other Democratic candidates if they align with you?
HB: I do not pay them (detractors) any attention. They're going to put the most negative spin on this as they can. I don't listen to them; I listen to the people who actually put me in office and have kept me in office for decades. This is not my first scrape. I have been burned in effigy at high noon on War Memorial Plaza for speaking up or for exercising my First Amendment right. And I'm going to continue to exercise my First Amendment right. It is not my intent to cause anyone to lose votes for aligning with me.
TSD: Do you think you need Hispanic, white and black votes to win the Juvenile Court Clerk's race?
HB: I need everybody's vote. I want everybody's vote, because what I'm doing is the right thing for families, youth and children. Remember, I'm the one who filed the complaint with the Justice Department in 2007 because of the violations of the constitutional rights of children. I didn't say black children. I said children at Juvenile Court. I need everybody's vote, because what I want to do is fix a serious problem that's been going on for decades.
TSD: Is the good ole boy network alive and well? And are you still fighting it?
HB: Sure. I've always fought the good ole boy network. That's who runs this town. I say that with knowledge because I've been sitting as a policymaker on the local level for eight years and I've sat as a policymaker on the state level for 14 years. And I do have a tendency to read; I can read. So I understand where the dollars are going. And I do follow the money, and the money is not coming into the black community.
TSD: Why is there so much media attention when you speak on issues affecting African Americans?
HB: The powers that be want us to be docile. They want us to be submissive and they want us to be quiet while they run around and do what they want to do...wreak havoc on families and children economically. I can't be quiet about it. I wasn't raised that way. I have to do for the least of these. So I can't do for the least of these if I don't speak up for the wrong that I see. ... It is incumbent upon me as an elected leader, as an elected official, as a policymaker, to ensure that the policies are fair for all citizens no matter what their ethnicities are – all citizens.
TSD: Do you believe in diversity?
HB: I think it should be a melting pot. In a melting pot, it all comes together and there's no fine line. With diversity, you got to have these lanes – some over here, some over there. I don't really like that word. It's so intentional, made up, so phony to me. Melting pot is real.
NOTE: To read Part I of The New Tri-State Defender's Q&A with Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks, click here: http://tsdmemphis.com/news/20492-brooks-on-brooks-part-i